Federal investigators said they had them under surveillance for at least seven months, infiltrating their meetings at a Waffle House, homes and other places, before finally arresting them Tuesday, just days after discovering evidence they were trying to extract ricin from castor beans.
“While many are focused on the threat posed by international violent extremists, this case demonstrates that we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security,” said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.
The four gray-haired men — Frederick Thomas, 73; Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68 — appeared in federal court Wednesday without entering a plea and were jailed for a bail hearing next week. They apparently had trouble hearing the judge, some of them cupping their ears.
Thomas and Roberts were charged with conspiring to buy an explosive device and an illegal silencer. Prosecutors would not say whether the men actually obtained the items. Adams and Crump were charged with conspiring to make a biological toxin.
Relatives of two of the men said the charges were baseless. The public defender assigned to the case had no comment.
Prosecutors said that Thomas was the ringleader and that he talked of carrying out the sort of actions described in “Absolved,” an online novel written by former Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh. In the book, the militia members build rifle grenades and drop explosives from crop dusters.
In the book’s introduction, Vanderboegh calls it a “cautionary tale for the out-of-control gun cops of the ATF.”
“For that warning to be credible, I must also present what amounts to a combination field manual, technical manual and call to arms for my beloved gunnies of the armed citizenry,” he writes. “They need to know how powerful they could truly be if they were pushed into a corner.”
In an interview, Vanderboegh said he didn’t know the four men and bears no responsibility for the alleged plot.
“I’m glad that the FBI has apparently short-circuited some weak-minded individuals from misinterpreting my novel,” he said.
Last year, Vanderboegh was denounced for calling on citizens to throw bricks through the windows of local Democratic headquarters across the country to protest President Barack Obama’s health care plan. Several such incidents occurred. Vanderboegh has also appeared as a commentator on Fox News Channel.
Vanderboegh wrote on his blog Wednesday that his book was fiction and that he was skeptical a “pretty geriatric” militia could carry out the attacks the men were accused of planning.
But Kent Alexander, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, said he wouldn’t write off the men as harmless just because of their age: “Crime doesn’t have a retirement age. These guys are older than one usually sees, but criminals come in all ages.”
Donnie Dixon, another former U.S. attorney, said: “I would find it extremely difficult to think they could carry out a plot of such grandiose design, which doesn’t mean they should not have been nipped in the bud just like they were.” He said it would not have required anything grandiose “to cause a lot of problems or hurt a lot of people.”
Thomas’ wife, Charlotte, told The Associated Press the charges were “baloney.”
“He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country,” she said. “He loves his country.”
Roberts’ wife, Margaret, said her husband retired from the sign business and lives on a pension. “He’s never been in trouble with the law. He’s not anti-government,” she said. “He would never hurt anybody.”
Ricin is a castor-bean extract whose potential as a deadly biological weapon has long been known. In 1978, Bulgarian defector Georgi Markov was assassinated in London with a ricin pellet believed to have been fired from the tip of an umbrella.
美노인 4명 독극물테러 모의, 왜?
미국 조지아주 남부에서 60~70대 노인 4명이 폭발물과 치명적인 독극물 리신을 이용한 테러를 모의한 혐의로 체포돼 2일(현지시간) 연방법원 재판에 넘겨졌다.
전날 미 연방수사국(FBI)에 의해 체포된 페데릭 토머스(73), 댄 로버트(67), 레이 애덤스(65), 새뮤얼 크럼프(68)는 테러에 관한 인터넷 소설 '사면'을 모방해 연방 기관에 대한 폭발물과 생물학적 테러를 계획한 혐의를 받고 있다.
법원 문서에 따르면 이들은 정부 건물과 직원을 공격하기 위해 폭발 장치와 소음장치를 구하려했으며 2명은 리신 생산을 위한 제조법을 찾으려 한 것으로 알려졌다.
특히 주모자로 알려진 토머스는 국세청을 비롯한 연방기관이 입주한 건물을 살펴보려고 애틀랜타로 왔으며 정보원에게 1995년 오클라호마시(市) 연방건물 테러사건을 저지른 티머시 맥베이를 언급하며 건물 전체를 날려 버려야 한다고 말하기도 했다.
FBI는 믿을만한 정보에 따라 이들을 지난 3월부터 감시해왔으며 소지품에서 리신의 흔적이 발견됐다는 시험 결과가 나옴에 따라 이들을 체포했다.
검찰은 애덤스가 농무부 실험실에서 근무했고, 크럼프는 질병관리본부 유지보수 회사에서 일하는 등 테러에 쓸만한 배경을 가지고 있었다고 지적했다.
하지만 이들이 리신을 얻으려고 이런 관계를 이용했는지는 알려지지 않았다.
한편 토머스의 부인은 "남편이 30년간 미 해군에서 복무했고 나라를 사랑하며 미국에 반하는 어떤 행위도 하지 않을 것"이라면서 혐의가 거짓이라고 주장했다.