A gun influencer conspired to illegally import machine guns. He still has a home on YouTube.

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Larry Vickers, a popular creator of YouTube gun videos, may get a prison sentence after he pleaded guilty in October to two federal crimes including a conspiracy to import illegal machine guns.

But his admissions of guilt have done relatively little to dent his profile on YouTube, Facebook or any of the other internet platforms that helped make Vickers famous within the online gun community. He’s still posting updates to his fan base of 415,000 followers on Facebook while he awaits sentencing, and the hundreds of videos featuring him using various machine guns are still available on YouTube.

The criminal case is intertwined with what Vickers has posted on YouTube, where he has over 1 million subscribers. In several YouTube videos, Vickers showed off machine guns that match the descriptions of weapons mentioned in court documents as illegally imported before he made the videos, according to a review by NBC News. It’s not known if they were the same weapons. If they were, Vickers was in effect exhibiting evidence of the conspiracy on YouTube.

Other videos that he posted to YouTube and Instagram showcase the Russian firearms company Kalashnikov, maker of the infamous AK-47. Those videos are connected to the second criminal count against Vickers: that he violated U.S. sanctions on Russia by providing Kalashnikov with “promotional videography” and other services. Vickers has 179,000 followers on Instagram.

As of a few days ago, YouTube was still running pre-roll advertisements on his videos, according to a review by NBC News. On Friday, after questions from NBC News, YouTube said in a statement that it had suspended Vickers’ YouTube channel from its paid-partner program, meaning the channel could no longer make money on the platform. YouTube cited a policy requiring paid creators to remain responsible online and offline and avoid behavior that harms others. The company said such behavior by paid creators is rare.

“If we see that a creator’s on- and/or off-platform behavior harms our users, community, employees or ecosystem, we may take action to protect the community,” the policy says, pointing to “fraudulent or deceptive” behavior as one example.

YouTube is the most-used social media app in the U.S. and has a large gun culture featuring people sometimes known as “gunfluencers”: social media stars and would-be stars who promote firearms and gun accessories, often in partnership with gun manufacturers.

YouTube has faced criticism for years over its handling of gun videos. In 2022, five Democratic senators sent a letter to YouTube demanding to know why it wasn’t fully enforcing its ban on instructional videos for making firearms, after an NBC News investigation found videos explaining how to assemble “ghost guns.” YouTube said at the time that it removed thousands of harmful or dangerous videos per month, including ghost-gun instructional videos, but that the work was ongoing.

A second YouTube gun influencer, Matthew Hoover, was sentenced to five years in prison last year after he was found guilty of conspiring to sell illegal devices that convert semi-automatic rifles into automatic rifles or machine guns. He had advertised the devices on his YouTube channel, according to prosecutors.

YouTube said Friday it had demonetized Hoover’s channel, citing the same policy it invoked against Vickers’ channel. YouTube had been running ads against his videos a few days earlier.

The situation around Vickers highlights an unresolved tension at major tech companies: how to enforce their content moderation rules while allowing for discussions about firearms. Some companies such as YouTube have rules requiring popular influencers to remain responsible offline or else face consequences, but enforcement is uneven and it’s rarely clear what qualifies as a rule violation.

Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group that opposes gun violence, called on YouTube to enforce its own policies against Vickers and other creators of gun content.

“YouTube is a cesspool of violent and irresponsible gun content,” Justin Wagner, senior director of investigations at Everytown, said in a statement to NBC News.

“Videos that teach civilians military shooting tactics or whose sole purpose is to glamorize fully automatic weapons of war go far beyond educational content for responsible civilian gun owners and shouldn’t be permitted on YouTube’s platform,” he said.

A representative for Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, said Thursday that Vickers is not a paid creator on the company’s platforms, meaning he’s not subject to the higher standards the company sets for paid creators. Meta had no immediate comment on whether Vickers violated other community standards.

Vickers, who lives in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, did not respond to interview requests sent by email and text. His lawyer, Gerry Ruter, said in an email Wednesday that he had no immediate comment.

Some of Vickers’ fans are now rallying to his defense, calling the prosecution of Vickers unjustified despite his guilty plea and admission of wrongdoing.

Vickers, a veteran of the Army’s Delta Force special operations unit, has been released ahead of his sentencing. As a condition of his release, he’s barred from possessing firearms other than airsoft guns — which usually shoot plastic pellets — used for active shooter training programs.

A date for Vickers’ sentencing hearing has not been scheduled. The maximum prison terms for his two counts are five years and 20 years, respectively. There is no minimum sentence for either count, according to his plea agreement.

Vickers is a firearms instructor and a consultant to gunmakers who rose to become a minor celebrity among America’s gun enthusiasts through YouTube and other platforms. He has amassed more than 228 million views on his 639 YouTube videos since he began posting there in 2009.

The New York Times Magazine wrote about Vickers in 2018 because he had posted fondly about Rhodesia, a former white minority-controlled African nation that’s been romanticized by white supremacists. Vickers said on Facebook that he had been “oblivious” and that racist comments by his fans were unwelcome.

Vickers’ videos are usually about 5 minutes long and show him testing out rare or classic automatic rifles, including from France, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Other videos feature grenade launchers or military drills. He has also published a series of coffee-table books about various firearms.

As part of an agreement with federal prosecutors in Maryland, Vickers, 60, pleaded guilty in October to a charge of conspiring to import illegal machine guns into the U.S. from countries such as Germany and Switzerland. Prosecutors said Vickers was part of a long-running shadow market to bring the guns into the U.S. by getting the help of small-town police chiefs in North Carolina and North Dakota.

Machine guns or automatic weapons are restricted under a series of federal laws dating to 1934, with major updates by Congress in 1968 and 1986.

Vickers has sometimes worked with law enforcement officials as a trainer on subjects such as marksmanship, according to his websites. Some officials also watched his videos.

Machine guns generally can’t be imported to the U.S., but local police departments can sometimes get an exception if they need a restricted firearm for a demonstration. Vickers and his alleged co-conspirators told federal authorities that’s why they needed the machine guns, according to an indictment. But prosecutors said those statements were a ruse to hide plans to sell the machine guns or keep them for personal use.

Together, the alleged co-conspirators imported 70 firearms over eight years, prosecutors said.

semi-automatic rifle (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland)
semi-automatic rifle (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland)

Separate from that conspiracy, Vickers pleaded guilty to a second charge: that he violated U.S. sanctions against Russia when he did business with the company that makes Kalashnikov rifles. The company, JSC Kalashnikov Concern, has been under U.S. sanctions since 2014, dating to Russia’s invasion of the Crimea region of Ukraine. At the time, the Treasury Department called Kalashnikov the largest firearms producer in Russia.

Vickers not only provided Kalashnikov with promotional videos but also acquired firearms and firearms parts from the company and received funding and reimbursements, according to prosecutors.

swiss army military lightweight assault rifle (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland)
swiss army military lightweight assault rifle (U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland)

Prosecutors charged four others along with Vickers last year in a 26-count indictment alleging conspiracy to violate federal firearms laws and false statements in firearms licensing records, among other counts. Two co-defendants have pleaded not guilty. Two are awaiting arraignment.

In posts on Facebook and Instagram after his guilty plea, Vickers thanked people who had stood by him and said he accepted responsibility.

“I own my actions and understand the consequences- big boy rules as many of us, myself included, have said in the past,” he wrote.

Some of Vickers’ fans reacted to his posts by criticizing federal law enforcement or the existence of the laws restricting machine guns in the first place. A website dedicated to firearms, AmmoLand, has denounced the prosecution, saying the government wants to “imprison a decorated American soldier for a series of victimless crimes.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com