They are accused of plotting a violent attack against the federal government but don't look the part. The four men, ranging in age from 65 to 73, made their first court appearances Wednesday in Gainesville as about a dozen family members looked on.
Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland, and 67-year-old Emory Dan Roberts, of Toccoa, were the first to appear before U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Susan Cole. Both could be seen cupping their ears to better hear the judge's instructions and Roberts' wife was overheard fretting about her husband's access to medications he's been prescribed.
The two men, along with Toccoa residents Ray H. Adams, 65, and Samuel J. Crump, 68, appeared in handcuffs and leg shackles. All four requested and were granted court-appointed attorneys who'll represent them at a probable cause hearing scheduled for next Wednesday.
Bond won't be considered until that hearing. The alleged militia members were returned to the Hall County Jail. Family members declined comment as they left the courthouse, shielded by court-appointed defender Jeff Ertl.
Federal authorities said the men held clandestine militia meetings, beginning in March, in which they discussed using toxic agents and assassinations to undermine federal and state government. Militia members also discussed how to obtain firearms, ammunition and silencers, the FBI affidavit said.
U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said that as the U.S. government focuses on terrorist threats by violent international extremists, “This case demonstrates that we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our borders who threaten our safety and security.”
Thomas, Roberts, Adams and others who attended the meetings discussed targeting various government officials, federal authorities said. The meetings were monitored by the FBI and secretly tape recorded by a confidential informant helping the FBI, according to sworn affidavits unsealed Tuesday.
Thomas was described in affidavits as a leading speaker at the meetings. He discussed having a “bucket list” of government officials, business leaders and members of the media who needed to be “taken out” to “make the country right again,” the affidavit said.
Thomas also said he was a military veteran who had been to war and had taken a life, and said he could do it again, the affidavit said.
“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 during a meeting in March, according to the affidavit. "... When it comes to saving the Constitution, that means some people gotta die."
Adams formerly worked at the USDA for the Agricultural Research Service as a lab technician, the U.S. Department of Agriculture verified to the FBI. Adams is accused of trying to help Crump obtain ricin for use as a weapon, authorities said. According to the affidavit, Crump once worked for the Centers for Disease Control for a contractor doing maintenance work for the CDC. Roberts is retired from the signage industry, family members said Tuesday.
FBI documents reveal the men held a series of meetings beginning in March and as recently as last week in which they discussed their plans.
Below is a highlight of their meetings:
March: The group held a meeting at Thomas’ residence in which Thomas asked members if they were as committed to taking action as he was.
“I am,” Adams responded. “I’d say the first ones that need to die is the ones in the government buildings. … When it comes down to it, I can kill somebody.”
Dan Roberts said he knew people in Habersham County who had a substance that could kill people, the affidavit said, and the discussion next turned to ways to obtain castor beans. Castor beans are used to make ricin, a deadly toxin that can be fatal if inhaled or ingested.
April: Thomas said the “civilian government operatives” the militia members would be targeting included police officers and members of federal law enforcement groups, such as the IRS and FBI, the affidavit said.
"I could shoot ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives] and IRS all day long," Thomas said, according to the affidavit. "All the judges and the DOJ [Justice Department], and the attorneys and prosecutors."
May: Thomas drove with the confidential informant to Atlanta, unaware the other man was secretly recording their conversations. The men conducted surveillance on the local ATF and IRS buildings to plan and assess a possible attack, the FBI affidavit said. “There’s two schools of thought on this: go for the feds or go for the locals,” Thomas said during the trip, the affidavit said. “I’m inclined to consider both.”
The affidavit added that Thomas also said, “We’d have to blow the whole building, like Timothy McVeigh,” referring to the man behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people. "We gotta have a lot of explosives."
September: In a meeting secretly recorded by an informant, Crump said he wanted to make 10 pounds of ricin and disperse it in various U.S. cities, including Washington, Newark and Atlanta, the affidavits said. Crump said ricin could be blown from a car traveling on the interstates, the affidavit said.
“All ya gotta do is lay it in the damn road, the cars are gonna spread it,” Crump told the group at the Sept. 17 meeting.
Crump then suggested a way to disperse the ricin: “Ya get on the trunk of Atlanta, you get up on the north side, ya get on 41, ya throw it out there right on 285, ya go up 41 or 75, go up 75 to get away from it,” he said, according to the affidavits. “Keep the heater on, that way it keeps the pressure out. Don’t roll your window down.”
October: On Oct. 15, at a meeting at Adams’ home, the FBI’s confidential informant said he saw Adams take a bean from a storage container in his carport and the men passed it among themselves. Crump said it was a castor bean, a key ingredient for making ricin.
Five days later, the Georgia Public Health Laboratory reported that the bean was verified to be a castor bean and that the bean tested positive for ricin.
The FBI affidavit noted that the agency's confidential informant, whose name was not disclosed, is out on bond for a pending state felony charge. The FBI gave the informant a polygraph test during the investigation of the militia group, and the informant gave "less than truthful responses" about the militia group's activities, the affidavit said.
Reached at her home Tuesday, Roberts’ wife, Margaret, said she was shocked by the day’s developments, which included FBI agents handcuffing her while they searched the rural Toccoa home she has shared with her husband for more than two decades.
“My husband would not hurt anybody and anybody who knows him knows he wouldn’t hurt anybody,” Roberts said, her voice trembling. “Dan has always respected the law. He’s never had a problem with the law.”
Roberts, 59, said she had never met Thomas, but acknowledged Thomas had called her home at least once, and believes she met Crump years ago, but wouldn’t recognize him now. She wasn’t familiar with Adams.
“I don’t know these people,” she said. “I can’t say anything about them, but I know Dan. Dan wouldn’t hurt a fly. And he is not anti-government. He respects the law.”
Roberts said her husband was retired and is involved with her in animal rescue.
A woman who answered the phone at the Thomas residence said his family had "no comment at this time." A woman reached at Adams' residence said she was unaware of the charges and also had no comment.
Roberts said she was still trying to piece together what transpired Tuesday, and couldn’t comprehend what had taken place at her home.
“It scared me to death,” she said. “Agents were walking around here with guns and rifles. It was something like out of the movies.”
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