Two of the three men accused of belonging to a violent white supremacist organization and plotting to murder a Bartow County couple attempted to distance themselves from their alleged co-conspirator in a court appearance Friday in Rome.
Michael Helterbrand, 25, of Dalton; and Jacob Kaderli, 19, of Dacula; are charged with conspiracy to commit murder and membership in a criminal gang. The men, along with Luke Lane, 21, were arrested in January after a months-long undercover investigation into their activities, including paramilitary training on Lane’s property in the Silver Creek community outside of Rome.
Lane faces the same charges, but he was not in court as attorneys for Helterbrand and Kaderli said the evidence used to arrest their clients largely came from statements Lane made to an undercover agent. Kaderli’s attorney, John Lovell, focused on an alleged conversation Lane had with the agent prior to a meeting with the other two men where Lane said he would give “the full details of his plan” to murder the couple.
“They are hearing about this plan at the same time the (undercover agent) is hearing about this plan,” Lovell said. “If we believe what Lane said — and there is no reason not to believe him — he had not shared his plan with these two gentlemen.”
All three men are accused of belonging to The Base, an international hate group dedicated to creating unrest through violent acts with the aim of bringing down society and replacing it with a white ethno-state. According to prosecutors, the men plotted to kill the couple because they believed them to be leftist activists.
The arrest of the Georgia men made national news and came as federal authorities in Maryland arrested three other Base members, charging them with weapons violations and accusing them of plotting to disrupt a pro-gun rally in Virginia. Court documents allege that some members of that group, including a former Canadian military reservist, trained with assault weapons on Lane’s northwest Georgia compound.
Helterbrand and Kaderli wore orange prison jumpsuits and facemasks to court Friday, and almost everyone in the courtroom, including Superior Court Judge John Niedrach, also wore masks. All three alleged conspirators are being held without bond, and because of the continuing COVID-19 crisis, none have been indicted because grand juries are not meeting. Last month, the men asked Niedrach to reconsider granting them bond because of the pandemic, but he refused.
At the end of Friday’s two-hour hearing, Niedrach ruled the state has established probable cause. He said he would consider a bail motion for Kaderli, but noted that he already had twice refused to release him.
The only witness called during Friday’s hearing was Floyd County Police Sgt. Matt Meyers, who recounted the case against the men by reading aloud from a 20-page affidavit. Meyers described himself as the “case agent” for the investigation, but the affidavit was based on information collected by the undercover officer and other state and federal agents who assisted in the investigation.
Defense attorneys for Kaderli and Helterbrand pounced on details in the affidavit, challenging Meyers’s memory of various details of the investigation, while distancing their clients from the alleged plot. When Meyers testified the group met between 10 and 12 times to plan the alleged killing, Lovell pressed him for an exact figure.
“I don’t remember exactly how many meeting there were,” Meyers said. “That was a guess off the top of my head.”
Lovell also asked who wrote the affidavit.
“The FBI assisted with preparing it,” Meyers said. “I don’t know who exactly prepared it.”
“Did they email it to you?” Lovell asked.
Meyers said yes, but he said he wrote portions of the document as well.
Taped phone conversations
Radford Bunker, attorney for Helterbrand, challenged Meyers on a statement that his client was “big into the bowl patrol stuff,” a reference to the hairstyle of white supremacist Dylann Roof, the mass murderer convicted of killing nine members of an African-American church in Charleston in 2015. Bunker pointed out the affidavit said Lane told the undercover officer that, not his client.
“There was a whole lot said and we are several months out from that. I don’t remember what was said,” Meyer said.
Assistant District Attorney Emily Johnson told the judge that Kaderli and Helterbrand were active conspirators in the murder plot and pointed to other portions of the lengthy affidavit where the undercover agent directly quoted them or described their actions.
In one exchange, the agents said Luke brought up plans for the murder.
“The Cartersville guy?” Kaderli alleged replied. “Alright, when is that happening.”
Johnson also pointed to alleged statements by Helterbrand that he had no problem killing any children they found in the home and promising to bring drugs, including methamphetamines, the night of the alleged attack.
Johnson asked the judge to again deny bond and said authorities had a taped phone conversation from Kaderli where he said he would “disappear” if released. The state did not produce the recording at the hearing.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.
With the largest team in the state, the AJC reports what’s really going on with your tax dollars and your elected officials. Subscribe today. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.
Your subscription to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism. Visit the AJC's Georgia Navigator for the latest in Georgia politics.