As Florida Man stories go, this one is darker than the one about the bearded septuagenarian who won a women’s poker tournament, but it’s just about as odd. A neo-Nazi, you see, got tired of the whole goosestepping and Heil-Hitlering routine, and decided to take refuge in religion. He converted to Islam, but then two of his roommates had the poor judgment to question the wisdom of his decision. He shot them dead. On Monday, he pleaded guilty to double homicide.
The New York Post reported Monday that Devon Arthurs, “now 24, agreed to a term of 45 years in prison in exchange for admitting his guilt for the 2017 shooting deaths of Jeremy Himmelman and Andrew Onseschuck inside a Tampa apartment.” Arthurs, Himmelman and Onseschuck had been members of the Atomwaffen Division (“Atomic Weapons Division”), a group of pimply-faced losers cosplaying as Nazis that, at least according to Arthurs, had sinister plans.
Arthurs, according to the Tampa Bay Times Monday, told police that another one of his roomies, Brandon Russell, was the founder of Atomwaffen Division, and that “the group had plans to carry out terrorist acts, including launching explosives into a nuclear power plant.” He also claimed that they planned to target synagogues. Instead of participating in their plotting, however, Arthurs left the group and ultimately converted to Islam. It was then that Himmelman and Onseschuck teased Arthurs “for his new faith,” according to the Post, and according to the Associated Press, “the families of the victims alleged that the murders were in retaliation.”
Newsweek reported Monday that Arthurs claimed that his murders had actually prevented these neo-Nazis’ plots from coming to fruition: “In a statement issued to police during interrogation, Arthurs argued that he was saving Americans from mass destruction after learning that one of his roommates, Brandon Russell, planned to bomb power plants and synagogues around Florida.”
Immediately after the murders, however, Arthurs had belied his own claims by not exactly behaving as if he actually opposed violence. He said that he also wanted the killings of his roommates to serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of anti-Muslim sentiment. Not the best way to communicate such a message, but it is what it is.
And that wasn’t all. The Tampa Bay Times notes that “on May 19, 2017, Arthurs walked into a leasing office at the Hamptons apartments in New Tampa and announced to several people that he had just killed his roommates. A property manager called 911 and watched as Arthurs walked to the nearby Green Planet Smoke Shop. He entered the store, brandished a handgun and held three people hostage.” He later told detectives: “I had to do it. This wouldn’t have had to happen if your country didn’t bomb my country.”
My country? Devon Arthurs is an American, but it is not uncommon for converts to Islam to regard themselves as citizens of the umma, the global Islamic community, a loyalty that supersedes all attachment to any particular nation. After his arrest, he was asked if he had been outside the country, and he answered: “They closed the door to jihad for me over there. So I figured I’d do it over here. But I wanted to do it within reason. Generally, like, speaking, the amount of bureaucracy in the United States is its biggest problem.” I wouldn’t say that’s our biggest problem, but Arthurs might be on the verge of an actual fact there.
Now, however, Arthurs is singing a very different tune. As he pleaded guilty Monday, he said: “I feel I can be an advocate against extremism. I’d like to take this moment to tell the world to stay away from extremist groups….I’m very sorry for everyone that was involved. I’m very sorry for everything that has happened.” He also said: “If I could go back and do something over, I would sign myself into a hospital and work on my anger issues and my rational thinking skills.”
Rational thinking skills. Now there’s an idea. America is suffering from a pandemic of people who lack rational thinking skills. Devon Arthurs murdered two people for mocking Islam in a nation where every last public official, the overwhelming majority of whom are non-Muslims don’t know the first thing about Islam, would insist that Islam is a religion of peace that doesn’t mandate death for blasphemy. Spoiler alert: it does. Islam mandates death for non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic state who mention “something impermissible about Allah, the Prophet…or Islam” (Reliance of the Traveller, o11.10). Rational thinking skills would be a fine addition to the body politic all around.