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A Remembrance of Judge John Roll

200px-Chief_Judge_John_RollIt has now been three years to the day since Jared Lee Loughner went to the the Safeway Supermarket at Ina and Oracle Roads in Tucson where Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was holding her “Congress on the Corner” meeting for her constituents. The rest, as they say, is history. Tragic history. Giffords was grievously wounded, six lives taken and others seriously wounded.

One of the lives lost was that of the Chief Judge of the Arizona District, John Roll. This morning, I saw Andrew Cohen of CBS News tweet out a quick remembrance of Judge Roll, with links to two articles Andrew wrote back in 2011 on him and his loss. The articles are here and here, and are excellent, please click through and read them. The point in the second article regarding the dangers our federal judiciary face is especially salient.

I too might have have tweeted or reposted an old post I had done on Judge Roll, but I did not really do one. I knew John Roll, and at one time long ago, well before she was a Congresswoman, knew Gabby Giffords. I also lived, for a little over a year in graduate school, in the Catalina Footlills not that far from Ina and Oracle, and knew the Safeway store where it all happened as well. The wounds, and the longer term scars, from the January 8, 2011 shooting were too real for me back then. I mostly funneled whatever insight and thoughts I had to other, more traditional reporters, and others, covering the shootings and the legal proceedings as to Loughner. In fact, it took me three weeks to even complete the post I was writing that Saturday morning the moment the news of the shooting started coming in on the television. The only real substantive post I recall writing was on the way the federal government bigfooted the state authorities, to wit Pima County Attorney Barb LaWall, as to the prosecution of Jared Loughner.

So, after seeing Andrew Cohen’s remembrance, and with a little prodding from Andrew, I’d like to give my own brief honor to Judge John Roll.

As I said above, I knew John, and he was one of the finest men, not to mention judges, I have ever met. Kind, generous, helpful and compassionate. Tough as a judge, but fair, and extremely smart. Just a good man and great judge. The very kind of traits that led him to drop by Gabby’s local Congress on the Corner event three years ago today. Roll had been in downtown Tucson at Saturday Mass, knew of Gabby’s event and decided to stop in on the way home and say hi.

I knew Judge Roll almost exclusively professionally, although I did talk to him at a few social occasions over the years too. I first came in contact with him in the late 1980’s when, as a relatively new and wet behind the ears criminal trial attorney, I had a felony trial case down in Tucson that went sideways. The emergency remedy here in such circumstances is an extraordinary writ proceeding, known as a “special action”. They are hurried affairs, and back then were referred to a single “hot judge”, who was basically the on call jurist for the week for special actions. I, by sheer luck, got John Roll.

52ac00b293652.imageI was out of my normal home in the Phoenix area, and in the jurisdiction of a completely different division of the Court of Appeals, Division Two in Tucson. A lesser judge could likely have chewed me up and spit me out because I was unfamiliar with that division’s nuances, and I had a couple of technical pleading errors. Instead, I ran into the most gracious, helpful and understanding of men and jurists. John Roll made such an impression that I went out of my way to stop in and chat with him any time I was down in Tucson, whether in the Court of Appeals, or later in Federal District Court after he was nominated and confirmed in the last portion of George H.W. Bush’s term in office.

Looking back, it was really quite remarkable; you just do not get that kind of interaction, and gain that kind of relationship, with judges very much any more. But that is precisely the kind of guy John Roll was.

The death of John Roll cost Arizona not only a great man, but the District its chief judge. Despite the “emergency status” Arizona was already under at the time of his death, only now is the Obama White House getting the District of Arizona close to fully staffed with judges. But time marches on, and it will here, but let Judge John Roll not be forgotten.

A more physical remembrance is embodied in the John M. Roll United States Courthouse, a satellite courthouse for the Southern Division of Arizona’s Federal Court District located in Yuma, Arizona. The facility had been planned under John’s leadership of the District, but was completed and named for him after his death. The John M. Roll United States Courthouse opened for business on Monday December 16, 2013.

Rest in peace John Roll.

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.