Two members of a Georgia militia — arrested late last year in a plot to bomb federal buildings, assassinate public officials and attack cities with deadly ricin — pleaded guilty today to conspiracy charges in a Gainesville, Ga., courtroom.
Accused ringleader Frederick W. Thomas, 73, and Emory Dan Roberts, 67, both entered guilty pleas to charges of conspiring to possess explosives and firearms.
The case was labeled by the FBI as one of its top domestic terrorism investigations of 2011 following the arrests of Thomas and Roberts and two others last November.
The plea bargains were struck by the Justice Department prosecutors less than a month after a federal judge in Michigan dismissed similar conspiracy charges against seven members of another militia group accused in an unrelated plot to kill police officers. Two members of the Hutaree Militia subsequently pleaded guilty to weapons charges, effectively ending that case.
Thomas and Roberts each face a maximum of five years in prison. A date for sentencing wasn’t immediately set, but routine background reports were ordered for both.
Thomas, of Cleveland, Ga., is a great-grandfather and 30-year Navy veteran who had a “top-secret” government clearance, according to his wife, who was not charged in the case.
Court documents indicate Thomas’ public defender, who didn’t immediately return calls for comment, would attempt to have him released from custody pending sentencing. Thomas is being treated for kidney disease and had a portion of one lung removed last year.
When federal agents searched Thomas’ home, they seized 52 firearms and 30,000 rounds of ammunition. Under plea agreements such as Thomas’, firearms and ammunition are routinely forfeited by defendants with criminal convictions because they can no longer possess weapons.
Charging documents said Thomas expected a “line-in-the-sand” event that would require a harsh reaction from citizen militia groups. “He openly discussed having compiled what he called a ‘bucket list’ of government employees, politicians, corporate leaders and members of the media” he believed needed to be assassinated to save the country, the documents alleged. Secretly recorded tapes obtained by the FBI during the investigation show that that list included U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, appointed by President Obama.
Thomas also expressed a fascination with an online novel, Absolved, written by longtime Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh. The book describes a small group of Americans who assassinate federal officials.
Roberts, of Toccoa, Ga., is believed to have been affiliated with the 440th Squad of the Georgia Militia, which has 19 chapters in the state, according to research by Hatewatch. That group is remarkable for its anti-Semitic and sometimes neo-Nazi rhetoric. His wife previously told Hatewatch that her husband is no terrorist and is more interested in rescuing dogs and cats than antigovernment activities.
Written plea agreements were signed by both defendants, but weren’t immediately available for public inspection. Both men could be subpoenaed to testify against the two remaining co-defendants, Samuel J. Crump Jr., 68, and Ray H. Adams, 65, both of Toccoa. Crump and Roberts are charged with conspiring to make and disperse ricin.
The case against the four was developed with two informants, one of whom faces child molestation and child porn charges.
After the arrests, U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates of the Northern District of George described the defendants as “part of a fringe militia group” that was “planning attacks against their own fellow citizens and government.”
“To carry out their agenda, two of the defendants allegedly purchased purported explosives and a silencer, while the other two defendants took steps to attempt to produce a deadly biological toxin,” Yates said. “While many Americans are focused on the threat posed by international terrorists, “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.”