Five men who called themselves anarchists were preparing to commemorate May Day, the international workers holiday, by taking violent political action.
They planted what they thought were demolition charges on a bridge crossing the Cuyahoga Valley National Park south of downtown Cleveland and drove to a spot several miles away. There, they punched in the code that they thought would detonate the explosives, federal officials allege.
But nothing happened.
Instead, law enforcement officers from a variety of agencies including the FBI arrested the five Monday night, charging them with conspiracy and trying to bomb property used in interstate commerce. The five appeared in federal court in Cleveland on Tuesday and were ordered jailed without bail pending a hearing next week.
If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum of five years in prison on the conspiracy charge and 20 years on the attempted bombing charge.
The public was never in danger, federal officials said. According to the complaint filed with the court, officers had been watching the group for months. The explosives were nonoperational and always under the control of federal officials. The Cleveland group was not connected to any international terrorist group, a concern on the anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden a year ago in Pakistan, officials said.
However, the suspects were connected to the Occupy Cleveland movement, though the group is not mentioned by name in the complaint. Some of the suspects had attended an Occupy demonstration on Oct. 21 on Cleveland’s Public Square, but federal officials and Occupy spokesmen minimized that tie.
“Let me be clear, the FBI and Department of Justice are not conducting an investigation of any specific group,” said Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “We do not investigate movements or groups, we investigate individuals.”
According to the complaint filed with the court, a “confidential human source” met one of the suspects and some of his associates at the October demonstration. The suspect, identified as Doug Wright, 26, described himself as an anarchist and complained about Occupy’s unwillingness to take violent action.
When one of the demonstration’s organizers said the Occupiers wanted no more than peaceful civil disobedience, one member of the group near Wright walked away in disgust, cursing.
The confidential informant is described in court papers as having a criminal record and a conviction for possession of cocaine and for robbery. He also has four convictions for passing bad checks between 1991 and 2011. The informant is on probation but was paid earlier for services and expenses, according to the complaint.
In addition to Wright, Brandon L. Baxter, 20, and Anthony Hayne, 35, were arrested Monday evening by members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. Also arrested were Connor C. Stevens, 20, and Joshua S. Stafford, 23, the government said.
According to the court documents, the relationship between the informant and the group grew closer over the following months. The informant recorded conversations.
The five wanted to take action that would clearly be seen as against the “1%,” those blamed for running the U.S. for their own benefit, rather than for the remaining 99% of the country. Originally, the group had planned to use smoke grenades to distract law enforcement so that co-conspirators could topple signs for financial institutions atop high-rise buildings in downtown Cleveland, the complaint said.
“The signs are the most important part because they need to make sure everyone knows the action was against corporate America and the financial system, and not just some random acts,” Wright is quoted as stating, according to the complaint.
But the planning escalated to include explosive materials, the government alleges. The defendants conspired to obtain C-4 explosives for use in two improvised explosive devices, investigators said.
The group discussed various targets in the Cleveland metropolitan area before picking the Route 82 Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge. The bridge goes from Brecksville to Sagamore Hills, over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the complaint said.