ears before law enforcement seized the contents of Ian Rogers’ safe, he earned a reputation as a talented mechanic and successful Napa Valley business owner. Rogers catered to an elite clientele of Jaguar, Land Rover and Rolls-Royce owners inside a garage off Napa’s main drag, a street spotted with boutiques and high-end bed and breakfasts.

The 47-year-old from Sonoma County, who appeared to have a passion for guns according to Facebook posts where he dissed prominent Democrats, was also a loving husband and father who paid his bills on time, according to his family and friends.

In the fall of 2020, in the weeks after Joe Biden was declared the next president of the United States, Rogers sent an ominous text to someone he trusted, according to court records.

“Ok bro we need to hit the enemy in the mouth,” he messaged.

“Yeah so we punch Soros,” Rogers’ former employee and gym buddy, Jarrod Copeland, texted back, referring to billionaire investor George Soros.

Copeland, a Kentucky native, was a mechanic at Rogers’ shop nearly a decade earlier.

“I think right now we attack democrats. They’re offices etc. Molotov cocktails and gasoline,” Rogers continued.

Copeland replied, “We need more people bro. Gonna be hard.”

The day after Thanksgiving, the chatter kindled a plan. Text messages contained in court records show the two men agreed to burn down the headquarters of the California Democratic Party in Sacramento, a building diagonal to the California Highway Patrol office tasked with protecting state lawmakers and daily visitors to the Capitol. Also nearby: a youth center, gym and popular bookstore.

The two men texted that they hoped hitting that particular target would send a message and ignite a movement. They viewed themselves as action film heroes, referencing “The Expendables,” a popular movie franchise.

On Jan. 8, 2021, the two acknowledged they might die carrying out their plan. Rogers asked Copeland if he was ready to leave his wife.

It never came to that.

Rogers and Copeland were arrested in January and July of 2021, respectively, according to court records.

The two are charged in federal court with conspiracy to destroy by fire or explosive a building used in interstate commerce, with Copeland facing an additional destruction of records in official proceedings charge for allegedly destroying evidence of his communication with Rogers.

The Napa County District Attorney’s Office is also prosecuting Rogers for 28 felony counts over the numerous pipe bombs, and unregistered assault rifles authorities allegedly discovered inside his business, home and RV. He is also being charged with converting firearms into machine guns.

If the case goes to trial, Rogers faces a statutory maximum of 45 years in prison. Copeland faces a statutory maximum of 25 years, if convicted on all charges.

Their attorneys have been negotiating plea bargains over their alleged involvement for months.

Copeland has entered a no contest plea and is awaiting sentencing, his attorney, John Ambrosio, said.

“He’s going to pay his debt and he’s taken responsibility,” Ambrosio added. “And we’re just waiting to see exactly what his punishment is going to be.”

Part of a surge in domestic extremism

Rogers’ and Copeland’s case is part of a surge in violent extremist activity the FBI is investigating in Northern California and throughout the nation.

Federal law defines domestic terrorism as “acts dangerous to human life” that violate state or federal criminal law, and appear to be an attempt to “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion” or “affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

Since the spring of 2020, the FBI’s investigations of suspected domestic extremists have more than doubled, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

And just over a year after hundreds of people stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the certification of the presidential election, the DOJ announced it was creating a special unit to address “the threat posed by domestic extremism.”

The Justice Department arrested and charged more than 725 people for their alleged involvement in the insurrection. KQED found that at least 40 were from California, including Evan Neumann, a Mill Valley resident charged with 14 counts, including assaulting Capitol police. Neumann fled to Europe, crossing through pre-war Ukraine and successfully claiming asylum in Belarus, according to the Washington Post.

In February, a sergeant at Travis Air Force Base allegedly aligned with boogaloo adherents in Turlock, part of a loose-knit anti-government group trying to ignite a civil war, entered a guilty plea for gunning down a federal officer in Oakland during a 2020 protest over police violence. He’s also accused of murdering a Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s deputy a week later.

