Bail denied in federal case on illegal weapons and threatening posts

(Courtesy of U.S. Department of Justice)

A federal judge in Anchorage has denied bail to a young man on allegations of illegal firearms possession. An FBI investigation into social media posts threatening to kill racial and religious minorities turned up what prosecutors say was an unlawful machine gun and silencers, as well as almost a dozen other firearms taken from an East Anchorage apartment.

During a detention hearing Tuesday, attorneys for the Justice Department asked a judge to keep 20-year-old Michael Graves in jail until trial, citing their concerns he poses a threat to the public. FBI Special Agent Joshua Rongitsch testified about investigating Graves after receiving an anonymous tip about extreme online messages. Prosecutors showed the court social media posts calling for the killing of Jews and Muslims, bumper stickers with iconography associated with white supremacy and a silencer decorated with Nazi symbols.

Much of that evidence is protected free speech, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Sayers-Fay, but it was part of what led law enforcement to discover an illegal firearm.

“We believe the fact that he possessed these weapons and obtained these weapons at the same time as he was writing things that could be as interpreted as hateful and threatening to members of our community showed that he was a danger to the community and should then stay in jail while awaiting trial,” Sayers-Fay said after the hearing.

According to prosecutors, Graves possessed a banned device that could have made a Glock handgun into a fully automatic weapon, constituting an illegal machine gun.

Rongitsch told the court that a search of Graves’s apartment found 11 firearms, along with three silencers and materials that could be used to make more of them, which is a crime.

Prosecutors do not have evidence of a specific violent plot. Graves’s defense team told the court he has no criminal record or history of violence, and asked the judge to release him to his mother as his third-party-custodian, along with ankle-monitoring, as conditions for his bail. That request was denied. Judge Pamela Smith described the social media posts as a “will to act” that put the public in jeopardy.

An attorney for Graves declined to comment after the hearing.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misstated that Graves is 19-years-old.

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Zachariah Hughes reports on city & state politics, arts & culture, drugs, and military affairs in Anchorage and South Central Alaska. @ZachHughesAK About Zachariah