F.B.I., Pushing to Stop Domestic Terrorists, Grapples With Limits on Its Power

Without a punishment for domestic terrorism under federal law, it is impossible to say whether prosecutors could have targeted Mr. Reed under it. He matched the elements in what the F.B.I. calls its domestic terrorism “triangle”: an ideology, the threat of violence and a possible crime.

Mr. Reed, who lived with his mother in the Monroe suburb of Seattle, worked at a Fred Meyer superstore and had no criminal history aside from a 2011 citation as a juvenile for “reckless burning.” But his online presence spoke to a young man fascinated with firearms, white supremacist ideology and violence.

After the Anti-Defamation League alerted the F.B.I. to threatening Facebook posts by seven accounts he ran, agents began monitoring his posts last fall. The F.B.I. and local law enforcement grew alarmed when Mr. Reed vowed to “shoot up a school” and displayed an assault rifle in a room covered in extreme-right iconography. His online accounts showed photographs of an arsenal seemingly in his possession, including three AR-15 rifles, two hunting rifles, a pump-action shotgun and at least one handgun.

The authorities decided to intervene, the threat of school shooting too great. When detectives searched Mr. Reed’s room, they seized a dozen firearms.

Mr. Reed told investigators that his menacing posts were only meant to get attention and that he intended only “to hurt people’s feelings,” citing his First Amendment right to reprehensible speech.

Even after he was released on bail, Mr. Reed railed against the government on Facebook, hinting at violence. He was jailed again. He pleaded guilty on May 10, according to a news report, smiling to reporters after he was led away.

Before his client was sentenced on Tuesday, Mr. Reed’s lawyer, Rick Merrill, said Mr. Reed was remorseful. He was not stockpiling weapons — some of which belonged to family members — for an attack, and he never intended to hurt anyone, Mr. Merrill said.

Superior Court Judge Paul W. Thompson disagreed. “I don’t find this was a mistake,” he said. “This was intentional, offensive, hateful actions that I can only conclude were designed to cause fear in the community.”

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