- The Magazine
A federal judge declined to sentence a former member of a neo-Nazi group that threatened journalists to prison time, on the grounds that the man, who is transgender, had suffered enough abuse at the hands of his family and high school bullies.
Tyler Parker-Dipeppe, 21, of Spring Hill, Florida, was charged last year, along with three other members of the Atomwaffen Division, a national white supremacist group, of conspiring to mail threatening communications and commit cyberstalking.
The four were accused of leaving or attempting to leave posters bearing swastikas, which read: “You have been visited by your local Nazis” or “We are watching…We know where you live. Don’t f*** with us” at the homes of journalists in Florida, Arizona, and Washington State.
According to prosecutors, Parker-Dipeppe was a “low-level” party to the conspiracy, which involved devising a campaign to threaten journalists in retaliation for negative media coverage of the organization.
Parker-Dipeppe was the only one with a car, and drove with another Florida member to St. Petersburg to hang a poster to a house where they believed a news reporter lived. It turned out to be the wrong house, which belonged to a Black woman who was living with her father and her child, according to The Associated Press.
On the same day, Atomwaffen members sent or delivered posters to the homes of reporters or activists in Arizona and Washington State.
One of Parker-Dipeppe’s alleged co-conspirators, Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Arizona, was previously sentenced to 16 months in jail. A second alleged co-conspirator, Kaleb Cole, a former Seattle resident now residing in Texas, will face trial in September, while a third, Cameron Shea, of Washington State, is expected to plead guilty this week. Prosecutors claim Cole and Shea were the masterminds of the plot to threaten and intimidate the journalists.
Last September, Parker-Dipeppe pleaded guilty to the charges against him. Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods sought a sentence of 16 months in prison, writing in a sentencing memo that Parker-Dipeppe “instilled terror in his victims and contributed to the wide sense of fear and unease that many groups in this country understandably feel.”
But Parker-Dipeppe’s lawyer, Peter Mazzone, argued that jail would be traumatizing for his client, who suffered abuse at the hands of an unaccepting father, an alcoholic stepfather, and school bullies who harassed him for his gender-nonconformity.
Mazzone argued in his own sentencing memo that, for instance, Parker-Dipeppe had known he was a boy since age 5, but his father threw away the “boy clothes” Tyler’s mother had purchased for him and physically abused and choked him.
As a teenager, his high school failed to protect him from bullying that became so bad Parker-Dipeppe sued the school district, which was forced to settle for $50,000, Mazzone added. Later, when he moved to Florida with his mother and her new husband, his stepfather came home drunk and beat him, breaking his front tooth and smashing his head against the driveway.
It was that abuse and harassment that led Parker-Dipeppe to seek acceptance from a group of about 10 boys, aged 15 to 16, who were members of the Florida Atomwaffen cell, Mazzone said.
Mazzone added that Parker-Dipeppe confessed his involvement in Atomwaffen to his mother after the St. Petersburg incident, fearing that the group would find out he was transgender and retaliate against him. At her encouragement, he told Shea about his gender identity and was kicked out of Atomwaffen. Parker-Dipeppe says he still fears retribution.
Mazzone also claimed that, after spending a month in custody before being released pending trial, Parker-Dipeppe has turned his life around, making progress in therapy, obtaining a job, and marrying a supportive woman.
Last week, during a virtual court hearing, U.S. District Judge John Coghenour, of the Western District of Washington, agreed with Mazzone’s assessment, sentencing Parker-Dipeppe to time served after the 21-year-old apologized for his actions.
Coughenour said that while he was mindful of the fear and suffering of the journalists whom Parker-Dipeppe targeted, he felt that Parker-Dipeppe had suffered enough.
“None of us have suffered the difficult situation this defendant has endured as a result of his gender identity confusion…. Enough’s enough,” he said in passing judgment.
Chris Ingalls, a journalist for Seattle’s KING-TV who had reported on Atomwaffen and received one of the posters, told The AP that even though Parker-Dipeppe was allegedly a low-level player in the scheme, he still instilled fear in Ingalls’ family and other victims. However, Ingalls said, he is “satisfied” with how the case was handled and takes Parker-Dipeppe “at his word that he is truly remorseful.”
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