The radical right and weapons of mass destruction — an enduring threat to the American homeland
March 2018 marks the 15th anniversary of U.S. military forces’ invasion of Iraq over alleged ties to Al-Qaeda and the concealment of a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. Neither allegation turned out to be true.
The individual chiefly responsible for the illicit material was William Krar, a violent, far-right, antigovernment extremist from New Hampshire. Krar, 63, was active in the New Hampshire militia scene and had ties to members of the New Jersey Militia group.
When federal agents raided his storage locker in Noonday, they found copies of Henry Ford’s antisemitic screed The International Jew, along with a copy of the violent white supremacist fantasy novel The Turner Diaries, which served as inspiration for Timothy McVeigh’s infamous 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people.
Despite the fact that a chemical WMD was found on American soil at a time of high public concern about terrorism, the incident generated little media fanfare or public attention.
Drawing from a number of various open sources, the SPLC has identified at least 17 cases of extremists since 1993 — 16 of those involving U.S. far-right extremists who have sought to, or successfully acquired, deadly chemical, biological or radiological weapons capabilities.
April 8, 1993 || Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, Canada
Thomas Lavy, 54, a far-right survivalist extremist, was detained by Canadian custom authorities at the Alaskan border as he attempted to drive into Canada. Canadian customs seized four guns, 20,000 rounds of ammunition, $89,000 in cash and a plastic bag containing white powder. Since Lavy had technically not broken any Canadian laws, except for failure to declare his items, he was released. Canadian authorities later realized the bag of white power was 130 grams of ricin. It wasn’t until 1995 that U.S. authorities learned about the 1993 discovery and arrested Lavy at a cabin near Onia, Arkansas, in violation of the Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989 (BWATA). Several days after his arrest, on December 23, 1995, Lavy committed suicide, hanging himself in his jail cell.
August 4, 1994 || Douglas County, Minnesota
Four antigovernment activists bent on assassinating law enforcement officials were arrested and tried under BWATA a year before Lavy hanged himself. Douglas Baker, LeRoy Wheeler, Dennis Henderson and Richard Oelrich were members of the Minnesota Patriot’s Council, a far-right antigovernment extremist group. Authorities began monitoring their activities in 1991 when Henderson’s friend Scott Loverink approached the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, telling them that Henderson belonged to an extremist organization interested in bombing a federal office and killing a local deputy sheriff with ricin. A year later, Collete Baker contacted the Swift County, Minnesota sheriff’s office, informing them her husband Douglas was threatening to kill her with a shotgun and possessed a substance that “would kill a person on contact.” She later corroborated her claim, bringing a baby food jar containing ricin to authorities. Federal authorities found several explosives and enough ricin to kill approximately 100 individuals, according to government analysts. On February 28, 1995, Baker and Wheeler were convicted of violating the BWATA — the first conviction of its kind — and both received 33-month sentences. On October 25, 1995, Henderson and Oelrich were also convicted and received 37- and 48-month jail sentences, respectively.
May 12, 1995 || Lancaster, Ohio
Authorities raided the residence of Larry Wayne Harris, a trained microbiologist and Aryan Nations lieutenant who boasted to co-workers that he was on the governing board of the neo-Nazi National Alliance, at the time the country’s largest hate group. Harris also wrote the book Bacteriological Warfare: A Major Threat to North America, which some viewed as a manual for bioterrorism. The raid came after suspicions were raised by officials at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They said Harris ordered vials of Yersinia pestis, a highly transmittable and fatal microorganism that causes the bubonic plague and has been associated with the former Soviet Union’s offensive bioweapons program. Authorities found three unopened vials of the bacteria in Harris’ vehicle, and he was charged with purchasing the deadly material using false identification. On April 22, 1997, Harris pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and was sentenced to 18 months of probation, 200 hours of community service and ordered to pay a $50 fee. As a result of the incident, the CDC raised its standards for monitoring and regulating the purchase of dangerous biological materials. Harris was also arrested in 1998 for telling an informant that he had enough anthrax to kill an entire city. Instead, it turned out he had a legal vaccine.
June 13, 1996 || Long Island, New York
Three members of the Long Island U.F.O. Network — John Ford, 47, Edward Zabo, 49 and Joseph Mazzuchelli, 42 — were arrested for conspiring to assassinate several elected officials on Long Island, New York, by inserting radium, a highly radioactive substance, into their food. The plot appears to have been inspired by the belief that local elected officials were covering up evidence of a UFO crash they blamed for causing a forest fire. Police found radioactive materials inside the home of Zabo, a former Department of Defense employee. Ford was deemed incompetent to stand trial and involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Mazzuchelli was convicted of second-degree conspiracy and sentenced to three years in prison; Zabo pleaded guilty to supplying the radium and served a year in prison.