And just last month, an Orange County man was arrested for allegedly threatening to bomb the headquarters of Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher, because he was upset by the company’s definition of “female.” According to the Washington Post, the man has allegedly been sending threatening messages since 2014, and the FBI interviewed him in 2015 and in October.

Amid growing concerns of potential extremist violence, the FBI and local police recently held a town hall in Modesto, urging residents to report possible domestic extremist threats.

United by rage

In an attempt to understand why two Bay Area men allegedly conspired to blow up a Sacramento building, KQED’s reporters visited the places where Rogers and Copeland worked, reviewed hundreds of pages of court documents and public records and interviewed more than a dozen people, including family members. Copeland and Rogers’ attorneys refused requests to interview their clients, pending a final decision in their case.

What emerged is a portrait of friends united by rage who found community within an obscure anti-government militia. But one kept his affiliation quiet, while the other proudly displayed his allegiance with a bumper sticker on his truck. Together, they allegedly hatched a violent plan that they hoped would spark more violence.

Jon Blair, the assistant special agent in charge of counterterrorism at the FBI’s San Francisco field office, which investigated Rogers and Copeland, would not comment on the case, but said it’s not just the number of incidents that has gone up in California, but also the number of people involved and the severity of violence.

“There are actors who are predisposed towards these acts of violence, who are violating federal law and who are adhering to ideology,” Blair said. “They didn’t just come into existence after 2020, right? I do think they were a little more emboldened now because the rhetoric has become so pervasive and so loud in our culture.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups throughout the country, has identified 45 currently active anti-government groups in California, including four militias.

In the past, chapters of other groups – including III% United Patriots, III% Defense Militia, California Three Percenters, the original Three Percenters, Oath Keepers and West Coast Patriots – have all been active in California, according to the nonprofit.

Rogers and Copeland joined one of those, according to court records and screenshots obtained by KQED.

At the time of his arrest, Rogers told law enforcement he was a member of a “prepper group” called 3UP, a California offshoot of the Three Percenters, court filings show. Detectives also found a bumper sticker on one of Rogers’ vehicles of the III% symbol: three lines encircled by 13 stars.

The Three Percenters, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, are a sub-ideology of the broader anti-government militia movement, and some California members were charged for participating in the January 6 insurrection. Three Percenters believe the unproven assertion that just three percent of colonists defeated the English during the American Revolution.

3UP claimed to be a social club not affiliated with any militia, according to Facebook screenshots. When a reporter reached one member in Milpitas by phone, he said “no comment” and hung up the phone. Calls to a number of other members were not immediately returned.

Copeland was also a member of 3UP, according to prosecutors. Screenshots of a now defunct private Facebook group for Bay Area members showed Copeland as a member. A photograph posted to the page on Aug. 9, 2020, showed Rogers and Copeland with their wives at a barbecue that other members of 3UP attended, according to a screenshot shared with a KQED reporter.

But there’s nothing illegal about socializing with members of a so-called “prepper group,” purchasing tactical equipment and believing the government should be overthrown.

While the FBI’s strategy for combatting terrorism focuses on thwarting attacks before they happen — a concept the agency refers to as “left of boom” — the agency cannot interfere with people exercising their constitutional rights to voice their anger at elected officials and political parties.

And, Blair said, the agency does not investigate groups — only individuals who break the law.

“We don’t care what you believe, because we’re not allowed to care what you believe, no matter how reprehensible those beliefs may be,” said Blair. “It’s only if your beliefs or your ideology are motivating you to commit an act of violence — that’s when you would suddenly become of concern to us.”

Blair said the FBI relies on tips to identify potential threats. He thinks more people are reporting extreme rhetoric.

“There are people who are looking left and right and realizing that this is not necessarily the world we want to live in,” Blair surmised. “I think we are getting more reports from individuals who happen to be near people who are spewing the ideology and taking steps towards those violent acts, saying, ‘No, not here, not on my turf, not around me.’”

A ‘one-man militia’

An anonymous tipster urged the FBI to look into Rogers’ behavior.

A KQED reporter was able to contact the individual who reported Rogers and confirm that the two had once been friends. According to the tipster, they shared a love for exotic cars and guns and had both voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

But, in 2019, Rogers began to threaten violence, often seething with rage and lashing out at people around him, he said.

