His mother and grandmother described him as a follower who does things to please his friends but federal prosecutors say Brandon Russell, a 22-year-old from Florida, US, is actually a dangerous neo-Nazi leader. He has been jailed for five years for having explosive material in his apartment.

"You seem like a very smart young man," US District Judge Susan Bucklew told Russell during the hearing on Tuesday, as she sentenced him to five years in prison.

The judge said the sentence is to protect the public and added she hopes Russell doesn't fall in with the wrong people while in prison.

Russell, a member of the Florida National Guard, pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials.

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It all began when police were called to Russell's apartment in Florida in May last year.

There were two dead men inside the apartment, one of them being Russell's flatmate. The neo-Nazi sat outside, crying, the court heard.

Police arrested a fourth roommate, Devon Arthurs, accused of killing Andrew Oneschuk and Jeremy Himmelman.

While Russell was not involved in the killing, police did discover his stash of explosives, as well as a load of neo-Nazi signs, posters and books.

They eventually found that Russell and Arthurs, the killer, were co-founders of Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group.

Atomwaffen is German for "atomic weapon".

Arthurs' case got more bizarre as he told police he killed the men for mocking his recent conversion to Islam. He later also said he had killed them to thwart a terrorist attack by Atomwaffen and claimed Russell was planning to "kill civilians and target locations like power lines, nuclear reactors and synagogues".

"I prevented the deaths of a lot of people," Arthurs said in a statement, even though it is not clear exactly how he prevented the deaths by killing the two men.

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Russell's mother, Brigiite Chantalle Russell-Hilts, told the court in tears that her son "was always looking for something to belong to".

According to the mother, Russell is on the autism spectrum and has attention deficit disorder.

Prosecutors were asking for 11 years in prison but Russell's lawyer said a longer jail term would only make the young man angrier.

Russell told the judge he is sorry and takes responsibility for what he has done.