Posts

A Tale of Two Zip-Tie Guys: Criminal Protestor or Armed Insurrectionist?

There was a fair amount of disbelief last week when Eric Munchel, better known as Zip-Tie Guy, was given bail by a magistrate judge in Tennessee. But as I noted, the evidence as presented to Judge Chip Frensley did not allege preplanning and did not show Munchel engaged in violence. As laid out in the detention memo, Munchel owns an arsenal of guns, but they are all legal. As such, Frensley’s decision was probably correct.

As I noted in an update to that post, however, the evidence prosecutors presented to obtain the emergency stay of Munchel’s release did include an act of violence, targeted at Bloomberg reporter William Turton, who filmed Munchel in the Grand Hyatt after the riot.

On the evening of January 6, 2021, after the insurrection, an individual posted a video of the Grand Hyatt hotel lobby on Twitter. The person then posted a message that read: “After I took this video, several Trump supporters harassed me and tried to follow me to my room. One accused me of being ‘antifa.’3 Hotel security intervened and moved me to new room. What a weird day.” See https://twitter.com/WilliamTurton/status/1346980284252745729 (Last accessed on January 23, 2021). The person added: “The Trump supporters demanded that I delete the video. One woman flashed her taser at me, and threatened to mace me.” See https://twitter.com/WilliamTurton/status/1347024856416714752 (last viewed January 23, 2021). Two days later, on January 8, based on another video from the Grand Hyatt posted to social media, the person identified the defendant as “one of the people in the hotel lobby who demanded I delete the video, put his hands on me, and screamed at me . . . .” See https://twitter.com/WilliamTurton/status/1347699125408641024 (last viewed January 23, 2021); https://twitter.com/WilliamTurton/status/1347699345345417217 (last viewed January 23, 2021). Evidence of this encounter was not presented at the preliminary and detention hearing in the Middle District of Tennessee.

There’s a more important difference between the detention motion submitted in Tennessee and the one submitted in DC, beyond the fact that one was presented in a conservative state and the other was presented to a Democratically appointed judge in the city targeted in the insurrection.

The initial detention motion describes Munchel’s actions as those of a protestor who committed crimes in the process of protesting, while threatening violence.

The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, respectfully files this memorandum in support of pre-trial detention. The defendant, Eric MUNCHEL, traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally on or about January 6, 2021, where he intended to protest the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election. MUNCHEL was prepared for conflict: as he told a reporter, he was ready to “rise up” and “fight if necessary.” After the rally concluded, MUNCHEL—who was dressed in tactical gear and carried a taser on his hip, and stashed other “weapons” in a tactical bag outside the Capitol—unlawfully entered the U.S. Capitol along with a mob of rioters who smashed windows and broke through doors. MUNCHEL gleefully acquired several sets of plastic handcuffs as he walked through the Capitol and entered the Senate chamber, where only moments earlier the Vice President of the United States was certifying the results of the 2020 Presidential election. In the Senate gallery, MUNCHEL stood with a crowd whose members shouted “Treason!” and lamented the disappearance of lawmakers from the chamber moments earlier. MUNCHEL’s conduct here was dangerous and extremely serious. This Court should adopt the recommendation of the Pretrial Services Office and detain MUNCHEL pending trial. [my emphasis]

The first paragraphs of the emergency motion, by contrast, describe him as one of a concerted pack of insurgents who successfully used terror to halt constitutionally mandated proceedings.

Armed with a taser and clad for battle in fatigues, a tactical vest, combat boots, gloves, and a gaiter that revealed only his eyes, the defendant, Eric Munchel, stormed the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021. Upon penetrating the building through a door breached by insurgents, the defendant grabbed a handful of Capitol Police flexicuffs and exclaimed: “Zip ties. I need to get me some of them mother—-s!” Then, with his co-conspirator, Lisa Eisenhart—who also wore a tactical vest and took flexicuffs—the defendant joined a group of insurgents searching for Members of Congress. Surrounded by insurgents exhorting veiled threats such as “Treason!”, “Anybody home?”, “They’re cowards!”, and “Are you afraid?”, the defendant infiltrated the Senate chamber—only minutes after the Senate body, including the Vice President of the United States, had been evacuated. The invasion halted the proceedings of a Joint Session of Congress, which had convened to certify the Electoral College vote as required by the Twelfth Amendment. [my emphasis]

A later paragraph discounts the claim that Munchel intended to do nothing more than protest.

