Law enforcement officials say they obtained this image from Kaleb Cole's cell phone. Cole appears on the left. Police say he is a self-proclaimed member of a neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen Division.
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Law enforcement officials say they obtained this image from Kaleb Cole's cell phone. Cole appears on the left. Police say he is a self-proclaimed member of a neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen Division.
Credit: King County Prosecutor's Office

Snohomish men accused of neo-Nazi ties are still in Texas

A man accused of being part of a neo-Nazi group in Washington state appears headed for federal prison.

But his friend Kaleb Cole remains unaccounted for. King County says he is the leader of "Atomwaffen Division" in Washington.

King County officials say they remain concerned that members of the neo-Nazi group “Atomwaffen Division” (which means "atomic weapons" in German) are taking steps toward “ideologically motivated violence.”

Last October, officials obtained an extreme risk protection order (available under "red flag" laws in many states) to seize nine firearms from Kaleb Cole's home in Arlington, Washington. They said Cole is a leader of the neo-Nazi group. Cole did not appear at court hearings to contest the seizure.

In November, Cole was found in Texas when police pulled over a car he was traveling in. Inside the vehicle were firearms and marijuana. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said they issued a warrant for Cole’s arrest after the incident in Texas, citing "unlawful gun possession."

“His associate was arrested and pled guilty down there,” Satterberg said. “Meanwhile Mr. Cole is believed to still be down in the Texas area, and has not returned to face the charge of unlawful gun possession here in Washington.”

Cole’s “associate” was Aidan Bruce-Umbaugh, who is also from Washington state. Bruce-Umbaugh said the guns and marijuana in Cole’s car belonged to him. Last month he pleaded guilty to the federal charge of “possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance.” His sentencing date has not been scheduled.

After the men were stopped in Texas, King County said Cole had violated his protection order which prohibits him from owning firearms for one year. They filed a $20,000 warrant for his arrest. Satterberg said the ownership of the guns, and whether the order applies in Texas, could be adjudicated if Cole returns.

“When this case comes to court someday in the state of Washington, those defenses can be put forward by the defendant,” Satterberg said. “But we’ve charged him with violating the order that prohibited him from having weapons by being in Texas with all of these guns in his car.”

In seeking the extreme risk protection order, King County and the Seattle Police Department claimed that Cole “is a self-admitted member of the Atomwaffen Division,” and is believed to be the cell leader in Washington who has helped organize “hate camps.”

Officials pointed to video clips and photos on Cole’s personal cell phone. They argue that the photos showed members of Atomwaffen Division in Washington state training with high-capacity weapons. And they said the evidence suggested Cole had “gone from espousing hate to now taking active steps or preparation for an impending ‘race war.’”

Firearms removed from Kaleb Cole's residence as a result of the Extreme Risk Protection Order.
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Firearms removed from Kaleb Cole's residence as a result of the Extreme Risk Protection Order.
Credit: King County Prosecutors Office

Hate groups, and civil liberties

Cole's case is a novel use of the state’s extreme risk protection orders, the vast majority of which remove guns from people believed to be at risk of suicide. But Satterberg said “it can also be used when we are aware that somebody is fixated on violence, whether it’s the next school shooter or self-proclaimed Nazis.”

The order has been controversial among gun rights supporters.

In a December interview on the right-wing conspiracy site InfoWars, Republican lawmaker Matt Shea called the use of the extreme risk protection orders against Cole an example of “political warfare” by the left.

“Here in Washington, if someone is labeled as a ‘hater,’ they have already used red flag laws in Washington state to take guns from somebody purely because of their beliefs, no criminality, nothing,” Shea said.

“When they label people white nationalists and racists, there’s a bigger play here, and that is to disarm America’s population, particularly the population that believes in freedom and liberty because that’s standing in the way of what these guys want to accomplish.”

Also in December, an investigation into Shea was made public. The investigation was initiated earlier in 2019 by the state legislature. It concluded that the lawmaker helped plan an act of domestic terrorism and was involved in three armed conflicts.

Other gun rights supporters have said they detest Cole’s beliefs, but still consider the use of the ERPO an overreach given that he had no criminal record and was not accused of a crime. Last May, The Trace reported that King County’s proposal to use red flag laws to more specifically tackle hate crimes was diminishing bipartisan legislative support for the measure.

“We’re very sensitive to the civil liberties that are involved here and to the Second Amendment right to bear firearms,” King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said.

But he said if people make threats, officials should take them seriously and respond.

“If you post something that’s concerning involving a firearm, threatening violence, this is a tool we can use to take a time out," he said. "It’s easier to give a gun back than to give a life back.”

Satterberg said King County's Regional Domestic Violence Firearms Enforcement Unit recovered 592 firearms in 2018 and 713 firearms in 2019. Most were surrendered as a result of domestic violence protection orders.

Extreme risk protection orders, which allow families or law enforcement to petition a judge to remove guns from someone believed to present a danger to themselves or others, accounted for 211 of those guns in 2018 and 169 in 2019.

Satterberg said all of the firearms prohibited by these orders have been surrendered without incident. That doesn’t mean every extreme risk order has been granted. Last fall, as the movie Joker was being released, Satterberg said a King County man posted photos of himself with firearms and a sign that read, “one ticket to The Joker, please.” King County officials said they believed he was threatening violence.

“We did bring a case and it was contested and the judge ruled in favor of the respondent and did not order the surrender of those firearms,” Satterberg said. “But it was still an opportunity for us to bring to the attention of the authorities that this man was doing some things that were very concerning.”