Snider said the investigation involves possible crimes involving firearms, narcotics, kidnapping and sex trafficking “just to name a few.” A spokesman with the FBI’s Atlanta office declined to comment citing the agency’s policy not to comment on ongoing investigations.
Snider said the group had been under surveillance by the FBI, which was monitoring its recruitment and arming of homeless men as a security force and its practice of strong-arming college students for donations while panhandling near Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta. She told the court that no charges have been brought related to the joint investigation, which she said was ongoing.
The testimony came during a lengthy hearing on charges stemming from a separate incident involving a 911 call made the morning of July 19 from the group’s house on Selwyn Court. A person called authorities claiming he had been kidnapped by the group and was being held at gunpoint in a locked garage. Black Hammer leader Augustus Claudius Romain Jr., 36, known as Gazi Kodzo and a top lieutenant, 21-year-old Xavier “Keno” Rushin, were arrested and charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, conspiracy to commit a felony, and taking part in street gang activity.
In addition, Romain was charged with forcibly sodomizing one of the alleged victims, something Snider claimed her investigation revealed was a pattern of behavior by the erratic group leader who used sex with him as a method of attaining rank within the organization.
While the conspiracy charges were dropped at the request of prosecutors during Tuesday’s hearing, Magistrate Judge Christy Dunkelberger bound the two men over for trial on the other felonies. Both are being held without bond.
While they face serious charges, prosecutors face hurdles in getting them to stick. The alleged victim of the sexual assault by Romain would not speak to police at the time of the raid, and the other alleged kidnaping victim is homeless. The group claims on its social media channels to be targeted by federal authorities for its political activities.
Defense attorneys for Romain and Rushin hammered police witnesses Tuesday about the reliability of the information leading to the arrests and questioned why the activities of a group that styles itself as a political organization qualifies as a street gang.
Stacey Flynn, attorney for Romain, questioned one Fayetteville detective over whether the alleged kidnapping victim who spoke to police, Delvin Moore, had given his right name.
“This entire case appears to arise on the statement of one person,” Flynn said, referring to Moore.
Fayetteville Det. Justin Taylor said Moore made the 911 call and later told police that he and another Black Hammer recruit had been forced into a locked garage and held at gunpoint when Moore had refused Romain’s order that everyone go to bed at 8 p.m. because the group had a protest the next morning. Taylor testified Romain and another Black Hammer member, 18-year-old Amonte “AP” Adams, held the guns and were acting under Romain’s orders.
It was inside the garage when Moore said Romain sexually assaulted the other man in front of him while Rushin and Adams allegedly held their guns on them.
Adams was found inside the group’s house the day of the police raid dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. On their social media channels, the Black Hammer Party has, without evidence, accused police of shooting Adams. Taylor said an autopsy of the man has been completed, but a report is not yet available.
Snider said police and the FBI are investigating three other kidnappings that are alleged to have occurred in the house. She did not give details except that police had received separate 911 calls from people claiming to have been held against their will in the house but had since escaped.
Rushin sat in the courtroom in an orange jail jumpsuit next to his attorney. Romain appeared via videoconference from the jail often taking notes on a legal pad. According to Dunkelberger, investigators asked the two men be kept separate during the hearing, although no reason was given.
Tuesday’s testimony is the latest in a string of bizarre revelations about the group. A federal indictment unsealed last month in Tampa, Fla., implicates Romain and the group in an alleged scheme by a Russian citizen with Kremlin connections to sow discord in the United States by paying fringe groups to protest and involve themselves in local politics. The indictment includes groups in Florida and California, as well as the Black Hammer Party, as unindicted co-conspirators to the plot.
Investigative reporter Chris Joyner has been following the Black Hammer Party for months, documenting its odd and dangerous behavior, as well as its radical ideology. In April, the AJC reported on the group, including its connections to Russia and accused unregistered agent Aleksandr Ionov. Last month, the AJC was among the first to report on the group’s links to a SWAT standoff at a home in Fayetteville where one member died by an apparent suicide. The AJC will continue to follow this story.