North Georgia man under investigation after alleged ricin exposure

William Christopher Gibbs (Credit: Fannin County Sheriff's Office)
William Christopher Gibbs (Credit: Fannin County Sheriff's Office)

Investigators are not saying why a Fannin County man with white supremacist ties allegedly produced ricin and what he intended to do with the deadly toxin.

William Christopher Gibbs, 27, was arrested last Thursday after he drove himself to a local hospital and said he'd been exposed to ricin, a poison derived from castor beans that can be lethal in doses equivalent to a few grains of salt.

Fannin Sheriff Dane Kirby initially told reporters Gibbs’ car had tested positive for “a small amount” of ricin, but the suspect, being held by local authorities on reckless conduct and violation of probation charges, apparently suffered no ill effects.

His mother, Tammy Gibbs, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution she visited her son in jail on Saturday and he appeared fine.

“The FBI is telling me nothing,” she said Thursday.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney John Horn confirmed that federal agents are investigating, but said there is “no evidence that any poisonous or toxic substances have been dispersed or that the public is at risk.”

But was a potential risk averted?

“It would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people,” according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In other words, if Gibbs was exposed it was no accident.

His connection to a white supremacist group only heightens concerns.

Gibbs, according to his Facebook profile, belongs to the Georgia Church Of Creativity and identifies as a “White Racial Loyalist.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, the Creativity Movement is a “hardcore white supremacist group that dates back to the 1970s, notable for its attempt to assume the guise of a religion as a way to promote its racist and anti-Semitic views.”

Its founder, Matt Hale, was sentenced in 2004 to 40 years in prison for soliciting the murder of a federal judge, the ADL said. That led the movement to splinter, with groups such as the Creativity Alliance, which Gibbs also lists in his Facebook profile, emerging as a successor.

Channel 2's Steve Gehlbach reports

Ricin, according to the ADL, is popular with right-wing extremists who view the toxin as a "poor man's anthrax." In 2014, four elderly North Georgia men were convicted of plotting to make ricin so they could kill Atlanta-based federal agents and judges. Two of them pleaded guilty, and a jury in federal court in Gainesville convicted the other two members and sentenced them to 10 years in prison.

Tammy Gibbs acknowledged that her son — who worked until recently as a forklift operator at Pilgrim’s Pride, a poultry processor — was involved with white supremacists but said she doesn’t believe he intended to harm anyone. He has been in and out of trouble since he was a teenager, she said, mostly for “general stupidity. Nothing violent.”

“He’s trying to find a place where he belongs,” Tammy Gibbs said. Her son, who goes by his middle name, Chris, has always felt like an outcast, she said.

According to the Fannin sheriff’s incident report, Tammy Gibbs told police her son suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

“He doesn’t think like you and me,” she said Thursday.

Gibbs told his mother he was trying to extract castor oil from the bean.

“Why? I have no idea,” Tammy Gibbs said. “I have no idea what’s going on. I’m stressed to the max.”

WHAT IS RICIN?

Ricin is a biological toxin derived from castor beans, which are processed throughout the world to make castor oil. Ricin is part of the waste “mash” produced when castor oil is made. It can take the form of a powder, a mist, or a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.

What is the risk?

Ricin is deadly if inhaled or ingested. It works by infiltrating the cells of a person’s body and preventing them from making the proteins they need. Eventually this is harmful to the whole body and death may occur, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While ricin can be lethal even in small doses, the CDC says it would take a deliberate act to make ricin and use it to poison people. Unintentional exposure to ricin is highly unlikely, the CDC said.

Who uses it?

Foreign and domestic extremists have found ricin attractive because it is readily available and easily prepared, according to the Anti-Defamation League. In the United States, right-wing extremists have been drawn to ricin, and since 1992 there have been a string of ricin-related incidents involving anti-government extremists or white supremacists, the ADL reports.

What about in Georgia?

In 2011, federal agents arrested four suspected members of a Georgia militia on charges of plotting attacks with ricin and explosives. The men talked of a plane dropping ricin on Washington and spreading the poison on federal government buildings in Atlanta, Athens and Gainesville and in public areas, such as on I-85 in Atlanta. Two of the men pleaded guilty and two were convicted after a trial.

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