A Tennessee man accused by the federal government of plotting to join a far-right militia movement targeting immigrants and law enforcement at the southern border is a big talker who did not intend to harm anyone, his son told NBC News. 

Paul Faye, 55, was arrested Monday on a single charge of possession of an unregistered firearm or silencer. The complaint from his arrest, which was first reported by the newsletter Court Watch, shows he was the target of a nearly yearlong undercover FBI investigation into far-right militia movements. 

“They think my dad is a terrorist,” Joseph Faye, 30, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “He’s not a terrorist. He talks a big game but it’s all lies.”

According to the complaint, the elder Faye made a series of claims of being involved with militias to undercover FBI agents in 2023 and communicated a desire to go to the southern border and “stir up the hornet’s nest” by acting as a sniper — seemingly targeting immigrants and U.S. border officials. He allegedly told the FBI that he had coordinated with militias in Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee. Paul Faye also claimed to have contacts that could make explosives and said that he had booby-trapped his home with butane tanks, and he was in touch with a man who was later charged with conspiracy to murder officers and employees of the United States government, according to the complaint. 

In a motion, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee wrote that Paul Faye had been “planning over the course of eighteen months to travel to the border and commit acts of violence against migrants and federal law enforcement” and had “actively recruited and encouraged others to engage in similar conduct.”

Joseph Faye called the government’s claims “ridiculous.” 

“He’s not a sniper,” Joseph said of his father. “We went hunting and my dad had to shoot at a deer standing still three different times before he hit it. He’s not a sniper.”

Joseph described his father as a “compulsive liar” with mental health issues. He said his father had been “instigated” by an overreaching FBI investigation. 

The FBI and the U.S. attorney declined to comment. The public defender representing Paul Faye could not be reached.

In the face of rising right-wing extremism, law enforcement agencies have been criticized from all sides over their handling of domestic terrorism. Republican lawmakers and conservative media have claimed that the prosecution of far-right movements, from local and state militias to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, is government overreach. Left-leaning politicians and pundits, meanwhile, have accused law enforcement of failing to take threats of violence from right-wing domestic groups seriously enough

Undercover FBI agents “constantly” called Paul Faye, according to Joseph Faye, and met with him in person at least four times; Joseph said he was present for three of the meetings. From their initial meeting in April where he drove his father to meet the undercover agents in a Walmart parking lot — a meetup detailed in the complaint — Joseph said he suspected the men were with the FBI. 

“I said, ‘They’re feds, they’re undercover cops,’ and he said, ‘No they’re not,’” Joseph said. “Every time they came to see us, they’d be in different vehicles. They always brought ARs. Once we went out camping with my family and the next thing I know they show up. I told my dad, ‘They’re feds, no doubt about it.’”

Joseph said the undercover agents brought his father food, took him out to meals and brought him gifts, including Second Amendment patches, a “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag, and other items that were confiscated during a raid on Paul’s home this week. 

According to public records, Paul Faye formerly owned a carpentry and remodeling business. In the warmer months, he operates a lawn care business, his son said. Paul filed for chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2016, but the petition was dismissed. Before his arrest this week, he lived in a trailer next door to his ex-wife’s home. 

On Facebook, Paul’s bio reads, “’I’m A God Family Country Guy who believe what’s right is right but what’s wrong is wrong.” He was active on TikTok, his son said, and often watched and shared videos from anti-government channels, where people talked about the country “being invaded” by immigrants. Most of Paul’s videos are of his pet raccoons, but one, posted in February 2023, shows a patch adorned with a spartan helmet, two rifles and the words, “2nd American Militia.” In a comment, Paul described the patch as “my group patch.”

Two members of the 2nd American Militia were arrested in Missouri in October 2022 after a shootout with FBI agents who were executing a search warrant. The men, Bryan C. Perry and Jonathan S. O’Dell, are facing multiple federal counts of assault, attempted murder and conspiracy to murder officers and employees of the United States government. Perry and O’Dell were accused of planning to travel to Texas to shoot and kill immigrants crossing the southern border and murder Border Patrol agents who got in their way.  Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to this month’s complaint, phone records showed Perry and Paul Faye had “extensive contact” leading up to Perry’s 2022 arrest, which spurred the investigation into Faye. 

Joseph Faye said that his father met Perry through TikTok and Perry came by his father’s property to target shoot. Perry showed an interest in joining a small survivalist group to which he, his father and four other men belonged, he said. 

“Our group is about being able to survive in the wild, just good old country boy stuff,” Joseph said of the group, which he said does not have a name. Joseph said that the group would camp, hunt, fish and practice survival skills, and that the focus wasn’t on surviving government overreach or a civil war, but a “walking dead situation,” referring to the post-apocalyptic TV series. “We aren’t trying to hurt anybody, and it damn sure isn’t some militia,” he said.

Joseph said Perry talked about the president and the border constantly. “I got bad vibes,” he said. “We were not about that. We kept telling my dad he needed to stop talking to him, but my dad kept talking and talking. Now he’s guilty by association.”

According to the complaint, in January, Paul invited undercover FBI agents into his trailer’s “war room,” which was filled with guns, ammunition and tactical gear, and he sold them an unregistered silencer. 

Joseph said the guns in his father’s trailer belonged to him. 

“Those were mine,” Joseph said, explaining that he keeps his firearms at his father’s country home, where they hunt and target practice. “I’m a deer hunter. I have hunting rifles. The only gun my father owns is an old shotgun he got from his dad before he died.”

It was Paul Faye’s alleged sale of the silencer that led to the single charge against him. He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison if convicted. 

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