Grumpy Old Terrorists? The FBI Says 4 Seniors Plotted Bio Attack

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The accused are members of a right-wing militia group in Georgia -- and the youngest is 65-years-old

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Four Georgia men in their mid-sixties to early seventies were plotting a biological weapon attack on American cities including Atlanta, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Northern District of Georgia. Scott Shane reports on the significant details, including what was allegedly said in a conversation secretly recorded by an FBI informant:

"There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly, highly illegal: murder," one of those charged, Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland, Ga., was recorded telling the informant. "When it comes time to saving the Constitution, that means some people have got to die," he said.

Another of the men, Samuel J. Crump, 68, of Toccoa, Ga., is accused of saying he wanted to make 10 pounds of ricin and disperse it in Atlanta and other cities, as well as loosing it from a car traveling on Interstate highways. Ricin, made from the castor bean, is a potent toxin, though it is not generally believed to be effective for killing large numbers of people. The others arrested were Dan Roberts, 67, and Ray H. Adams, 65, both of Toccoa, the Justice Department said. 

If all this is accurate, count me gobsmacked that once again, there is a right-wing fringe group that thinks a terrorist attack carried out by U.S. citizens and targeting various federal officials would somehow result in less government power over Americans. What they're alleged to have planned would be evil regardless of its effect, of course. But it seems so strange, and therefore noteworthy, that after witnessing the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, anyone, unhinged would-be terrorists included, would conclude that another attack would enhance constitutional government.

The advanced age of the alleged plotters is very unusual too.

As yet it is unclear how large a role the FBI played in their alleged misdeeds. As Julian Sanchez recently wrote after the bureau egged on and set up a would be jihadist, "One possible motive for these elaborate and highly publicized stings is that, whether or not the particular people they indict would have moved from rage to action without prompting, the steady stream of news reports will eventually force any candidate for jihad to assume that an 'Al Qaeda recruiter' who approaches them is much more likely to be an FBI informant or undercover agent than a genuine operative." The same logic would seem to apply to Oklahoma City-style, home grown right-wing terrorism. 

Also worth remarking upon is the last line of the government's press release. "Members of the public are reminded that the criminal complaints contain only allegations," it states. "A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial." Isn't it welcome and unexpected to see federal officials stressing the guarantee of due process while discussing an accused terrorist? And because the defendants sound as though they're white right-wingers, as opposed to Muslims, I suppose there won't be any populist uprising against their being held in an American rather than a foreign prison, or their being tried in federal courts.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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