Was this former U.S. soldier an aspiring terrorist, or was he set up by the FBI?
When Daniel Seth Franey first caught the attention of federal officials, they suspected he was an aspiring terrorist who had privately made threats to kill law enforcement officers and soldiers.
A 34-year-old former soldier and Muslim convert, Franey told it differently. He was an innocent though desperate man, set up by an FBI agent who had pretended to be a black-market gunrunner and paid Franey for his help.
But by the time Franey learned he had been played, he was in handcuffs.
The government’s case against him came to a quiet end in early July while the nation was consumed with presidential campaigns, terrorism abroad and the funerals for five slain Dallas police officers. Franey made a quick appearance in federal court and pleaded guilty to a single charge — illegally possessing a machine gun provided to him by an undercover FBI agent.
In a July 12 announcement, Annette Hayes, the U.S. attorney in Seattle, said Franey had “espouse[d] violent rhetoric” and “expressed a desire to attack the police or U.S. Military personnel out of allegiance to the Islamic State.”
I have been harassed by the FBI for five years.
— Daniel Seth Franey
Franey denied any wrongdoing.
“I would never hurt a man, woman or child, if I was in a war on one side or the other,” Franey told U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton during a hearing in April.
Franey said he’d been set up by an agent who pretended to be a gunrunner and paid him to be his lookout, taking him on staged road trips to peddle machine guns.
The agent allowed Franey — who was barred under a domestic violence order from possessing firearms — to hold and shoot some of the guns, according to the agent’s court statements.
The government says such cases are difficult to make and sometimes require staged plots, which critics might wrongly see as entrapment.
Federal prosecutors say the investigation began a year ago, but Franey told Leighton that he’d been targeted for years.
“I have been harassed by the FBI for five years,” said Franey, who had been posting anti-American comments on his Facebook page since at least 2013. “They have come at me with informants and agents for five years, asking for guns, asking me to take guns. I have refused.
“This last time I did not use my better judgment. I toyed with them because I was broke.”
Following Franey’s arrest in February, federal prosecutors said the commercial fisherman’s threats included a plan to invade an annual gathering of generals on the Washington coast, intending to “kill them all.”
Those target-practice sessions led to five counts of illegal gun possession, leaving Franey facing up to 10 years and a $250,000 fine on each count. In exchange for a guilty plea, the government dropped all but one count.
By law, holding a gun is possession — something Franey was forbidden to do, the FBI had learned during a background check. A three-year-old protective order from a domestic violence case in Illinois involving Franey and his ex-wife prevented him from possessing firearms anywhere in the U.S.
Franey had apparently been obeying that court order. He had no guns of his own, a search of his home by the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force later showed. He also told the undercover agent he hadn’t fired a gun in six years.
The FBI’s road trips took Franey to Seattle, Spokane and Los Angeles for dramatized sales to other undercover agents. Besides paying Franey to be his his lookout, the undercover agent also gave the out-of-work veteran money to catch up on his electric bill.
During a run to Santa Monica last September, he was allowed to come into a motel with the agent, who was delivering a duffel bag of weapons to four agents posing as illicit buyers.
While chatting with the “customers,” Franey said, according to court records. “Any government agents that I’m around, I feel the duty to kill.”
The FBI had dug into Franey’s background, finding he’d been subject to debt collections and the domestic-violence order and had served six years in the Army, where he was taught to handle rifles and small arms. He had also helped maintain and operate a Patriot Missile launching station and served at air-defense artilleries in Texas and South Korea.
Some of his Montesano neighbors saw him as a friendly, religious man who helped others around his small farm home where he lived with his girlfriend and two children, according to court papers.
Others said he was often spoiling for an argument. He tried unsuccessfully to talk a neighbor into supporting Islamic State and flying a black flag out front, according to the court papers.
His Facebook page displayed quotes from Allah, anti-Israeli posters, and a photo showing Franey wearing a “Research Islam” T-shirt. Last January, he shared a photo of a Hamas soldier with the caption, “You invade my land, bomb my house, kill my family, steal our resources and then call me a terrorist?!?!”
He was repeatedly caught on tape, federal officials say, boasting of his prowess to kill Americans. “You know who I’m after,” he said during one session, according to court documents. “Feds, pigs, politicians, bankers, policymakers, think tankers, the whole crew … Anyone who is not furthering the black flag…”
He suggested that taking down a large military facility, such as Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Tacoma, would be a pushover, court documents said.
There is no indication in court filings that Franey actually conspired with others, knew anyone who sympathized with him, or physically harmed anyone. In his April court appearance, he said he was worried that his words could be used against him.
Franey faces up to 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced Oct. 7.
Rick Anderson is a special correspondent
Must-read stories from the L.A. Times
Get the day's top news with our Today's Headlines newsletter, sent every weekday morning.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.