South Jersey man gets prison time for lying to feds about hate group membership

Color image of a hammer in a courtroom.

(Alexandru Nika/BigStock)

A federal judge on Thursday sentenced a South Jersey man to six months in prison for repeatedly lying to federal security officials about being an avowed member of a white supremacist group.

Prosecutors say Fred Arena, 42, of Salem, hid that fact while seeking a security clearance to take a job with a federal contractor working at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in August 2018.

The application for the security clearance required Arena to divulge whether he had ever been a member of an organization that used or advocated the use of “force or violence to prevent others from exercising their constitutional rights.” He did not disclose that he was a member of Vanguard America, a group that maintains the U.S. was created for white Christians and has a history of spreading menacing propaganda at religious institutions and college campuses.

Arena also repeatedly lied to federal investigators about his affiliation with the group.

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“I just got caught up in politics and it went a little too far,” said Arena before he was sentenced. “I’m not part of that stuff anymore.”

In December, Arena pleaded guilty to five counts of making false statements to government agents and federal investigators. He also concealed the fact that he had a car repossessed, another question on the security clearance application.

Arena was detained for roughly four months before being sentenced Thursday, meaning he only has to serve two more before being eligible for parole. U.S. District Judge John R. Padova sentenced Arena to two years of supervision after he’s released on parole.

Padova also barred Arena from ever again becoming a member of a group like Vanguard America.

“I’m counting on you,” said Padova.

“You have my word,” said Arena.

Arena’s defense attorney said his client will not appeal his sentence.

It’s unclear how prosecutors became aware of Arena’s connection to the group. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph LaBar said Arena’s social media presence made it clear he was a member at some point — including during the August 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“For instance, one rather notorious photograph of him at the Charlottesville rally wearing the uniform of this group, which was a polo shirt with their emblem on the front, holding a torch in one hand and holding a swastika flag in the other hand,” said LaBar.

The Unite the Right rally made national news after James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately drove his car into a group of counterprotestors, killing 32 year-old civil rights activist Heather Heyer and injuring more than a dozen others.

LaBar said Arena posted other hateful images on social media, including a photo of himself with a semi-automatic assault rifle with a caption reading, “Coming to a synagogue near you soon.”

Another post shows Arena holding a long knife with a caption suggesting he was prepared to act violently against Muslims, said LaBar.

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