To hear the plotters tell it, the plan was like something out of a Batman comic book. They would patrol the Canadian border to prevent drugs from entering the United States. They would take over an Army base, or blow up a building, or assassinate a future president. They would poison the apple crop in the state of Washington. Armed to the teeth, they would defend “the people.”
“We would go out and cause anarchy,” is the way one of the plotters put it in a confession to law enforcement officials. “Kill people. Blow shit up.”
In the end, some in the group that called itself Forever Enduring, Always Ready — FEAR — really did kill people. As we detail in this issue’s cover story, FEAR leader Isaac Aguigui pleaded guilty in July to the 2011 murder of a former comrade he feared might snitch and his 17-year-old girlfriend. Aguigui said his group of close to a dozen people, most active-duty or recently discharged soldiers at Fort Stewart, Ga., had turned into a “bad dream.”
“The militia wasn’t supposed go out and burn everything to the ground,” a tearful Aguigui told his interrogators at one point. “It was supposed to be in defense of the people. It wasn’t supposed to turn into this.”
What it turned into was a group with ostensibly political antigovernment aims, but one that ended up simply wallowing in violence and fantastic, bloodthirsty plans. Its members talked about killing judicial and political officials, creating a fake security company, knocking down a dam and even blowing up a fountain in Savannah, Ga. All of these plans, it turned out, began with their enthusiasm for a particularly violent video game.
FEAR isn’t the only group in the antigovernment “Patriot” movement — a movement that has grown exponentially since Barack Obama became our first black president — whose members sound delusional but nevertheless have been charged with or convicted of deadly serious crimes.
At around the same time that FEAR members murdered Michael Roark and Tiffany York, members of a north Georgia militia were making plans of their own. In meetings at a local Waffle House and elsewhere, four elderly men allegedly conspired to attack four cities including Atlanta with the deadly biological toxin ricin. Incredibly, they believed that they could simply toss the powder out of the window of a speeding car without polsoning themselves.
The group’s leader, 73-year-old Frederick Thomas, spoke of bombing a federal building “like Timothy McVeigh,” executing victims with a single shot behind the ear, and making a “bucket list” of politicians who needed to be “taken out” to “make the country right again.” “There’s no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that’s highly illegal — murder,” Thomas said in a conversation recorded by an informant. Thomas pleaded guilty to conspiracy last year and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Thomas and his confederates, two of whom have not yet been tried, did not kill anyone. But prosecutors say they did try to buy explosives, start to make the ricin, and case several federal buildings.
Most recently, the FBI this summer arrested a New York Klansman who worked as an industrial mechanic for General Electric and a friend. In a hair-raising, 66-page criminal complaint, officials say the men were well along the way to building a remotely operated radiation device that they intended for use in the mass murder of Muslims.
The idea behind the device, a truck-borne industrial X-ray system, was that it could be parked in front of, say, a mosque, and remotely initiated. Victims would be hit with lethal doses of radiation but would not die for several days, making it possible for the killers to simply drive the truck away before any attack was detected.
Glendon Scott Crawford, a member of the United Northern and Southern Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, allegedly sought to raise money from Jewish groups and even another Klan group to help purchase parts. Instead, he was repeatedly reported to authorities for the device that he allegedly characterized as “Hiroshima on a light switch.”
It’s easy to dismiss these plots and others as the products of sick minds, people incapable of actually carrying out their plans. But as the case of FEAR shows all too clearly, even people who seem utterly unhinged are capable of producing bloody mayhem. Consider Tiffany York, the high school junior murdered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or think of the 168 people massacred in Oklahoma City by McVeigh, a man who once investigated Area 51 for possible alien influence but was perfectly capable of building a deadly truck bomb.
“I just want to wake up from this bad dream,” FEAR’s Aguigui told an interrogator. But Aguigui will never wake up from that bad dream, and neither will Tiffany York or the other victims of plots that seemed simply insane.