First, the nature and circumstances of the offense involve fear, intimidation, and violence— directed at law enforcement, elected public officials, and the entire country. The defendant can make no serious claim that he went to the Capitol on January 6 intending to engage in peaceful protest or civil disobedience. Instead, the evidence supports the conclusion that he intended to contribute to chaos, obstruct the Electoral College certification, and sow fear. This is illustrated by the defendant’s preparation before reaching the Capitol and expressly stated intent: the defendant dressed in combat attire from head to toe; armed himself with a taser (and, appearing from his own cell phone video and audio recording, a more dangerous weapon); and told a reporter that his intent in going to the Capitol was “a kind of flexing of muscles” and that he was ready to “fight if necessary.” Once at the Capitol, the defendant’s conduct was consistent with that expressly stated intent: the defendant helped and encouraged other insurgents to ascend a wall to access the Capitol; exclaimed that he was “F—ing ready to f–k s–t up”; affirmed cries of “Treason” by other insurgents; responded to the chaos by exclaiming, “I guess they thought we were playing!”; stormed into the Capitol through a breached door; grabbed Capitol Police plastic flexicuffs, comprehending that they are instruments of restraint and kidnapping; marched throughout the Capitol searching for Members of Congress who he believed had committed “Treason”; and infiltrated the Senate chamber. The nature and circumstances of the alleged offenses all indicate forethought and specific intent to obstruct a congressional proceeding through fear, intimidation, and, if necessary, violence. These threads—planning, forethought, intent—are all indicative of a capacity and willingness to repeat the offense and pose a clear threat to community safety. As the defendant himself told The Times reporter, “[t]he point of getting inside the building [was] to show them that we can, and we will” (emphasis added).

As with her son, the government told two different stories about the actions of Munchel’s mother, Lisa Eisenhart, who like him was first granted bail then detained on an emergency motion.

The introductory paragraph of her TN detention motion mentions her boast that she was willing to die rather than live under oppression. But even where it reviews her language in more depth later in the filing, it portrays as it as mere, “disillusionment with the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election,” not a willingness to overthrow the Constitutional order because of it.

The defendant, Lisa EISENHART, traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally on or about January 6, 2021, where she intended to protest the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election. EISENHART was prepared for conflict: as she told a reporter, she would rather “die” and “fight” than “live under oppression.”

[snip]

EISENHART also made statements evincing an intent to engage in violent conduct, and even sacrificing her own life, because of her disillusionment with the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election. [my emphasis]

And as the emergency motion for her son described his own act of violence, Eisenhart’s emergency detention motion describes her approval of the violence around her. (Munchel’s federal defender got prosecutors to admit at his bail hearing that his mom voiced more overt support for violence than he espoused; he even pointedly called out, “Don’t break shit,” … “No vandalizing shit”.)

Down the road, prosecutors will describe these statements from her as one after another agreement with others to engage in violent insurrection.

The nature and circumstances of the offense involve fear, intimidation, and violence— directed at law enforcement, elected public officials, and the entire country. The defendant can make no serious claim that she went to the Capitol on January 6 intending to engage in peaceful protest or civil disobedience. Instead, the evidence supports the conclusion that she intended to contribute to chaos, obstruct the Electoral College certification, and sow fear. Specifically, Eisenhart, dressed for combat in a tactical or bulletproof vest, stormed the Capitol building with other insurgents and:

