Terrorists “Citizens Who Threaten Our Safety and Security”'>The Waffle House Terrorists “Citizens Who Threaten Our Safety and Security”

When the Waffle House Plot broke last week, I joked that maybe the FBI will start profiling Waffle Houses rather than mosques; they’d probably have more luck finding terrorists there.

But I wanted to make a few points about the plot in addition to what Jim already said.

First, there are actually two sub-plots: one attempt to acquire silencers and explosives to attack federal buildings and employees; just Frederick Thomas and Dan Roberts are implicated in that plot. The other was a half-baked discussion to manufacture ricin. Ray Adams and Samuel Crump are primarily implicated in that plot, with Roberts and Thomas goading them on. That’s significant because while the weapons plot advanced steadily over time culminating in a purchase, the ricin “plot” consisted of some bragging in March, and some taped conversations in September and October, showing not only that the alleged attackers were largely ignorant about ricin, but also appearing to show them coaching the confidential informant in the case how to make ricin, not necessarily making it themselves.

If you’re gonna do this (unintelligible), it’s gotta be built, a hood. There can be no air, can’t be no disturbance.

[snip]

I can get ya seed (castor beans). I know where the seeds is at right now.

[snip]

You take a pound of that (unintelligible), get upwind, up around Washington, DC, get about 20,000 feet (in an airplane), and turn that shit loose, it’d cover the whole (unintelligible) of Washington.

That’s particularly significant because the last two conversations laying out the ricin plot–separate conversations October 29 with both Crump and Adams–were not recorded by the informant. And that informant? He’s a liar.

CHS1 is currently on bond for pending felony state charges. The FBI administered a polygraph test to CHS1 during the investigation of a militia group. The FBI polygrapher determined that CHS1 gave less than truthful responses concerning the activities of the militia group.

In short, the whole ricin plot seems like a bad advertisement for Red Devil lye, since Crump appeared to put off making the ricin because he couldn’t find that brand of lye; Adams, for his part, claimed he’d make lye himself by leaching wood ashes.

Given the lack of seriousness of the ricin plot, it appears to have been incited at the end in time for the bust in the other plot, to use guns and explosives to kill federal workers. That plot started back in March, included a surveillance trip in May, and discussions with an undercover FBI employee about buying weapons on June and July. On September 20, Thomas agreed to trade weapons 30 days later and also to pay $1000 for explosives. In late October, Thomas, Roberts, and the informant put together money to make the purchase. On November 1, Thomas and Roberts bought a silencer and what they believed to be explosives from an undercover FBI agent.

There’s just one weird thing about the evidence presented in the Thomas and Roberts affidavits. They describe planning for the final meeting–at which they’d pool their money to buy the silencers and explosives–to be held on October 29. The affidavits were signed on November 1. The indictment describes them buying a silencer and what they believed were explosives on November 1. But there’s no discussion about what happened at the October 29 meeting. Particularly given that the two ricin conversations on October 29 were not taped, I wonder whether the informant in this case got cold feet?

In any case, that’s what passes for a terrorist plot propagated by a bunch of senior citizen wingnuts.

Now, the plot is interesting for the way US Attorney Sally Quillian Yates used this FBI-abetted sting to warn about the risks posed by [senior] “citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security.”

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.

I’m grateful that the FBI is finally focusing on domestic terrorists, even if they’re fluffing up the risk just as they do with aspirational Muslim terrorists. But note that, in spite of the involvement of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, it seems Yates can’t force herself to call these dudes terrorists.  Perhaps they should rename the JTTF the JCWOOBWTOSASTF?

And of course there’s another difference between this and the crimes those brown people called terrorists commit. As Manssor Arbabsiar was alleged to have done, these militia members allegedly discussed assassinations. As Arbabsiar was alleged to have done, these plotters allegedly discussed explosives. Whereas with Arbabsiar, there is zero public evidence he affirmatively sought to use explosives to commit assassination, there is here. Unlike Arbabsiar, these militia members actually bought what they believed to be explosives.

