In 2018, a newly hired software engineer at a defense and intelligence contractor in the Washington, D.C., suburbs was assigned to a team led by a senior developer named Hatchet Speed.
At first, the new engineer, Richard Ngo, got along well with Speed. They sometimes went out to lunch together and socialized away from the office. “Speed was my mentor at Novetta as the software lead,” Ngo later said in court testimony. “We worked together every day.”
But after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, Ngo noticed that Speed, a longtime Navy reservist who had deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as an intelligence analyst and held other sensitive cyber and intelligence posts in connection with Naval Special Warfare units, seemed to be changing. Ngo had always known that Speed was a gun enthusiast, but after the Capitol riot, he became more openly anti-government than he had ever been before. “He was just frustrated with just how everything was going,” Ngo testified, adding that Speed was “panic-buying” guns.
What Ngo didn’t realize was that Speed, who had legally changed his first name from Daniel to Hatchet in 2007, according to Utah court records, had been an apocalyptic far-right extremist long before January 6.
No investigation has been conducted to determine whether Hatched Speed compromised classified information.
In fact, Hatchet Speed was a self-described member of the Proud Boys working deep inside the U.S. intelligence community. He joined other Proud Boys members to storm the Capitol on January 6, but he got away undetected and continued to work in sensitive jobs in the months after the insurrection, even as he amassed a huge arsenal of weapons and began to think about kidnapping Jewish leaders and others he considered an existential threat. He wasn’t arrested until 18 months after the insurrection, and no investigation has been conducted to determine whether he compromised classified information, a Navy spokesperson said. Officials at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on any possible damage to U.S. intelligence resulting from Speed’s decadeslong access to classified information.
A spokesperson for Accenture Federal Services, which now owns Speed’s former employer, Novetta, and which has classified contracts with the Defense Department and the intelligence community, including U.S. Cyber Command, did not respond to requests for comment.
Finally, more than a year after the Capitol riot, the FBI launched an investigation of Speed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives was also involved, which suggests that records of Speed’s massive weapons purchases and his efforts to acquire unregistered silencers in the immediate aftermath of January 6 may have prompted the inquiry. In February 2022, an undercover FBI agent posing as a like-minded, right-wing gun enthusiast began meeting with Speed. That March, the Navy, aware of the FBI investigation, removed Speed’s access to sensitive Navy facilities and gave him what amounted to a fake job with Naval Warfare Space Field Activity at the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that develops America’s spy satellites. Speed, who previously held a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance, was not given access to NRO’s buildings nor its systems, a spokesperson for the NRO said. In addition to the FBI probe, Speed was also under investigation for two personnel-related cases within the Navy, a spokesperson said.
Speed was thus kept away from sensitive work while the FBI investigation was underway, until his arrest in June 2022. Yet Speed’s participation in the January 6 assault on the Capitol, and his ability to avoid detection for so long despite a series of red flags, are part of a disturbing pattern. Three active-duty Marines were given new intelligence assignments even after they were involved in the January 6 mob, The Intercept reported in February, including one who was reassigned to work inside the headquarters of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland. The three Marines were finally arrested two years after they stormed the Capitol.
Speed, 41, has been convicted in two separate trials on charges stemming from his extremism. In January, a federal jury in Virginia found him guilty on weapons charges for illegally purchasing three silencers as part of a $50,000 weapons-buying spree in the months after January 6. And last week, in a bench trial in federal court in Washington, Judge Trevor McFadden found Speed guilty of charges stemming from his activities on January 6. He will be sentenced later this spring.
In a brief phone interview, Speed’s father, Thaddeus Speed, defended him, saying: “He’s always been a very reasonable fellow.” He declined to comment further on his son’s activities or the court rulings.
Speed is the longest-serving official in the intelligence community to be charged so far in connection with January 6.
Speed’s case is significant because he is the longest-serving official in the intelligence community to be charged so far in connection with January 6. A Navy reservist for more than 20 years, with a bachelor’s degree in applied physics with an emphasis in computer science from Brigham Young University, Speed served as a cryptologic technician and intelligence analyst in the Navy reserves. He deployed to Iraq in 2009 and Afghanistan in 2011, and held other sensitive cyber and intelligence posts in connection with Naval Special Warfare units, which include the Navy SEALs. His last role before being sent to the dead-end position at the NRO was with the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, where he was assigned in October 2021. Prior to that, he had been assigned to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service headquarters in Washington. The Navy says that Speed was cut off from access to classified information beginning in August 2021, when he was unable to perform his duties because he had refused to comply with the U.S. military’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate. His enlistment contract expired in November 2022, and he is now being processed out of the Navy reserves, according to a Navy spokesperson. In a public statement, the Navy said that it “does not and will not tolerate supremacist or extremist conduct.”
