Four suspected members of a fringe north Georgia militia group were arrested Tuesday by federal authorities and charged with plotting to buy explosives and trying to make a deadly toxin in a bizarre plot to attack government officials in Jacksonville and three other U.S. cities.
Authorities say at least two suspects accused of plotting attacks involving deadly biological toxins are former federal employees
Court records state that one who was arrested worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and another had worked for a contractor at the federal Centers for Disease Control.
The four listed in the indictment are Frederick Thomas, 73; Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68. The men live in the north Georgia towns of Cleveland and Toccoa.
The four men were part of a group that also tried to obtain an unregistered explosive device and sought out the complex formula to produce ricin, a biological toxin that can be lethal in small doses, according to a federal complaint.
They have been talking about "covert" operations since at least March 2011, according to court records, discussing murder, theft and using toxic agents and assassinations to undermine the state and federal government. Court documents indicate the men talked about spreading ricin across several cities at once, including Washington D.C., Atlanta, New Orleans and Jacksonville.
"What I'd like to do is, uh, about 10 pounds of that (reference to ricin)…Put it out in different cities at the same time: Washinton, DC, maybe Newark, NJ; Atlanta, GA; Jacksonville, FL; New Orleans," Crump said in a recording made by the FBI. "All ya gotta do is lay it in the d--- road, the cars are gonna spread it."
DOCUMENT: Georgia Domestic Terrorism Affidavit
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office issued a statement saying it was aware of the federal investigation in Georgia, but cannot comment on any specifics.
"We are aware of the arrests in Atlanta and believe there is no cause for alarm in our community," JSO Chief Mike Williams said. "We would like to take this opportunity to remind the community to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement."
Court documents said Thomas told others that he intended to model their actions on the online novel "Absolved," which involves small groups of citizens attacking U.S. officials.
At one meeting, investigators say, Thomas openly discussed creating a "bucket list" of government employees, politicians, corporate leaders and members of the media he felt needed to be "taken out."
"I've been to war, and I've taken life before, and I can do it again," he told an undercover investigator, according to the records.
Thomas' wife, Charlotte, called the charges "baloney."
"He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country," she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Thomas and Roberts are accused of buying what they believed was a silencer and an unregistered explosive from an undercover informant in May and June 2011. Prosecutors say he discussed using the weapons in attacks against federal buildings.
Prosecutors say Crump also discussed making 10 pounds of ricin and dispersing it in Atlanta and various cities across the nation. Adams, meanwhile, is accused of showing Crump the formula to make ricin and identifying the ways to obtain the ingredients.
Charlotte Thomas said her husband was arrested in a restaurant in Cornelia, Ga., and federal agents were at her home when she returned from the grocery store Tuesday afternoon. She said the agents wouldn't let her in her home.
"They tore up my house," Thomas said.
She said her husband doesn't have an attorney yet.
Margaret Roberts of Toccoa said FBI agents showed up with a search warrant and went through her home, taking a computer and other items.
She said her husband is retired from the sign business and lives on pensions.
"He's never been in trouble with the law. He's not anti-government. He would never hurt anybody," she said.
Listed numbers for the other two suspects could not be found.
The four men were scheduled to make an initial court appearance on Wednesday. Attorneys for the men were not identified, and the federal defender's office had no immediate comment.
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the case is a reminder that "we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security."