And yet, unlike Arbabsiar, these alleged terrorists did not get charged with a WMD charge–not even for their alleged attempt to make ricin. Once again, it seems almost impossible for white terrorists to be charged with the FBI’s favorite charge for brown terrorists.

Finally, one more difference between the treatment of these scary white terrorists and scary brown ones. As TP’s Lee Fang notes (piggybacking off this GAPolitico post), Thomas was a commenter at RedState, where Erick Erickson has called for violence in the past.

Thomas blogged on RedState.com, the website edited by CNN’s Erick Erickson. The Thomas blog post highlighted by Baker and AJC revealed that at one point, he did not “advocate a general rebellion against the U.S. Government for cause,” but seemed conflicted about the idea of violent revolution. Something apparently changed between that unpromoted post, published in July of 2008 and this year, when the alleged plot began taking shape.

A ThinkProgress examination of Thomas’s online writing in the following years shows that the alleged terrorist grew more and more upset, and expressed sympathy with the anti-Obama conspiracies posted on RedState. Last year, he posted a comment to a popular RedState post about the evils of health reform. Thomas claimed that the “ObummerCare Bill” not only “won’t be forgiven,” but will lead to “TYRANNY of the worst order” and “civil war.” (view a screenshot of the comment here)

And as the affidavits make clear, the plot was inspired by a Mike Vanderboegh novel; Fang notes that Thomas has also commented on Vanderboegh’s blog. Last year, Vanderboegh claimed credit for coordinated attacks in protest of the health insurance reform–one of them targeted at Gabby Giffords–in three states.

On Friday, former militia leader Mike Vanderboegh called for anti-Democratic vandalism across the country to protest the health care bill.

Vanderboegh posted the call for action Friday on his blog, “Sipsey Street Irregulars.” Referring to the health care reform bill as “Nancy Pelosi’s Intolerable Act,” he told followers to send a message to Democrats.

“We can break their windows,” he said. “Break them NOW. And if we do a proper job, if we break the windows of hundreds, thousands, of Democrat party headquarters across this country, we might just wake up enough of them to make defending ourselves at the muzzle of a rifle unnecessary.”

And, apparently in response, there were attacks in–at least–Wichita, KS, Tucson, AZ,  Rochester, NY, Niagara Falls, NY.  Vanderboegh has proudly claimed credit for the coordinated attacks.

Now maybe Vanderboegh and Erickson are just the FBI’s latest incarnation of Hal Turner, wingnut bloggers they pay to inspire other wingnuts whom they can arrest in Waffle House plots; maybe the FBI hasn’t tracked their calls for violence at all. But if Vanderboegh and Erickson were Muslim propagandists advocating violence–like Anwar al-Awlaki or Samir Khan–they’d probably be worried about a drone raining down from the sky. I’m definitely not advocating that for any propagandists, whether Muslim or wingnut, being killed for their protected, albeit vile, speech.

But maybe now that the government is using stings to warn of the danger of domestic terrorists, those inciting them ought to think more seriously about how our government combats terrorists.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

14 replies
  1. scribe says:

    I think there’s an aspect to the case which needs a little elaboration.

    People in the US generally think it is illegal under all circumstances to own or transfer a silencer. This is not so. Under federal law, it is illegal to make, own or transfer a silencer without the proper federal government paperwork. (Except for the “making” part, which is a separate issue, the same applies to machineguns.) Ditto explosives, though those are easier to get because they have broad indstrial/agricultural uses. And, to be sure, the paperwork nature of such a case is decidely not sexy and not budget-enhancing.

    So, throw in a ricin charge to cover the unsexy nature of the paperwork silencer/explosives charges the government chose – rather than terrorism – to lodge against these old white wingnuts.

    But, under no circumstances, does the FBI charge white people with terrorism or WMD charges.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @scribe: Thanks–important point. He was trading an unlicensed gun for the unlicensed silencer. Add in the radio, the serial number of which they had scratched out, and they’ve got a whole lot of stuff that’s hard to track.

    There is, of course, an odd aspect to this. At the beginning, one of the white terrorists says he’s willing to die. I was sort of interested in the thought of a senior citizen suicide attacker. But as things moved forward, it became clear they were aiming to attack and not get caught.