Meanwhile, Speed’s job at Novetta placed him in the northern Virginia hub of the U.S. intelligence community; when Speed worked there, the company had offices near the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, the NRO, and the Pentagon. When it acquired Novetta in 2021, Accenture described it as a firm that “applies disruptive technologies including artificial intelligence, machine learning, cyber, cloud and information exploitation to transform how defense, intelligence and law enforcement organizations use data to better meet their missions.”
Speed’s ability to build a career in the intelligence community while aligning himself with the Proud Boys raises questions about whether military and intelligence officials are continuing to turn a blind eye to far-right extremism in their ranks, despite Pentagon orders to root it out.
Speed joined with “100 of us Proud Boys” at a pro-Trump rally in Washington in November 2020 to protest the outcome of the presidential election, he told the undercover FBI agent. On January 6, he went to the Capitol with other Proud Boys, noting that doing so “was always the plan,” but he only decided to enter the building when he heard from others outside that Vice President Mike Pence was certifying Joe Biden’s election, which Speed saw as a betrayal. “It was like, I’m going in there,” he told the undercover agent, according to court records. “Like, I have no respect for people in this building. They have no respect for me, I have no respect for them.” Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and four other top members of the group have been charged with seditious conspiracy and are currently on trial in Washington.
Speed met eight times with the FBI undercover agent, who secretly recorded their conversations. Beginning at a Starbucks near his home in Vienna, Virginia, in February 2022, Speed expressed such virulently antisemitic, racist, and genocidal views that it is difficult to understand how he could have remained in the intelligence community for so long without drawing more scrutiny. Speed expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin, even after Putin invaded Ukraine. He told the FBI agent that he “would love to see [Putin] just really be the leader that the world needs right now,” but that might not happen because “he has a lot of Jews around him who advise him,” according to court records.
Speed spoke forthrightly about his belief that violence would be required to retake America from the control of Jews and liberals. He told the FBI agent that he wanted to kidnap Jewish leaders, including billionaire philanthropist George Soros and leaders of the Anti-Defamation League, who he blamed for creating the Black Lives Matter movement. During one conversation, Speed said, “Jews for some reason love gang raping people. It doesn’t matter what they are doing, they always have time to gang rape … white girls.” He described Hitler as “one of the best people that’s ever been on this earth,” according to court documents, adding that he wanted “somebody like Hitler to stand up and say we’re going to stand against this moral incineration.”
“I’m looking for people who are willing to say how do we do something more than just complaining on Telegram, which I’m guilty of. I scroll through Telegram way too much. But you know, what do we do in the real world to make something really happen?” Speed asked the undercover agent at one point.
The leaders of the Anti-Defamation League drew Speed’s ire because “they spend all their time pushing for laws like this anti-lynching law that Biden just signed,” he said. The ADL was pushing anti-lynching legislation because “they know things are going to get bad enough that people like us are going to band together and straight up start lynching people.”
When it came to choosing kidnapping targets, Speed told the undercover agent, he planned to go after “people that are actually reachable by someone like me. People who don’t have bodyguards.”
At about the same time he began meeting with the undercover agent in early 2022, Speed quit his job at Novetta. He had always thought of himself as a good patriot because he worked for the government, he told the undercover agent, but he no longer saw it that way and had come to believe that he was “lending his skill set to evil.” In March 2022, Speed admitted to the undercover agent that he had gone to the Capitol on January 6 with other Proud Boys and then entered the building, making it to the Rotunda.
But the intense undercover investigation by the FBI — during which Speed revealed his apocalyptic views, his willingness to engage in antisemitic carnage, and his ties to the Proud Boys — did not lead to expansive charges against him. The weapons case in Virginia was limited to straightforward charges related to his purchase of unregistered silencers; the January 6 charges were similar to those brought against many other rank-and-file intruders in the Capitol attack. He was found guilty of felony and misdemeanor charges including obstruction of an official proceeding; entering and remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. The fact that the government gathered so much evidence of Speed’s interest in becoming a domestic terrorist but then only brought relatively modest charges against him contrasts starkly with the much more aggressive prosecutions faced by Muslim American defendants caught up in similar undercover operations in counterterrorism cases brought in the years after September 11.
But perhaps the greatest irony in Speed’s case came during the trial on the January 6 charges. In the case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Speed was represented by public defenders: two Black women.