The FBI is searching for a Florida man, described as a “doomsday prepper,” who fled from agents on Monday.
According to WTVT-TV, Martin Winters took off in his car and is later thought to have gone on foot in Lithia, Florida, a Tampa suburb, after FBI agents approached him with a search warrant. Previously, Winters allegedly told an undercover agent he had built illegal weapons and made concerning comments about how he planned to use them. The FBI said that these weapons were not properly registered as required by U.S. law.
Vincent Bernard, who rents property from Winters told WTVT he thinks “Marty is a good guy.”
“He has views that are different from other people,” Bernard told the news station of the man said to lead the group River Otter Preppers. “He loves God. I know that he reads a lot of Book of Revelations.”
John Kuntz, a friend of Winters, told the Tampa Tribune Winters is “a civic kind of leader and a helper his whole life in that neighborhood.”
Casey Kendall, who also rents from Witners, told WTVT she thinks he is a good man as well.
“He puts out produce every week for the people in need. He’s tremendously helped us out,” Kendall said.
Kendall and her boyfriend Jason Swain — who was later arrested along with a few other group members — were stopped by agents at gunpoint while in their car with three children earlier this week. Their home rented from Winters was raided by the FBI, according to WTSP-TV, with agents taking shell casing and mail.
“They weren’t going to find anything anyways. I’m not hiding nothing. What am I supposed to be hiding?” Kendall told WTSP.
David Couvetier with the FBI said talking about ideas isn’t the issue.
“Those are things protected by the Constitution just for that purpose, but when they start breaking the law to carry out those ideologies, philosophies, that’s when we step in, particularly when it has the potential to endanger public safety,” Couvetier said at a press conference.
Watch WPTV-TV’s report on the manhunt:
The FBI alleged that Martin and others in the group had been stockpiling arms and also set traps on his property. According to the FBI, the group is preparing for “an end-of-times event as prophesied by the Book of Revelations.”
To an undercover agent, Martin allegedly said “it’ll be worse than Waco” and “kill them all,” according to WTVT. Kuntz though told the Tampa Tribune he doesn’t believe Winters would threaten to shoot government agents.
“That just ain’t the man I know,” Kuntz said. “They’d have to play me a tape of that before I’d buy it.”
Couvertier though told the newspaper the charges have nothing to do with the group’s views toward the government but are a result of the booby traps and laws broken with possession of firearms that led to this.
“He is making this more than it is,” Couvertier told the Tampa Tribune.
Both the Facebook page and the YouTube channel for River Otter Preppers were taken offline this week.
The FBI issued a $5,000 reward for information leading to Winters’ arrest.
Update: The FBI said Winters turned himself in Wednesday (H/T: Biohazard23). According to the Tampa Bay Times, he was accompanied to the office with his daughter, wearing wet socks and shoes. Winters will go before a judge Wednesday afternoon.
“It appeared, based on his condition, that he was in the woods and at some point came out,” Couvertier told the Times.