  • carried dangerous “weapons” onto Capitol grounds and stashed them before storming the Capitol building, because “We’re going straight to federal prison if we go in there with weapons”;
  • encouraged insurgents to climb a Capitol wall and storm inside, exhorting: “Yeah, go up in there. You can go up in there now”;
  • encouraged Munchel to go inside the Capitol despite knowing that Capitol Police were trying to keep insurgents out—including by using tear gas (“we’re going in”; “the [tear] gas isn’t bad”);
  • cheered on another insurgent who she understood to have “punched two of them in the face”—likely a reference to Capitol Police;
  • celebrated as her “best day” an assertion by another insurgent that Members of Congress had been tear gassed (“That is [unintelligible] my best day, to know they got tear gassed.”);
  • grabbed Capitol Police flexicuffs from inside the Capitol and searched for Members of Congress alongside other insurgents, together shouting threatening chants of: “Anybody home?”; “They went into the tunnels”; “Where’d you go?”; “They’re cowards!”; “Are you afraid?”; and “Treason!”; and
  • cognizant of the severity of her and Munchel’s crimes, advised before leaving the Capitol: “Don’t carry the zip ties, just get ‘em out of their hand, out of [unintelligible] get ‘em out of our hands.”

The offense circumstances illustrate a profound disrespect for the rule of law and law enforcement, indicating that the defendant’s unwillingness and incapacity to respect court-imposed conditions and demonstrating that no release condition will reasonably assure the community’s safety.

Both emergency motions for detention include a paragraph describing the danger mother and son pose as an unprecedented threat to democracy.

Finally, as we asserted in the Munchel appeal, it is difficult to fathom a more serious danger to the community—to the District of Columbia, to the country, or to the fabric of American Democracy—than the one posed by armed insurrectionists, including the defendant and Munchel, who joined in the occupation of the United States Capitol. Every person who was present without authority in the Capitol on January 6 contributed to the chaos of that day and the danger posed to law enforcement, the Vice President, Members of Congress, and the peaceful transfer of power. The defendant’s specific conduct aggravated the chaos and danger. It was designed to intimidate Members of Congress and instigate fear across the country. The defendant’s active participation in a violent insurgency on the Capitol designed to undermine the democratic process poses a serious and ongoing danger to the community that no release condition can reasonably assuage. As co-conspirator Munchel told The Times reporter: “[t]he point of getting inside the building [was] to show them that we can, and we will” (emphasis added); and as the defendant maintained, she would rather “die” and “fight” than “live under oppression.” Only detention mitigates the grave danger the defendant and Munchel pose. [my emphasis]

I expect readers of this site will agree with the latter emergency motions, and I definitely agree about the threat the insurrection posed to democracy.

But it is critical to understand that legally, both motions are true.

The difference lies in the additional overt act including in Munchel’s emergency motion and the import ascribed to Eisenhart’s statements in hers. More importantly, the difference lies in the effect of their actions — and the actions of others that, videos show, they encouraged: to halt a constitutionally mandated act using terror.

Defense attorneys will argue, the threats to Turton notwithstanding, that there is no definitive evidence that Munchel or Eisenhart intended to engage in violence at the Capitol (and in Munchel’s case, they’ll cite his own statements warning against destruction). Outside the context of a concerted plan to prevent the certification of the election, one can make a compelling case that Munchel and Eisenhart are nothing more than protestors who broke the law.

It’s possible that prosecutors in Tennessee didn’t include that because they view the election outcome differently or simply view these two as individual defendants outside the context of the larger goal. It’s possible they’re simply not privy to much of the evidence that gives prosecutors in DC confidence they’ll be able to prove a more concerted effort, a concerted effort that Munchel and Eisenhart both willingly took a part in. It’s likely that DC prosecutors aren’t including other prosecutors in plans to build the sedition charge mentioned in the emergency motions.

The evidence amassed so far subjects the defendant to felonies beyond that with which he has been charged so far, including obstructing Congress, interstate travel in furtherance of rioting activity, sedition, and other offenses.

But the successful prosecution of Zip-Tie Guy and his mom will depend on prosecutors’ success at making that larger case and showing that both of them agreed to the larger goal.

