A federal judge denied bail Wednesday for Christopher David Fisher, the principal suspect in an alleged plot to start a racial war by bombing the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, even though his parents were willing to supervise him 24 hours a day.
"I don't doubt the sincerity of the parents," U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima said. But he said that despite their offers to supervise their son, "there is a probability of danger to the community."
Fisher, who burst into tears near the beginning of the session and sobbed throughout, left the court in shackles and was returned to the federal detention center in downtown Los Angeles, where he has been held since last week. Authorities say Fisher, 20, of Long Beach was the leader of a white supremacist group known as the Fourth Reich Skinheads, which the government contends had plotted to blow up the First AME Church and to kill Rodney G. King.
In addition to those plots, prosecutors say Fisher boasted of throwing a Molotov cocktail at a Westminster synagogue. Although the bomb did not ignite, Fisher and other skinheads allegedly defaced the synagogue by painting swastikas and the words "Die Jew Pigs" on a wall. Fisher also allegedly told an undercover FBI agent that he had used a pipe bomb to damage the home and car of an Asian high school student in Lakewood on Feb. 12.
Although eight suspects were arrested last week after an 18-month FBI investigation into gun trafficking by white supremacist groups, Fisher is the only adult charged in connection with the plot to bomb First AME. Two juvenile suspects also are said to be members of the Fourth Reich Skinheads, but five other adult suspects are not connected to that group.
One of those adults, Josh Daniel Lee, 23, of Costa Mesa, was released late Tuesday after prosecutors agreed that a $100,000 bond was enough to ensure that he would not flee. Lee's lawyer, Morten Boren, said Lee is not a white supremacist and added that the accusations against him are limited to the sale of two allegedly illegal weapons. A third gun that Lee sold to an undercover agent, an Uzi, turned out to be legal, Boren said.
"Josh is not a skinhead," Boren said. "He doesn't know these other people. . . . I am convinced, in my own mind, that Josh is not a bigot."
Lee's friends and associates say they have never known him to harbor white supremacist views. They also point out that Lee's father is an Asian-American.
Lee is one of three Orange County residents who was charged with federal weapons violations last Thursday. If the suspects are indicted next week, as expected, those from Orange County are likely to be put on trial there. The other suspects, who come from Long Beach and North Hills, among other places, are expected to be tried in Los Angeles.
In contrast to Lee, the other suspects all have advocated white supremacist views, according to neighbors and associates.
Most attention has focused on Fisher, however, as it is his group, the Fourth Reich Skinheads, that is accused of actually plotting to use the weapons it amassed. Federal agents say that they bought four pipe bombs from Fisher and that he stored with them several guns he wanted to use in an assault on the First AME Church.
In addition, Marc R. Greenberg, the lead federal prosecutor in the case, disclosed in court Wednesday that agents had seized a Molotov cocktail from Fisher's home when they searched it last week. The bomb was found in a box outside the house near the gas meter, according to Fisher's lawyer, Anna Ho.
Ho had proposed that Judge Tashima allow Fisher to go free if he could post a $500,000 bond, using property owned by Fisher's parents and grandmother as collateral. Ho added that Fisher would wear an electronic ankle bracelet and his parents would notify the court before he had contact with anyone.
Ho also submitted six signed affidavits from Fisher's friends and family. They vouched for Fisher's integrity and said the community would be safe even if he were free on bail.
"He is a responsible, caring person," wrote one friend, Richard Wells. "He would think of others before himself, helping out any way he could."
Fisher's mother, Farah Fisher, described her son as a "good and kind person" who has cared for his mentally retarded brother and who is close to his entire family.
Prosecutors responded that neither the testimony about Fisher's character nor the assurances that he would be watched were enough.
"Mr. Fisher is a very dangerous individual," Greenberg said. "He committed serious acts of violence. He planned exceedingly serious acts. . . . This was his idea, his thinking."
Fisher's lawyer and friends maintain that he would not have plotted to bomb the First AME Church were it not for the prodding of an undercover FBI agent and an informant who infiltrated white supremacist groups.
More than a dozen of Fisher's friends were at the session, and they cried as the judge ordered Fisher to remain in custody.
"I do not believe Chris is a threat to our community," Ray Traster, whose 15-year-old son is Fisher's friend, said outside court. "They had the seeds of this planted in their minds by adults."
Fisher's lawyer added that he could safely be released in part because the FBI agent and informant were no longer able to provoke him to violence.
But Judge Tashima noted that prosecutors had presented evidence that Fisher's violent behavior began before the FBI undercover operation. That issue--whether Fisher would have committed any acts of violence without the coaxing of the informant and agent--is likely to be a key question if, as expected, Fisher is indicted and tried.