7 Militiamen Held in Plot to Blow Up FBI Facility
Seven men with connections to an anti-government West Virginia militia--including its leader and a local firefighter--were arrested Friday on charges of conspiring to blow up the FBI’s new national fingerprint records facility.
The arrests were made early Friday after members of the West Virginia Mountaineer Militia allegedly began assembling large amounts of plastic explosives, TNT and blasting caps. The militia also had gained access from the firefighter to confidential blueprints of the new $200-million FBI complex in Clarksburg, W.Va.
For 16 months, the FBI covertly investigated the paramilitary group, an operation that was launched not long after the bombing in Oklahoma City of a federal office building that killed 168 people. Authorities described the alleged West Virginia conspiracy as a sign of continued fervor among some far-right extremists for attacking federal institutions and law enforcement agencies, despite the intensive backlash caused by the Oklahoma City attack.
The militia’s leader, Floyd Raymond Looker, a Vietnam veteran, former political candidate for state office and real estate developer, has said in published interviews that the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 was the work of federal agents intent on blaming local militias and putting them out of business.
Federal officials, however, said that the arrests are not an attempt to shut down individual state militias.
“The FBI recognizes citizens’ rights to participate in militia groups,” said John P. O’Connor, an FBI supervisor who oversaw the undercover investigation. But, he added, “the FBI will aggressively pursue those who participate in criminal actions.”
Richard Baudouin, a spokesman for Klan Watch in Alabama, which monitors hate groups, said that the 56-year-old Looker in the past has accused the government of secretly planning to set up concentration camps for American dissidents like himself.
“The significance of this FBI center to these individuals is that they are obsessed with the idea of the federal government spying on its citizens and rounding up dissidents,” Baudouin said. “The FBI center becomes a pretty good symbol of that paranoia.”
The Criminal Justice Information Services Division complex eventually will also house other crime-fighting units within the FBI, including the bureau’s National Criminal Information Center and the Uniform Crime Reporting Center. The center eventually will employ 2,600 people. Its location, 175 miles from Washington, is testament to the political clout of veteran Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia.
Looker lives in a small ranch home in Stonewood, which is just outside Clarksburg. In the past, he has maintained that his militia is not a hate group but is deeply concerned with government efforts to curtail individual liberties.
“Whether they destroy us or not, they don’t really care,” he said in an interview shortly after the Oklahoma City blast.
Asked for his reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing, he added: “I hate to say it, but I feel like the government did this to itself in order to blame the militias.”
Federal authorities said Friday that the West Virginia militia is sophisticated and well-organized and claims to have brigades in 37 of the state’s 55 counties.
The militia is considered to be far more advanced than the Viper Militia in Arizona, where 12 members were originally charged with firearms violations and conspiring to blow up government buildings. But much of the Arizona case fell apart when federal investigators conceded in court that the Vipers never specifically plotted to destroy federal buildings around Phoenix.
In the West Virginia case, authorities allege that the defendants assembled highly explosive material, bought and sold bomb components and were specifically targeting the FBI center.
Along with Looker, James R. Rogers, 40, a Clarksburg Fire Department lieutenant who is accused of giving the militia photographs of construction blueprints for the FBI facility, was also arrested.
The blueprints were taken from files of the fire department and were supposed to be used only to help firefighters in case of an emergency at the sprawling government center.
Also charged were Edward F. Moore, 52, and Jack Arland Phillips, 57, who allegedly manufactured and dealt in homemade nitroglycerine, C-4 plastic explosives and detonators.
The others charged were Terrell P. Coon, 46, James M. Johnson, 48, and Imam A. Lewis. They are accused of taking explosive materials across state lines from Ohio and Pennsylvania into West Virginia.
The government put the case together by using an informant inside the militia and an undercover FBI agent who posed as an extremist and pretended to be a liaison contact for foreign terrorist groups.
According to court affidavits, the investigation began in June 1995, when the FBI learned that Rogers, who also is a major in the militia, was collecting explosive materials on his farm.
“Looker identified the FBI facility in Clarksburg and two other federal facilities in West Virginia as the three primary targets for militia attention in the event of conflict with the federal government in the future,” the affidavits said.
At a meeting of alleged conspirators, Looker told Rogers that the FBI facility “had the capability of tracking every person in the United States,” the affidavits said.
Rogers later provided photographs of the FBI building blueprints and, last month, Looker offered to “broker” the photographs to the undercover agent “for sale to an unnamed Middle Eastern terrorist organization in exchange for $50,000 cash,” the affidavits alleged.
Looker also allegedly encouraged others to assemble explosive materials. At one point, according to the affidavit, Moore told Looker that he was working on a fuel air device that could destroy an area as large as “two football fields.”
The group also was collecting fragmentation devices that, when detonated, would expel ball-bearing shards and had about 1,000 “improvised explosive devices . . . capable of causing serious injury and death,” the document said.
Summing up the case, O’Connor said: “There was a plot. It was ended before it could be consummated.”
But John Trochmann, co-founder of the Militia of Montana and a national militia leader, cautioned against a rush to judgment.
“If they’re guilty of plotting to do something like that, the rightful thing is to put them away,” he said. “But remember, they’re innocent until proven guilty.”
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Past Militia Crackdowns
Some other recent crackdowns on militia groups:
July 27, 1996: Four members of the Washington State Militia, including founder John Pitner and executive director Frederick Benjamin Fisher, and four members of a Seattle-area group called the Freemen were arrested on federal conspiracy charges, accused of arming themselves for war with the federal government or the United Nations. In August, the eight pleaded not guilty to federal charges of conspiring to make bombs. The trial is pending.
June 27, 1996: Authorities arrested 12 members of the so-called Viper Militia in Phoenix and seized firearms and explosives. All 12 pleaded not guilty to conspiring to make bombs and other weapons. Prosecutors said they were plotting to blow up seven federal and state buildings in the Phoenix area. But early this month, prosecutors seemed to back away from original assertions. The trial is scheduled for December.
April 26, 1996: Two members of the Georgia Republic Militia were arrested after an investigation found they were plotting to make dozens of pipe bombs. The men, Robert Starr of Macon, Ga., and William James McCranie Jr. of Crawford County, Ga., said they were arming themselves for an upcoming “war” against the United Nations and the New World Order. Trial begins Tuesday.
March 1995: Four member of the Minnesota Patriots Council--LeRoy Wheeler, Douglass Baker, Dennis Henderson and Richard Oelrich--were convicted of conspiracy to use ricin, a deadly toxin, to kill federal agents and law enforcement officers. The men had enough ricin to kill 1,400 people. They received sentences ranging from slightly fewer than three years to four years.
Nov. 9, 1995: Four members of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia were arrested on charges of making bombs designed to blow up federal offices in several cities. In May 1996, a federal jury convicted self-proclaimed prophet Willie Ray Lampley, his wife, Cecilia, and John Dare Baird. When they were arrested, the three had 210 pounds of fertilizer, a gallon of nitromethane and part of a toaster that could be used as a detonator.