GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Four men in Georgia intended to use an online novel as a script for a real-life wave of terror and assassination using explosives and the lethal toxin ricin, according to court documents.
Federal agents raided their north Georgia homes Tuesday and arrested them on charges of conspiring to plan the attacks.
Frederick Thomas, 73; Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68, appeared in court Wednesday but indicated they needed more time to prepare for a bail hearing, which was scheduled for next week.
The men wore glasses and had graying or white hair, and had trouble hearing a judge during the proceedings, even though she was using a microphone.
Relatives of two of the men said the charges were baseless. Their public defender declined to comment at the hearing.
Court documents accused the men of trying to obtain an explosive device and a silencer to carry out targeted attacks on government buildings and employees. Two of the men are also accused of trying to seek out a formula to produce ricin, a biological toxin that can be lethal in small doses.
Thomas' wife, Charlotte, told The Associated Press that the charges were "baloney."
"He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country," she said. "He loves his country."
Thomas, who is portrayed as the ringleader, talked of modeling the actions on the online novel "Absolved," which involves small groups of citizens attacking U.S. officials, according to court documents. It was written by former Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh, who wrote on his blog Wednesday that his book was fiction and said he was skeptical a "pretty geriatric" militia could carry out the attacks the men were accused of planning.
Vanderboegh told AP his novel was a "useful dire warning" about what could happen if the federal government encroaches too far on the rights of armed citizens. Vanderboegh said he is trying to warn the federal government to back off before violence occurs, yet he also believes a civil war is possible.
"My reason for everything I write is that there are a number of people in this country who have been pushed back and will not be pushed anymore," he said.
Investigators said the four men took several concrete steps to carry out their plans. Thomas is accused of driving to Atlanta with a confidential informant to scope out federal buildings that house the IRS and other agencies.
During the trip, Thomas at one point said to the informant: "There's two schools of thought on this: go for the feds or go for the locals. And I'm inclined to consider both. We'd have to blow the whole building like Timothy McVeigh," according to court documents.
He and Adams also arranged to buy what they thought was an explosive device and a silencer from an undercover agent. The men were arrested days after a lab test confirmed they had trace amounts of ricin in their possession, authorities said.
"While many are focused on the threat posed by international violent extremists, this case demonstrates that we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.
Federal investigators have monitored the group since at least March 17, when a confidential source recorded a meeting of the fringe group at Thomas' two-story house in Cleveland, a small town in the mountains of north Georgia. Thomas boasted of making a "bucket list" of government employees, politicians, businessman and media members that he felt needed to be "taken out."
At the meeting, Thomas said: "There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly, highly illegal: Murder," according to the court records.
Roberts, who attended several meetings, mentioned in May that he knew a former U.S. Army soldier who was a "loose cannon" who may be able to help them make ricin that the group could disperse in major U.S. cities. Crump and Adams were assigned to try to obtain or make the lethal toxin, and Crump was recorded in September saying he would like to make 10 pounds of the substance.
It's not clear from the court documents exactly how the men obtained the trace amounts of ricin.
An informant who met Adams' at his home in October saw lab equipment and a glass beaker, and a bean obtained by the informant was later tested by state officials as positive for ricin.
Court documents also accused Crump of suggesting the ricin could be blown out of a car speeding down an interstate highway to attack people in Washington; Newark, N.J.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlanta and New Orleans.
Prosecutors pointed out in court records that the four men had useful backgrounds. Adams used to work as a lab technician for a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency, and showed off his certifications to visitors. Crump once worked for a contractor that did maintenance at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the records said.
The court records did not say whether they used their connections to obtain ricin.
Thomas' wife said her husband was a Navy veteran, while Roberts' wife Margaret said her husband retired from the sign business and lives on pensions. She said FBI agents showed up Tuesday with a search warrant and went through her home, handcuffing her and taking a computer and other items.
"He's never been in trouble with the law. He's not anti-government," she said. "He would never hurt anybody."
Associated Press writers Dorie Turner, Jeff Martin and Leonard Pallats contributed to this story.
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Associated Press writer Jay Reeves contributed to this report from Alabaster.