I’ve alluded to, several times, how the case against the Hutaree Militia foundered based on two things: prosecutors’ reliance on speech as proof that each member of the conspiracy entered into a goal of attacking the US government, and insufficient proof that the federal government itself was the target.

The lesson is important background for the January 6 insurrection. In her opinion throwing out most of that prosecution, Judge Victoria Roberts emphasized the meticulous scrutiny that a charge of seditious conspiracy must give to speech acts.

Where a conspiracy implicates First Amendment protections such as freedom of association and freedom of speech, the court must make a “specially meticulous inquiry” into the government’s evidence so there is not “an unfair imputation of the intent or acts of some participants to all others.” United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340, 392 (7th Cir. 1972). It is black-letter law that “[a] defendant cannot be convicted of conspiracy merely on the grounds of guilt by association, and mere association with the members of the conspiracy without the intention and agreement to accomplish an illegal objective is not sufficient to make an individual a conspirator.” Lee, 991 F.2d at 348. Likewise, mere presence at the scene does not establish participation in a conspiracy. United States v. Paige, 470 F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2006).

The Government has consistently maintained that this case is not about freedom of speech or association, but about the specific acts of violence alleged in the Indictment. The Court relied upon these representations in denying Defendants’ pretrial motions for a jury instruction on the Brandenburg case, and the heightened strictissimi juris standard for sufficiency of the evidence (Docs. 610, 618). However, much of the Government’s evidence against Defendants at trial was in the form of speeches, primarily by Stone, Sr., who frequently made statements describing law enforcement as the enemy, discussing the killing of police officers, and the need to go to war. Indeed, at oral argument on March 26, 2012, the Government asked the Court to find the existence of a seditious conspiracy based primarily on two conversations involving Stone, Sr., and others — the first on August 13, 2009, and the second on February 20, 2010.

And she cited precedent that requires that seditious conspiracy must target the US government itself (the Hutaree allegedly hoped to spark a larger rebellion by killing some cops — not far different from what the Boogaloo espouse).

In Anderson v. United States, the Eighth Circuit applied Baldwin and dismissed a seditious conspiracy charge where the force sought to be exerted was “not against those whose duty it should be to execute the laws.” 273 F. 20, 26 (8th Cir. 1921). Defendants were charged with seditious conspiracy for conspiring to prevent, hinder and delay by force, various laws of the United States, including the congressional declaration of war with Germany, and laws relating to conscription. Id. at 22-23. In furtherance of the seditious conspiracy, the Indictment alleged that the defendants circulated books and periodicals calling for strikes and the overthrow of the capitalist system and criticizing the war and individuals who joined the armed services. Id. at 24- 24.

Relying on Baldwin, the Court stated that for the Indictment to sufficiently charge seditious conspiracy, the purpose of the conspiracy must be “the exertion of force against those charged with the duty of executing the laws of the United States . . . .” Id. at 26. The court then held that the Indictment was insufficient because the “force was to be exerted, not against those whose duty it should be to execute the laws, and while attempting to do so, but its application was to be made against industrial and commercial activities by lawless acts during strikes for the purpose of accomplishing alleged socialistic ends . . . .” Id.

The law is clear that seditious conspiracy requires an agreement to oppose by force the authority of the United States itself. It must be an offense against the Nation, not local units of government. See Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Nelson, 350 U.S. 497, 505 (1956) (“Sedition against the United States is not a local offense. It is a crime against the Nation.” (citation and quotation marks omitted)). Any overt act in furtherance of seditious conspiracy must further a common plan to oppose the United States by force; otherwise, “the seditious conspiracy statute would expand infinitely to embrace the entire agenda of anyone who violated it . . . .” United States v. Rahman, 854 F. Supp. 254, 260 (S.D.N.Y. 1994); see also Haywood v. United States, 268 F. 795, 800 (7th Cir. 1920) (“[The seditious conspiracy statute] should not be enlarged by construction.”).

In that case, Roberts found that a plan to murder cops did not amount to seditious conspiracy.