The informer began documenting Rogers’ behavior. In September of 2020, he mailed an envelope to the San Francisco field office of the FBI. Inside was an SD card with screenshots of Rogers’ social media posts and a video of Rogers firing an AK-47 at a shooting range previously owned by Craig Bock, a prominent member of the Three Percenter movement, according to a lawsuit filed by Bock’s family after county officials revoked their lease for the shooting range and reporting by the Vallejo Sun.

The tipster also emailed the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, warning that Rogers was “deranged” and “a one-man militia.”

The following excerpt from the tipster’s email was contained in a Napa County Superior Court filing:

The Napa County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI jointly investigated Rogers, according to a declaration by a county detective filed as part of a motion opposing Rogers’ bail. In November of 2020, authorities learned that Rogers sold his home in American Canyon, a city about 10 miles south of Napa, and was flush with cash, according to the motion.

On Jan. 15, just nine days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, sheriff’s deputies detained Rogers at a traffic stop in downtown Napa and served him with search warrants for his home and auto repair shop, according to court papers.

Inside a safe in Rogers’ office, law enforcement discovered five brick-sized pipe bombs, along with raw materials “that could be used to manufacture destructive devices, including black powder, pipes, endcaps,” according to a federal criminal complaint. There was “a Nazi flag and a Nazi dagger with markings from the Elite SS in Hitler’s army,” according to a separate court filing. The safe also contained a “White Privilege Card,” according to an FBI affidavit and the federal complaint against Rogers.

In a storage closet, deputies found, according to records, “numerous rifles, including some that were fully automatic and some that had been modified to operate as machine guns.”

They also found seven manuals on bomb making and survival tactics, including one called “The Anarchist Cookbook” and another titled “How to Make Homemade C-4,” an explosive material; approximately 15,000 rounds of ammunition; a homemade silencer; and “go bags” with body armor and bullet-proof face shields.

Dozens more guns were found, unsecured, inside his home and RV. All told, officers collected 54 guns — including eight assault weapons considered illegal in California, according to the Napa County District Attorney. Rogers was arrested.

Rogers’ friends and family said he liked to pump iron, shoot semi-automatic rifles and drive fast cars. They also commented that he had used steroids to bulk up his 5’11” frame to 200 pounds in recent years.

In one Facebook photo that went viral after his arrest, Rogers sits at the wheel of his DeLorean, the gull-wing door raised, his muscular arms bulging under a cutoff T-shirt.

Rogers has a tattoo on his upper left arm of an eagle that resembles the Nazi Eagle, which he made no effort to hide. He is wearing camouflage fatigues and his hair is cropped.

Rogers learned how to fix cars in his father’s repair shop in Sonoma County when he was young. In 2005, he and his first wife, Julie Crisci, opened British Auto Repair in Napa. Rogers catered to wine country residents of diverse ethnic backgrounds who praised his mechanical skills and professionalism in dozens of online reviews.

But two witnesses told KQED they heard Rogers use racial slurs to refer to clients. Those individuals said he expressed rage towards people of other races.

A longtime Napa resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, described one of Rogers’ tirades: “He was just stomping around, you know, ‘these mother ****ing’— you know dropping N-bombs — ‘with their stupid’ — just like like flexing, just flipping out. Other times you just hear him screaming about whatever — the Jews or, you know, Nancy Pelosi.”

He also said Rogers told people he named his German Shepherd “Fritz” after Hitler’s personal dog handler, Fritz Tornow. Rogers also built a working MG 42, a machine gun Allied troops nicknamed “Hitler’s Buzzsaw” because of the noise it made spewing 1,200-1,500 rounds of ammunition per minute.

“He’s a bad dude,” the Napa resident said. “He’s going to get what he deserves, hopefully. But, he’ll also be some sort of martyr for extremists.”

