(JTA) — A Jewish security agency is taking credit for tipping off the FBI about a man associated with a white supremacist group who had a stockpile of weapons and Nazi propaganda in his Los Angeles-area home.
Ryan Scott Bradford was charged last month with conspiring to distribute methamphetamine and being a felon in possession of ammunition. But the FBI and Los Angeles police found far more than drugs and bullets when it searched his house on July 27, according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court: They also uncovered five switches for converting semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons; two 3D printers, one decorated with swastikas; posters of Adolf Hitler, Nazi flags, and a calendar with a handwritten note saying, “New Year’s Resolution: Take over the world – save Aryan race *Bake every single Jew.*”
When officers spotted a homemade bomb, they temporarily shut down the streets surrounding Bradford’s residence.
“As alleged, this convicted felon affiliated with a violent white supremacist group who espouses horrific acts of violence against Jews appears to be manufacturing firearms and possessing an improvised explosive device,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement announcing Bradford’s arrest. “The potential danger to the community cannot be overstated.”
The charging documents do not make clear when the FBI began monitoring Bradford. But according to the Community Security Initiative, a watchdog group at the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles that monitors threats against the Jewish community and provides safety training to Jews and Jewish institutions, the agency knew to investigate him thanks to the Jewish group’s work.
A CSI analyst told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the group had identified Bradford as a possible threat because of his social media use. He used keywords that the organization monitors for and expressed “implicit threats toward the Jewish community,” said the analyst, who requested anonymity out of concerns about their safety.
“It’s one thing to post antisemitic content and imagery. It’s another to go into a little bit more detail of your own history and the fixation that one has on a certain community — that stood out right off the bat,” the analyst said. “It increased over time, I wouldn’t say dramatically, but it was on an escalatory basis where it continued to increase in duration and time.”
The FBI’s Los Angeles office declined to discuss the ongoing investigation or the role the Jewish security group played in its scrutiny of Bradford.
“The FBI relies on the community always as a source of intelligence,” a spokesperson wrote in an email to JTA. “In many cases, the community act as our eyes and ears and we take the information given to us very seriously. While I can’t get into the details about our continuing investigation in order to protect the rights of the accused, I can confirm that the FBI routinely relies on tips/intel from the public and, when corroborated, may act on that information.”
The case is at least the second in recent months where Jewish security groups have said their monitoring of threats against Jews online has resulted in arrests by law enforcement. In November, a tip from the Community Security Initiative’s New York outpost led to the arrest of a man who allegedly claimed he wanted to “shoot up a synagogue.”
The Los Angeles federation’s security initiative is a decade old, but in recent years sweeping investments in Jewish security efforts have enabled similar monitoring in other places, as well as more intensive monitoring at the national level. The Secure Community Network, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions nationwide, opened a “command center” in Chicago in 2021. That same year, the Jewish Federations of North America launched its own security initiative, LiveSecure, with $130 million to fortify Jewish institutions. The initiatives followed antisemitic attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California, and came amid increases in white supremacist activity and reports of antisemitic incidents.
The CSI said between 2021 and 2023, Bradford posted multiple online messages and photographs under various iterations of the username “Peckerwood” — a reference to the San Fernando Valley Peckerwoods, a racially motivated violent extremist group based in Los Angeles County. He also documented his use of a 3D printer to manufacture firearms and calling for the mass murder of Jews.
Not all worrisome online activity causes the Jewish watchdog group to contact law enforcement. “The individual has to have the capability, intent and opportunity,” the analyst told JTA about CSI’s standards for reporting a threat to the FBI. CSI filed its first suspicious activity report to the FBI in March 2022, the organization said.
In July, according to the criminal complaint, Bradford posted on the secure communication platform Telegram, “Ready to kill some Jews with us?The white boys are gunna kick it off we’ve had enough of this kike bullshit what about you?”
In September, Bradford began posting links to instruction manuals for explosives on the encrypted cloud-based messaging app Telegram, according to the criminal complaint. That was enough for the Community Security Initiative to compile another suspicious activity report for law enforcement, according to the analyst.
The analyst compared the group’s work to that of private citizens, saying the online monitoring is like “being in a park and just watching the circus go by and jotting down information as it comes along.”
“We don’t surveil per se,” the analyst said. “We do what any private citizen has the right to do, which is look at open-source information and gather that information and submit it.”
Law enforcement agencies pick up the trail from there. In Bradford’s case, after agents found evidence of drug trafficking in his communications, the result was an arrest and prosecution.
“The defendant is a self-described anti-Semite associated with a white supremacist group which espouses the hatred of Jews and other minorities,” Donald Alway, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office said in a statement. “Hateful rhetoric that crosses the line into violence will get the attention of law enforcement and those who engage in such extremism will be held accountable should they act upon their violent rhetoric.”
Estrada, the U.S. attorney on the case, indicated in his statement that further charges could follow.
“We will continue to investigate this matter to ensure that this defendant is held accountable for his crimes, and to keep our community safe from acts of violence motivated by racist and hateful ideology,” he said. PJC