The discussions of seditious conspiracy in Baldwin and Anderson are important to this case; while the Government presented evidence of vile and often hateful speech, and may have even shown that certain Defendants conspired to commit some crime – perhaps to murder local law enforcement — offensive speech and a conspiracy to do something other than forcibly resist a positive show of authority by the Federal Government is not enough to sustain a charge of seditious conspiracy. A conspiracy to murder law enforcement is a far cry from a conspiracy to forcibly oppose the authority of the Government of the United States.

The attack on the Capitol is an entirely different matter from that attempt by right wing militia members to spark an uprising in 2010. The targets of the January 6 conspiracy included the first and second in line to the Presidency, Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi. Among the cops who were targeted — including the one who was murdered — were Capitol Police. The act that rioters were impeding was the execution of a duty laid out in the Constitution, certifying the Presidential election.

There’s little question that this amounts to a conspiracy against the government of the United States.

Nevertheless, as prosecutors tell one after another story about the individuals involved, they are going to have to make it clear, in each case, how each individual’s actions and stated goals tie to that larger effort to overthrow the constitutional working of the US government.

Update: Corrected where in succession Pence and Pelosi were.

Why Is Tarek Mehanna Held to a Different Standard than the Hutaree Militia?

Over the last week, there were two must-read pieces arguing that the sentencing of Tarek Mehanna to 17.5 years in prison for conspiring to materially support terrorism threatens free speech.

David Cole–who argued the Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder case in which SCOTUS first permitted speech to be criminalized as material support for terrorism–noted that Mehanna’s actions didn’t even rise to that troubling standard.

But in Mehanna’s case, the government never tried to satisfy that standard. It didn’t show that any violent act was caused by the document or its translation, much less that Mehanna intended to incite imminent criminal conduct and was likely, through the translation, to do so. In fact, it accused Mehanna of no violent act of any kind. Instead, the prosecutor successfully argued that Mehanna’s translation was intended to aid al-Qaeda, by inspiring readers to pursue jihad themselves, and therefore constituted “material support” to a “terrorist organization.”

The prosecutor relied on a 2010 Supreme Court decision in a case I argued, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. In Humanitarian Law Project, a divided Court upheld the “material support” statute as applied to advocacy of peace and human rights, when done in coordination with and to aid a designated “terrorist organization.” (The plaintiffs in the case sought to encourage the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey to resolve their disputes with the Turkish government through lawful means, by training them in bringing human rights complaints before the United Nations and helping them in peace overtures to the Turkish government.) The Court ruled that the government could criminalize such advocacy of peaceful nonviolent activity without transgressing the First Amendment, because, it reasoned, any aid to a foreign terrorist organization might ultimately support illegal ends.

The Humanitarian Law Project decision is troubling enough, as I have previously explained. But Mehanna’s case goes still further. The government provided no evidence that Mehanna ever met or communicated with anyone from al-Qaeda. Nor did it demonstrate that the translation was sent to al-Qaeda. (It was posted by an online publisher, Al-Tibyan Publications, that has not been designated as a part of or a front for al-Qaeda.) It did not even claim that the “39 Ways” was written by al-Qaeda. The prosecution offered plenty of evidence that in Internet chat rooms Mehanna expressed admiration for the group’s ideology, and for Osama bin Laden in particular. But can one provide “material support” to a group with which one has never communicated?

(See also Ben Wittes’ curation of Cole’s ongoing spat about the evidence in this case with Peter Margulies.)

And Andrew March, who testified at the trial, distinguished Mehanna’s advocacy from the ideology al Qaeda pushes.

The prosecution’s strategy, a far cry from Justice Roberts’s statement that “independent advocacy” of a terror group’s ideology, aims or methods is not a crime, produced many ominous ideas. For example, in his opening statement to the jury one prosecutor suggested that “it’s not illegal to watch something on the television. It is illegal, however, to watch something in order to cultivate your desire, your ideology.” In other words, viewing perfectly legal material can become a crime with nothing other than a change of heart. When it comes to prosecuting speech as support for terrorism, it’s the thought that counts.