Rogers also used racial slurs to describe his former Asian American neighbors in text messages to Crisci that were included in court filings. On Sept. 16, 2019, he wrote:

“I hate this town I’ll be happier away from the [N-word]. I’m sick of my stupid [racial slur for people of Korean descent] neighbors. I can’t forgive them for calling the cops on my numerous times over bullshit. Neighbors should have your back and they are backstabbers. Typical Asian assholes, they only care about themselvs and they’re families. I hate Asians they are rude and dishonest.”

A business acquaintance of Rogers said he never heard him use racist language. Cliff Marden, who sold auto repair tools to Rogers for over a decade, described his client as opinionated, but not violent.

“Ian is not a terrorist by any means, he’s not a threat to the public,” Marden said when reached by phone. “He was a businessman and he was an outstanding person and individual of the community.”

Marden said Rogers got in trouble because he said the wrong things at the wrong time, but never would have acted on those threats.

“He had too much to lose to do something like that,” Marden said.

Rogers has a young son from his first marriage, and had recently remarried.

A woman who answered the door at Rogers’ last known address confirmed she had married him a year and a half earlier. Yuliia Rogers said she met her husband online and that he came to see her in her native Ukraine three times before they married.

“It was very wonderful,” she said, smiling as she reminisced.

Yuliia Rogers said she now reminds her husband of that time with a photograph “to keep him positive” while he’s incarcerated. She said her husband had been collecting guns for 20 years and that it was his “passion.”

She did not believe he was capable of violence and never feared for her own safety, she said.

“He never was mean or trying to do something bad to another person,” she said.

She said her husband was probably drinking when he wrote those texts to Copeland and was just venting his frustration over the presidential election.

“He never was going to do it,” Yuliia Rogers said. “It was maybe like little boys like, ‘I will,’ ‘I can do this,’ or ‘we can do this.’ But it was just like playing.”

While Rogers had a big personality and a wide circle of clients and friends, Copeland was friendly but quiet, according to people who talked to him.

“I had more meaningful conversations with Ian than Jarrod,” said Jag Rattu, owner of Audio House, a Napa car audio and window tint business, who often saw the two weight-lifting at a nearby gym.

Copeland, 38, started working as a mechanic at Rogers’ shop in 2011 according to his Linkedin profile.

“They were like brothers. Like really close homies,” Rattu said. “They’d spot each other. I’m working (out) on a machine across from them, they’d be joking around, smiling.”

Rattu said he noticed that after Trump was elected, Rogers, who he’s known since 2007, became more politically vocal on social media.

“Some people got way to the left and some people got way to the right,” Rattu said. “I started seeing hatred come through in his Facebook posts. He hated Gavin Newsom for some reason. I heard something about him wanting to beat up Newsom. But I thought it was all jokes.”

Rattu said that he was most surprised by the Nazi memrobilia and “white priveledge card” investigators found in Rogers’ safe.

“I’m Indian,” Rattu said. “I get mistaken for Muslim. I’ve gotten racist attacks against me. After 9/11, I almost got jumped by these guys. I tell you, Ian never, never — and Jarrod, too — never brought up stuff like this. They treated me like any old guy.”

‘My communication consists of fists and bullets’

A few years after meeting Rogers, Copeland enlisted in the U.S. Army. But his military career was cut short when he was arrested for desertion in May of 2014, not long after the start of basic training. In 2016, he was arrested for desertion a second time. He received an “Other Than Honorable” discharge in lieu of court martial the following month, according to court records.

Prosecutors allege that after Copeland was discharged from the Army, he joined an affiliate of the Three Percenter movement.

According to court documents, Copeland told Rogers that he was offered an officer position in the group, in either communications or security.

“But my communication consists of fists and bullets sooooo,” Copeland messaged.

Several months after his discharge from the Army, Copeland became general manager of Pep Boys in Vallejo. Justin Laquindanum, who told KQED he worked there at the same time, said Copeland was into guns and wore a close-cropped, militaristic haircut.

“He’s more into the (right to bear) arms — one of the topics he says is a definition of being American. A lot of soldier talk,” Laquindanum said, adding that Copeland helped him through a difficult period in his life.

Politics often came up in their conversations while working.

“He would ask me, ‘Hey, what do you think about this Black Lives Matter shit?’”

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