April 1, 1997 || Multnomah County, Oregon
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) searched the home of the parents of James Dalton Bell, a member of Oregon’s Multnomah County Common Law Court, a sovereign citizen group. The search was initiated after Bell set off a stink bomb at a Vancouver, Washington, IRS office in retaliation for his car being seized for failure to pay his taxes. The search revealed a cache of chemicals, including sodium cyanide and a precursor to sarin nerve gas. Authorities also found antigovernment militia literature and explosives manuals. According to a federal criminal complaint, Bell had authored an essay that advocated for the creation of a digital currency and electronic payment system to facilitate the assassination of government employees and “specifically mentioned Tax Collectors as part of his plan.” In July 1997, Bell struck a plea deal and was sentenced to 11 months in prison, plus additional supervision upon release. On November 6, 2000, his residence was searched, with authorities discovering many of the same chemical materials found during his 1997 arrest. Eventually he was rearrested for stalking federal officials and their family members. Nearly two weeks later, he was arrested and eventually found guilty on April 10, 2001, on two counts of stalking government officials. He was sentenced to 60 months of prison for each count and was released on December 20, 2009.
November 5, 1999 || Tampa, Florida
James Kenneth Gluck, 53, was arrested in Tampa, Florida, for threatening to use ricin and explosives against judicial officials and facilities in Jefferson County, Colorado. Shortly after his arrest, investigators found antigovernment literature, a copy of TheAnarchist Cookbook, and a makeshift laboratory that included the ingredients necessary for the manufacture of ricin inside his home. He was charged with two counts of issuing threats against court officers. Gluck end up spending a short time in prison before being released in early 2001.
December 3, 1999 || San Joaquin County, California
Officials seized several small arms and explosives, along with an unnamed type of cyanide and nerve gas antidote from Kevin Ray Patterson, 42, and Charles Dennis Kiles, 49, two members of California’s San Joaquin County Militia. Patterson and Kiles were arrested for attempting to attack a propane petro-chemical storage facility in nearby Elk Grove. A search of their homes turned up 30 pounds of fertilizer that could be used in a bomb, as well as 50 guns and 50,000 rounds of ammunition. Patterson was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison; Kiles received 22 years.
April 10, 2003 || Noonday, Texas
Antigovernment extremists and white supremacists William Krar and Judith Bruey were arrested in Noonday, Texas, and charged with building and possessing chemical weapons. Authorities first became aware of Krar’s illicit activities 16 months earlier, when a delivery man dropped off a package from Krar containing fake government identification documents intended for Edward Feltus, a member of the far-right New Jersey Militia. The package was delivered to the wrong person, who then reported it to authorities. In addition to explosives, firearms, 500,000 rounds of ammunition, landmines and pipe bombs, Krar was in possession of a device containing enough chemicals to construct a cyanide gas bomb capable of killing up to 6,000 people. Krar was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison; Bruey received 57 months.
June 23, 2004 || Agawam, Massachusetts
Michael Crooker, an individual with a history of far-right, antigovernment extremism, was initially arrested on charges related to a firearms violation. After his arrest, authorities discovered a weapons lab in Crooker’s apartment, including possession of explosives-making chemicals, along with raw materials and equipment needed to create the biochemical poisons ricin and abrin. Nearly two months after Crooker’s arrest, his father was cleaning a window on his property and accidentally discovered additional material — a vial that, according to federal officials, contained enough powder ricin to kill up to 750 people. Crooker admitted to possessing the ricin-filled vial and noted he had it for several years. He pleaded guilty to possession of a potentially lethal toxin and threatening a federal prosecutor. Crooker was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
October 25, 2004 || McKenzie, Tennessee
Demetrius “Van” Crocker, 39, who held strong anti-government and neo-Nazi views, was arrested for attempting to purchase sarin and explosives from an undercover FBI agent. The FBI’s investigation into Crocker began after he told an informant he was looking for radioactive material. At one point during the investigation, Crocker was exploring the possibility of manufacturing and detonating a radiological dispersal device (“dirty bomb”) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. He was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
January 1, 2005 || Ocala, Florida
A former roommate tipped off authorities that Steven Michael Ekberg, 22, might have illegal biological materials and firearms. Ekberg held far-right, antigovernment views and once said that he would “take some sort of action” if the federal government harmed him. A week later, he was arrested in Ocala, Florida, on charges of violating the terms of his concealed carry permit. A search of Ekberg’s residence related to his arrest identified terrorist-associated literature, including the Unabomber’s manifesto, how-to manuals on various ways to kill people, along with ricin, castor beans and various other unspecified chemicals. Ekberg accepted a plea deal that included two years of probation and attending drug-counseling sessions.
