NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Three men have been charged in the firebombing of a small mosque over the weekend, federal prosecutors said.
Authorities said Eric Ian Baker, 32, Michael Corey Golden, 23, and Jonathan Edward Stone, 19, had planned for a week to burn down the Islamic Center of Columbia, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Nashville, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul O'Brian said Tuesday.
The men are accused of using gasoline, rags and empty beer bottles to set fire to the storefront mosque on Saturday. The men, who were arrested later that day, are facing federal charges of unlawful possession of a destructive device and state charges of arson.
The federal complaint filed against the men says Stone and Baker told officers they were members of the Christian Identity movement, an extreme doctrine that claims white Europeans are God's chosen people.
The complaint also said Baker spray-painted swastikas on the walls of the building, including the phrase "White Power."
When asked if the men could face hate-crime charges, O'Brian said the investigation is continuing and more federal charges could be filed.
Police used surveillance video from a local gas station to identify the suspects.
According to the complaint, Stone said he earned "two stripes" for the act from Baker, who was described as his sponsor in the movement.
"Stone admitted to special agents that he is a member of the Christian Identity movement and that stripes or promotions are earned for committing acts of violence against 'enemies,"' the complaint said.
"Baker explained to the special agents that 'What goes on in that building is illegal according to the Bible,"' the complaint says. "Baker also explained to the agents that the Nazi symbols painted on the building meant 'freedom on the streets."'
Local District Attorney General Mike Bottoms said Baker had been appointed a public defender attorney, who was not in the office Tuesday and did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Bottoms said Nashville attorney Ron Freeman was representing Stone but a listing was not immediately available. Prosecutors said they did not know if Golden had retained an attorney.
Columbia Police Chief Barry Crotzer said authorities were not aware of any activities by the Christian Identity movement in the city before the firebombing.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of hate groups, listed only two Christian Identity organizations in the state in 2006, both located in eastern Tennessee.
Mark Pothook, director of the center's Intelligence Project, said the Christian Identity movement is not a single organization, but a theology that is associated with several groups, such as the Aryan Nation.