Up until a week ago, Killian Mackeith Ryan was a rank-and-file soldier in the Army’s 82nd Airborne. But behind the scenes, according to court papers filed by federal prosecutors, he was a self-avowed racist who was communicating with other online extremists and claiming he’d joined the military to practice killing black people.
Now that extremism has come to light, and Ryan’s military career appears to be over — and his legal trouble is just beginning.
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Ryan, a 21-year-old who’d been stationed in North Carolina, was arrested on August 26, shortly after the army discharged him for misconduct, according to an Army spokesman. The official source of Ryan’s legal woes is an investigation into his 2020 application for security clearance, in which prosecutors say Ryan lied about his relationship with his father. But in the charging papers, federal prosecutors paint a picture of a racist extremist with violence fantasies.
“I serve for combat experience so I’m more proficient in killing n_____s,” reads a message, which uses a racist slur against Black people, sent by one of Ryan’s Instagram accounts, according to the criminal complaint.
In an affidavit, a Fayetteville police officer assigned to the FBI’s local Joint Terrorism Task Force wrote that Ryan, through his various Instagram accounts, had been “in contact with numerous accounts associated with racially motivated extremism.” One of the email addresses used by Ryan to register an Instagram account bore the handle “naziace1488.”
The numbers 14 and 88 in combination are frequently used by white supremacist movements as shorthand references to both an infamous “14 words speech” by white supremacist David Lane and “Heil Hitler,” words which begin with the eight letter of the alphabet. The numbers, according to the Anti-Defamation League, “are ubiquitous within the white supremacist movement — as graffiti, in graphics and tattoos, even in screen names and e-mail addresses.”
The torrent of violent racism is ancillary, however, to the main thrust of the charges Ryan is facing. Instead, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina is prosecuting Ryan for allegedly lying on his application for a security clearance, which was granted in August, 2020.
In the application, prosecutors say Ryan wrote in an “optional comment block” that he had not seen his biological father in 10 years. His biological father is a “convicted felon with a criminal history in Washington and California for drug violations and auto theft,” according to the complaint.
But law enforcement found evidence that the optional assertion was a lie and that Ryan’s biological father attended his high school graduation. Officials also found that Ryan had been in contact with his father via a series of Instagram accounts Ryan had created since at least 2019.
An Instagram account associated with Ryan’s biological father, was also in contact with numerous accounts associated with racially motivated extremism,” according to the complaint.
The charges mark the second federal criminal charges against Ryan. In July, military prosecutors charged him with impaired driving after a guard at Fort Bragg smelled alcohol on Ryan as he pulled into the base late at night. Ryan allegedly had a blood alcohol content of .17, over twice the legal limit.
Legal experts say that the false statements charges against Ryan are a rare and aggressive move by the Justice Department for providing false information information on a security clearance application.
Mark Zaid, a lawyer who frequently represents clients in cases involving security clearances and national security employees, says the charge against Ryan is “unique.” “One of two things happened: either the government is taking a much stronger position on racist white nationalist extremists if they find them within the U.S. government, or something else happened where this individual really aggravated somebody personally,” Zaid tells Rolling Stone.
“What makes this particularly interesting is that it is rare, based on what I know and have seen, that someone is indicted solely on a 1001 violation [for false statements], solely from an SF-86 [security clearance form],” Zaid says. “I get cases all the time where people are accused of lying on the form. They lose their security clearances and/or get fired. But they don’t get prosecuted.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of North Carolina, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment. A defense attorney for Ryan did not respond to a reporter’s inquiry.
But under the Biden administration, the Defense Department has sought to investigate extremism within the ranks of the uniform services following revelations about current and former military personnel involved in the January 6 insurrection. Last month, prosecutors in Hawaii charged a former Marine with firearms offenses and asked that he be held in pretrial detention because of his alleged plotting against a Jewish synogogue in New Jersey with the neo-Nazi “Rapekrieg” movement.
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