July 13, 2005 || Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin
Originally from Arizona, Denys Ray Hughes was a 58-year-old survivalist with far-right anti-government views. Hughes was arrested in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin, on charges of illegal possession of explosives. A search of his cabin quickly revealed 43 guns, along with materials needed for the manufacture of ricin, including production formulas, six bottles of castor beans and dimethyl sulfide. A search of his residence in Phoenix also revealed several castor bean plants, a pipe bomb, bomb-making components and an illegal suppressor. Hughes was convicted in 2006 and sentenced to 87 months in prison. However, after several years behind bars, Hughes was allowed to serve out the rest of his sentence in a halfway house. While being transported back to Wisconsin, in May 2011, Hughes escaped custody and was a fugitive before his corpse was eventually discovered in Western Nebraska in April 2012. The body’s identity was publicly confirmed in April 2013. Authorities believe he died of prior health complications.
December 9, 2008 || Belfast, Maine
Police in Belfast responded to an emergency call from Amber Cummings, who said she shot and killed her abusive husband, James. Inside the house, officers noticed Nazi memorabilia and paraphernalia, along with a completed application to join the U.S.-based neo-Nazi organization the National Socialist Movement, all belonging to James. They also found radioactive materials, including depleted uranium, thorium-232, beryllium, instructions on creating a dirty bomb and handwritten notes indicating an intent to acquire cobalt-60, cesium-137 and strontium-90 — all highly radioactive substances. Interviews with Amber revealed that James had intended to kill President-elect Obama and scores of other individuals with a radiological bomb. She also noted James had successfully made several dry runs to practice bypassing police checkpoints. Publicly known facts about this case suggest it is so far the most operationally advanced radiological terrorist plot to target the U.S. homeland in modern U.S. counterterrorism history. Amber was convicted of murder but the judge suspended her eight-year sentence.
November 1, 2011 || Toccoa, Georgia
Four members of a northern Georgia-based militia cell — Frederick Thomas, 73, Dan Roberts, 67, Ray Adams, 65, and Samuel Crump, 68 — conspired to execute a terrorist attack that involved the use of ricin. While some observers pointed out that the plan was operationally unsophisticated and unlikely to succeed, a search of Crump’s and Adams’ homes in Toccoa, Georgia, nevertheless revealed several important materials consistent with a ricin-related terrorist attack, including castor beans, books concerning safety regulations, hazardous materials and emergency response procedures, seed pods, toxic plant guides, acetone, castor bean plants and instructions in the production of ricin. Crump and Adams were both sentenced to 10 years; Roberts and Thomas were sentenced to five years each.
August 12, 2011 || Yemen
The New York Times reported that U.S., Saudi and Yemeni intelligence agencies identified a credible a plot by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to attack various soft targets in the United States, including malls, railways and airports using a ricin dispersal bomb. Although officials noted that the plot was largely aspirational, they also pointed out that AQAP operatives did attempt to acquire large quantities of castor beans — a necessary ingredient for making ricin.
June 19, 2013 || Albany, New York
Glendon Scott Crawford and Eric J. Feight — two individuals with strong far-right and anti-Muslim views — were arrested by federal authorities in Albany, New York. At the time of his arrest, Crawford was also a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Crawford and Feight were accused of attempting to build a radiation dispersal device — or what media dubbed a “death ray” gun — that they would use to emit lethal amounts of radiation against Albany-area Muslim institutions and President Obama. (Experts noted that the device, as designed, was unlikely to work.) On December 19, 2016, Crawford was sentenced to 30 years in prison on charges that included an attempt to produce and use a radiological dispersal device — the first conviction of its kind since the law was passed almost 15 years ago. Feight was sentenced to eight years and one month.
February 2, 2017 || Fannin County, Georgia
William Christopher Gibbs, 27, a member of the racist Georgia Church of Creativity, was arrested for possession of ricin and probation violation. Authorities learned of Gibbs’ ricin possession when he checked himself into a hospital after accidentally exposing himself to the substance. A field test on his car showed trace amounts of ricin present. If convicted, Gibbs faces up to five years in prison.
As these examples suggest, far-right extremists and others have been seeking to acquire highly destructive weapons capabilities which could be used on American soil. The operational sophistication and potentially deadly nature of these cases varies greatly.
Some examples, like the 2011 Georgia militia ricin plot and the KKK “ death ray” gun plot, show conspirators who lacked the technical know-how for a sophisticated attack. William Krar and would-be “Nazi dirty bomber” James Cummings are the exact opposite; highly skilled individuals with highly destructive weapons material that were only discovered by accident.
Regardless of the actors’ varied capabilities, extremists of multiple ideologies — not just those justifying their actions through an extremist form of Islam — continue to pursue the ability to obtain and possibly use weapons of mass destruction in the United States. Our nation and its elected officials cannot lose sight of the fact that there are plenty of individuals who, acting in the name of far-right extremism, remain an enduring threat to the American homeland.