That is all troubling enough, but it gets worse. Not only has the government prosecuted a citizen for “independent advocacy” of a terror group, but it has prosecuted a citizen who actively argued against much of what most Americans mean when they talk about terrorism.

On a Web site that the government made central to the conspiracy charge, Mr. Mehanna angrily contested the common jihadi argument that American civilians are legitimate targets because they democratically endorse their government’s wars and pay taxes that support these wars.

As I read these pieces (and a lot of the other commentary on Mehanna’s sentence, I kept coming back to the recent ruling that threw out all the conspiracy charges against the Hutaree militia on free speech grounds.

Read more

The WMD Charges against White People Get Thrown Out

As Bane of Our Existence and Dirty Masquerade have been noting in comments, the case against the Hutaree Militia has been crumbling in court. Today, Judge Victoria Roberts threw out most of the charges against most of the defendants, based on her judgment that the government had based its conspiracy charges on speculation. Among those charges are the Conspiracy to Use WMD which–as I’ve noted in the past–was one of the few times white defendants have been charged with what is a garden variety charge against Muslim defendants who are caught in stings.

Some of the case law Roberts relies on for her case is specific to the 6th Circuit. Nevertheless, her opinion lays out principles that would–if applied to Muslims–undermine the cases against brown terrorists are significantly as it has against these white alleged terrorists (not to mention Manssor Arbabsiar and two of the four Waffle House plotters).

First, she lays out that a conspiracy must entail explicit agreement to a specific plot.

In order to sustain a conviction for conspiracy, the Government must prove that each Defendant: (1) agreed to violate the law; (2) possessed the knowledge and intent to join the conspiracy; and (3) participated in the conspiracy. See United States v. Sliwo, 620 F.3d 630, 633 (6th Cir. 2010); see also Sixth Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions §§ 3.01A, 3.03 (To prove a conspiracy, the government must show that (1) two or more individuals conspired to commit the crime; and (2) that each defendant voluntarily joined the conspiracy, knowing of its main purpose and intending to help advance its goals.). In addition, a conspiracy requires a specific plan. See Pinkerton v. United States, 145 F.2d 252, 254 (5th Cir. 1944) (holding that a criminal conspiracy requires (1) an object to be accomplished; (2) a plan or scheme embodying means to accomplish that object; (3) an agreement by two or more defendants to accomplish the object; and (4) an overt act, where applicable); see also United States v. Bostic, 480 F.2d 965, 968 (6th Cir.1973).

Roberts goes on to note that the law requires evidence that each alleged conspirator entered into the conspiracy; guilt by association is not enough.

The issue of guilt or innocence in a conspiracy is always an individualized inquiry. Kotteakos v. United States, 328 U.S. 750, 772 (1946) (“Guilt with us remains individual and personal, even as respects conspiracies. It is not a matter of mass application.”). The government must prove the intent of each individual conspirator to enter into the conspiracy, knowing of its objectives, and agreeing to further its goals. See Sixth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction § 3.03. Consistent with these principles, it is useful to note that there are two distinct intents required to prove the crime of conspiracy — the basic intent to agree, which is necessary to establish the existence of the conspiracy, and the more traditional intent to effectuate the object of the conspiracy. United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 438 U.S. 422, 443 n.20 (1978); Sixth Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction, Committee Commentary 3.03; 2 WAYNE R. LAFAVE, SUBSTANTIVE CRIMINAL LAW § 12.2 (2d ed. 2011).

All the more so, Roberts lays out, when the alleged conspiracy entails the freedom of assembly.

Where a conspiracy implicates First Amendment protections such as freedom of association and freedom of speech, the court must make a “specially meticulous inquiry” into the government’s evidence so there is not “an unfair imputation of the intent or acts of some participants to all others.” Read more

Can White People Be Charged with Use of a WMD?

