Keith Michael Novak, an Iraq war veteran, is accused of stealing the identification information of hundreds of members of his former Army unit at Fort Bragg, N.C. (Sherburne County Sheriff / AP)
MINNEAPOLIS — An Iraq war veteran accused of stealing identification information of roughly 400 members of his former Army unit so he could make fake IDs for his militia was ordered Monday to remain in federal custody.
Prosecutors say Keith Michael Novak, who’s charged with fraud in connection with identity theft, is a self-described commander of a militia. Court testimony on Monday revealed the investigation into the 25-year-old Novak began after he allegedly talked with an FBI source at Camp Williams in Utah — where he was training for the National Guard — about blowing up a National Security Agency facility.
In addition, FBI Special Agent Christopher Crowe testified, Novak told undercover FBI employees that he had a “target package” on billionaire Warren Buffett. Crowe did not elaborate on why Novak may have been targeting Buffett. An explanation of a “target package” was not disclosed.
An affidavit unsealed last week said Novak threatened violence if arrested, allegedly telling an undercover FBI employee he had “5000 rounds, a thousand of it is in magazines, ready to go.”
Crowe said Novak had a semi-automatic pistol, brass knuckles and a knife on him when he was arrested last week. Crowe said Novak resisted arrest and that the pistol had a loaded magazine, but did not have a round in the chamber. Six unloaded firearms were found in Novak’s apartment.
Defense attorney Anders Folk argued Novak should be released, saying he is not a flight risk and that statements he’s accused of making were nothing more than boasting. Folk also said it’s not illegal to be in a militia.
“The stupid things he said — there is evidence to believe he could carry them out, is there not?” U.S. Magistrate Judge Franklin Noel said. He referred the case to a grand jury for further investigation.
According to an FBI affidavit, Novak was an active duty soldier and intelligence analyst with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., from late February 2009, to early September 2012. He served in Iraq in 2010. Novak is currently a human intelligence analyst with the Minnesota National Guard.
The affidavit said Novak went to Utah for training in January and met two undercover FBI employees who posed as members of a Utah-based militia. Crowe testified that Novak was introduced to the FBI employees by a source — after Novak had talked of violence.
Novak told the undercover employees that if they came to Minnesota, he would train them on military intelligence-related tasks, including the creation of “target packages,” according to the affidavit. Novak also said he’d taken classified materials from Fort Bragg and would share the information with them, the document said.
In July, the undercover FBI employees came to Minnesota, where Novak gave them an electronic copy of a classified document and taught them how to encrypt files, the affidavit said.
He also said that he had a personnel roster — including names, birthdates and Social Security numbers — of a “Battalion’s-worth of people” from his former unit, the document showed. The undercover employees said they knew someone who could make fake IDs, which Novak said he needed for his militia, the affidavit showed.
Crowe testified that over the next several months, Novak sent the undercover FBI employees identification information for a total of 92 members of his former unit and accepted money in return.
The affidavit also gave some details about Novak’s militia activities — alleging he attended military-style training in rural Minnesota, slept with guns and threatened to shoot at authorities if arrested.
His militia, the 44th Spatha Libertas, has a Facebook page that on Monday appeared to have been taken down. Posts to the page in recent months include statements against the government, information about combat training and drills, information on the rising cost of ammunition, and references to a revolution.
Carla Hill, a national investigative researcher with the Anti-Defamation League, a civil rights group, said the 44th Spatha Libertas is one of about 250 groups that are part of a resurgence of the anti-government extremist movement that has a long history of criminal activity and violence.
“Militias are one of the most receptive audiences for extreme anti-government conspiracy theories and their radicalizing potential,” Hill, who has expertise in tracking domestic extremist groups, said in an email. She said based on the small amount of information she has, the 44th Spatha Libertas seems typical of the militia movement.
Folk said in addition to being in the National Guard, Novak is a student. He was honorably discharged from the Army, and has no felony or misdemeanor convictions, the attorney said.
Crowe said authorities also recovered military flak jackets, which the affidavit says Novak stole from the 82nd Airborne Division, as well as digital media that is still being examined. They also found a list of people Novak appeared to have been creating “target packages” for, Crowe said.
“The body of evidence and the body of statements show the defendant’s mindset is one of defiance, not compliance,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Winter said.