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Failed plot to blow up Ohio bridge highlights potential 'Occupy' link to violence

Cleveland Arrests_high level bridge.jpg

Five men from the Occupy Cleveland movement have been arrested for conspiring to blow up the Brecksville-Northfield High Level bridge over the Cuyahoga River valley, but there was no danger to the public because the explosives were inoperable and were controlled by an undercover FBI employee, the agency said Tuesday in announcing the men's arrests. (AP Photo/Amy Sancetta) (AP2012)

The 'Occupy' movement is scrambling to distance itself from five men charged with plotting to blow up a bridge near Cleveland, but authorities have long been concerned about the group's potential to inspire violence.

Aside from some vandalism and skirmishes with police, notably in Seattle and Oakland, the movement has largely stuck to its nonviolent approach. But the angry rhetoric of 'Occupy' leaders has long concerned authorities, and an internal Department of Homeland Security memo leaked earlier this year warned that fringe members could be driven to acts of terror, such as the thwarted plot to blow up a busy commuter bridge on May Day.

"I think most people involved with the Occupy Movement are innocent, but it creates an environment that encourages criminal behavior," said Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.), who heads the House Committee on Homeland Security. "What they [occupiers] do is create a climate for wackos to carry out their plans."

The case makes an internal Department of Homeland Security report released by WikiLeaks in October seem prophetic. The report, entitled "Special Coverage: Occupy Wall Street," warned that the movement's mantra of peaceful protest would not preclude acts of violence taken up in its name.

"The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence," said the report, released as part of a joint document dump by WikiLeaks and Rolling Stone. "While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure."

According to the Occupy Threat Center, a database established by data analytics company ListenLogic to analyze social media posts for threats to corporations from those associated with the 'Occupy' movement, leaders have called for physical destruction of buildings and violent action, and associated "hacktivist" groups have targeted financial and law enforcement institutions. Speakers at rallies around the nation have called for an uprising similar to the French Revolution.

"Irresponsible words have irresponsible consequences. Once you have something incited you can't stop it."

- Rep. Peter King, (R-N.Y.), Chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security

Leaders and supporters of 'Occupy Cleveland' denied that the five suspects were part of the organization - but had to acknowledge that the suspects attended rallies.

“While the persons arrested Monday evening by the FBI have participated in Occupy Cleveland events, they were in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland. Occupy Cleveland has affirmed the principles of non-violence since its inception on October 6, 2011,” read a statement from the group's website

Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins, a Green Party member and 'Occupy' supporter said the five were known to 'Occupy' leaders.

"They were more active in the beginning of the movement, but their part had waned in subsequent months," Cummins told "I believe that they weren't into the constitutional process of the movement."

The suspects, Douglas Wright, 26, Brandon Baxter, 20, Anthony Hayne, 35, Connor Stevens,20, and Joshua Stafford, 23, allegedly tried to blow up the Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge, a span that brings 10,000 commuters across the Cuyahoga River daily. They rigged phony explosives bought from an undercover FBI agent at the base of the bridge and tried to detonate them using a text-message code, according to authorities. 

Cummins said the incident is a "wake-up call" for 'Occupy Cleveland' leaders.

"They need to step up and get organized," Cummins said. "They need to be aware of the dangers that the ideals of the movement could present.

Said King: "Irresponsible words have irresponsible consequences. Once you have something incited you can't stop it."


Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @perrych

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