Let’s look at the following two examples of men arrested in the last week to see how the federal crime “Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction” is used.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud: Mohamud was arrested Friday on charges of “attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction” for trying to detonate what he believed to be a car bomb in the crowd attending Portland, OR’s Christmas tree-lighting ceremony. Here’s how the FBI described that bomb:

The bomb was contained in the back of a late-model, white full-size van. The bomb was inert and constructed by FBI bomb technicians. It consisted of six 55 gallon drums containing inert material, inert detonation cord, inert blasting caps, and approximately one gallon of diesel fuel which gave off a strong odor. In the front seat of the van agents placed a detonation mechanism which consisted of a cellular telephone, a 9volt battery, an arming switch and a phone-jack plug.

The FBI set up this sting possibly because of a tip from Mohamud’s family, and definitely because of some emails Mohamud sent to a friend in Yemen and–later–Pakistan, and some pathetically unsuccessful attempts to email someone he allegedly believed could help him join Jihad.

George Djura Jakubec: After Jakubec’s gardener tripped off an explosion in his back yard last week, local authorities tried to search Jakubec’s house, which was said to have “the largest quantity of homemade explosives found in one location in the history of the United States,” including PETN (the explosive the TSA agents are searching for when they grope you) and HMTD (which has been used by al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists). But authorities withdrew, twice, after determining Jakubec’s house too cluttered and dangerous to search. Jakubec is being held in county custody on 12 state charges of possession of a destructive device in public (one of which is tied to the injuries suffered by his gardener), 14 state charges of possession of the ingredients to make a destructive device, and two charges of robbery tied to bank robberies on June 25 and July 17 of this year.

So Jakubec–who had apparently large quantities of the explosives that terrorists favor and the ability to make more–is in San Diego County custody on state charges. Mohamud–who never had contact with a live bomb–is in federal custody on a charge that carries a life sentence.

Now, as odd as it may seem, explosives do qualify as WMD under this law, which includes chemical, biological, and radioactive weapons, as well as “destructive devices” including things like bomb, grenades, and missiles. The FBI is charging Mohamud with the following:

A person who, without lawful authority, uses, threatens, or attempts or conspires to use, a weapon of mass destruction against any person or property within the United States, and the mail or any facility of interstate or foreign commerce is used in furtherance of the offense shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life.

I guess they’re arguing this constitutes an “attempt” to use a WMD (the car bomb), even though no WMD existed. And I assume they’re claiming an interstate or foreign commerce because they first contacted Mohamud pretending to respond to his unsuccessful emails to an alleged al Qaeda recruiter, though the bomb site is also in front of the US Appeals Court which they presumably could define as a federal target if pressed, though they don’t seem to be doing that.

Now, as compared to Mohamud, there may be reasons why they can’t or haven’t charged Jakubec with use of a WMD. Quite simply, they don’t know if Jakubec planned to use this arsenal, and if so, on what. Mind you, they appear to have decided they couldn’t construct an elaborate plot to find out because if they did they risked having him blow up southbound I-15 by mistake; they had to arrest him right away because his explosive were such a threat.

Which is not dissimilar to a pair of guys from last year. Najibullah Zazi, because his overseas contacts got him targeted for surveillance, got busted before his efforts to bomb the NY subway could develop completely. Zazi now appears to be cooperating with prosecutors. But Benjamin Kuzelka, who was developing the same TATP explosive as Zazi was, and who had white supremacist literature at his house when he set off an explosion, got off with a four year sentence.

Mind you, I think Zazi is a great person to charge with using a WMD (as is Faisal Shahzad, who was also charged with using a WMD). But I bet Kuzelka’s associates weren’t cross-checked for their hydrogen peroxide purchases, as Zazi’s appear to have been.

That’s my biggest concern: that the quickness with which the government slaps a WMD charge on someone experimenting with explosives reflects its interest or disinterest in fully investigating that person’s goals and associates. One of the more notable cases of a white supremacist plotting to use WMD–with actual chemical weapons, in fact–died in prison without ever being charged with WMD charges and before authorities discovered what he intended to do with his chemical weapons.

That said, we do have at least one very notable case where white people got charged with using and conspiring to use WMD: the Hutaree militia. Mind you, the FBI found them before they exploded themselves or their gardener.