Man with ties to extremist group sentenced on weapons charge

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A West Virginia man who was accused of selling machine gun conversion devices to followers of a far-right extremist movement received a five-year prison sentence Wednesday.

Timothy John Watson pleaded guilty in March in federal court in Martinsburg to possession of an unregistered firearm silencer.

Three other charges against Watson were dismissed. As a part of a plea agreement, Watson was ordered to forfeit the silencer, 3D printers and parts along with items seized in a November 2020 search that prosecutors said are devices used to convert semi-automatic AR-15 rifles into fully automatic machine guns.

Prosecutors said Watson, 31, of Ranson, made and sold hundreds of the devices to nearly 800 people online. Some of those included supporters of the anti-government “boogaloo” movement, the code word they use for their talk of a second civil war. Their prominence has grown during the pandemic as the gun-toting supporters, many dressed in Hawaiian shirts and camouflage garb, attended protests against government shutdowns.

From those sales, the FBI opened investigations involving 58 people, resulting so far in three firearms-related arrests and one conviction, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors had said Watson’s customers included an Air Force sergeant in California accused of fatally shooting a federal security officer and injuring several security personnel earlier in 2020.

Watson’s attorney, Shawn McDermott, previously denied in a court filing that Watson belonged to “any so-called Boogaloo movement,” and said his client “would reject any ideology that is based upon violence.” He said Watson operated a wall hanger business legally and that his products were not designed to create automatic machine guns any more than a clothes hanger made out of metal.

Investigators had said they linked Watson and his online business to the movement through a cooperating defendant in Minnesota who told the FBI he learned about Watson’s website through Facebook boogaloo groups.

The social media giant has tried to crack down on the group and last year announced it had removed hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts, pages and groups linked to the boogaloo movement.

Prosecutors found cryptic comments on Watson’s social media accounts made by apparent sympathizers of the movement. One message between Watson’s Instagram account and a user mentioned dead “redcoats,” an anti-government reference, according to court documents.

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