A Jefferson County man was charged with federal crimes related to selling devices that turn firearms into automatic rifles, and is accused of having ties to a domestic terrorist group that killed a police officer in May.
Timothy John Watson, 30, of Ranson, is accused of selling gun conversion devices on a website disguised to sell “portable wall hangers,” which are actually drop-in auto sears. These devices can convert a semi-automatic AR-15 into a fully-automatic machine gun, according to an affidavit filed in the Northern District of West Virginia.
The FBI launched an investigation into Watson after a cooperating defendant in a separate case confessed to ordering four of these devices through Watson’s website. Federal investigators tracked its origins, leading them to Watson in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.
Watson’s business is tied to the Boogaloo Boys, a group responsible for killing a Santa Cruz County deputy sheriff and a security officer at an Oakland, California, federal courthouse, FBI agent Mark McNeal wrote in his affidavit.
“The Boogaloo movement [is] a loosely organized far-right, anti-government, and extremist political movement in the United States. Boogaloo adherents say they are preparing for, or seek to incite, a second American Civil War, which they call the Boogaloo. The movement consists of pro-gun, anti-government groups,” McNeal wrote.
On Oct. 15, a confidential source with the FBI-Pittsburgh division placed an order with Watson’s website, requesting the gun conversion devices be shipped to a post office box in Pittsburgh, according to the affidavit.
Neither Watson nor his business are registered to manufacture firearms, according to the affidavit. Watson’s alleged illegal sales date back to Jan. 8 and continued up until his arrest.
U.S. Attorney Bill Powell said in a statement Watson has supplied these devices to hundreds of people during this time period.
“The suspect in this case appears to have supplied hundreds of people with these conversion devices, some to people who want to do Americans harm. Federal law is very specific on these types of devices, and the safety of the public from extremists is one of our highest priorities,” Powell said.
Watson is charged with conspiracy to commit offense against the United States, illegal possession and transfer of a machine gun, and unlawfully engaging in the business of manufacturing firearms.
Watson faces up to five years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for the conspiracy charge, and faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each of the remaining counts.
Watson’s attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.
The charge comes at a time in the country where anti-government fervor and far-right extremism is on the rise.
“The FBI remains focused on the threat posed by domestic violent extremists,” FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Michael Christman said in the release. “The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force works closely with our federal, state and local partners across the country to combat these serious threats. We cannot and will not allow these types of activities to inflict violence and harm to the American people.”