  3. Jim White says:

    Something apparently changed between that unpromoted post, published in July of 2008 and this year, when the alleged plot began taking shape.

    Why yes, something did change: he met the FBI informant. Do you suppose there are some unrecorded meetings where the informant is doing a bit of radicalizing? That would seem pretty likely, because even the folks like Red State and Vanderboegh toned things down a bit on health care after the shout-downs at Congressional town halls in the summer of 2009, over two years ago.

    And a side note: I actually like Waffle House. It is a very unpretentious alternative to IHOP. They put the short order cooks out where you can see them. There are also just times when it’s nice to be called “hon” and there’s a really good chance of that at Waffle House. The employees there undoubtedly are treated like shit, but an enjoyable meal there followed by a generous tip can leave a person feeling very fulfilled.

    And yes, I should have left “WMD” out of the title of the first post on this plot, but given how these crackers thought they were going to kill large numbers of people with their ricin, it’s unreal that they aren’t facing WMD charges. I think that’s the strongest evidence to date of systematic institutional racism at the FBI.

  4. allan says:

    And of course Vanderboegh and Erickson are regular contributors to CNN.
    The Worldwide Leader in News Inciting Domestic Terrorism.

    Oops. Vanderboegh is an `analyst’ on Fox. But you know what I mean.

  5. emptywheel says:

    @allan: Isn’t Vanderboegh on Fox? Meaning both networks have someone inciting domestic terrorism (plus, Fox had Beck for so long).

  6. MadDog says:

    There seems to be a political aspect to the Obama Administration’s refusal to levy WMD charges against its FBI-stung domestic terrorists.

    The political aspect I’m referring to is the Obama Administration’s unwillingness to publicly acknowledge that a serious segment of the population considers itself at war with the rest of the country.

    A real war! What some would consider the opening salvos of a second Civil War. What others would consider instead as the continuation of the first American Civil War.

    I think that Obama himself has personally decided to not only feign ignorance of the signs of this real war, but to deliberately and actively deny its very existence in an act of wishful thinking that is premised on the idea that his silence will make it go away, or at the very least, will not further fan its flames into fruition.

    This seems to be a very slender reed on which to attempt to forestall the historical tidal forces at work.

  7. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: FWIW, under the O admin, 2 white groups were charged w/WMD, and the Hutaree case is still the closest to a Muslim-type prosecution. O’s worse on his selective enforcement of material support, as with Colombia’s AUC and the MEK.

  8. MadDog says:

    @emptywheel: Stickler for accuracy! *g*

    Seriously though, I think it is safe to say that the Obama Administration does indeed downplay domestic terrorism, WMD in their plots, material support, etc. for the reason that I described.

    Compare both the volume and frequency of PR “announcements” of the Obama Administration with foreigner-based terrorism and plots (the Scary Iran Plot, OBL’s killing, al-Awlaki’s killing, etc.) with the generally minimalist publicity approach to domestic-based terrorism and plots.

    I can’t envision this as being anything other than deliberate.

  9. emptywheel says:

    @MadDog: I actually think that may be changing, not least with this Waffle House plot. That’s part of why I included the language from the USA, bc it parallels the “Be scared” language FBI uses with intl aspirational terrorists.

  10. rugger9 says:

    @MadDog:
    I’d agree with you on the apparent focus, skepticism of a change is warranted until concrete actions are observed. However, in our tale of two plots, keep in mind that only one supports AIPAC’s goals to blast Iran to smithereens using our kids as the cannon fodder. That’s why it got more press and WH interest.

    If I were hypothetically the car salesman’s attorney, do I have a prayer using the selective enforcement line of attack?

  11. Mary says:

    “where Erick Erickson has called for violence in the past”

    You mean Erick al-awaking, right? Propagandizes to recruit violence against America, succeeds, runs little chance of being brought to justice, etc.

  12. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Opposing modest steps to reduce the inequality in access to health care services in America is worth armed rebellion? Is that a perversion or intended outcome of Friedmanite economics?

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