TOCCOA, Ga. — At the Waffle House here, no one can believe that the gray-haired men who came in almost daily for egg sandwiches and coffee could have been terrorists plotting to blow up government buildings and kill masses of people using poison from a bean plant that people in this rural part of the state grow to ward off moles.
The four men — bespectacled and so hard of hearing that they strained on Wednesday to hear a federal judge at their initial court appearances in Gainesville, Ga. — have been accused of conspiracy and may be linked to a loose association of fringe militia groups targeting a government they believe is out of control, according to court papers.
“There’s two schools of thought on this: go for the feds or go for the locals,” Frederick Thomas, 73, a Navy veteran who was described as the leader of the group was recorded saying to an F.B.I. informant. “I’m inclined to consider both. We’d have to blow the whole building like Timothy McVeigh.”
Those statements and dozens of others were cited in court documents that also charged Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65, and Samuel Crump, 68. The men were arrested at their homes on Tuesday by a wave of federal agents so big it stunned people in this mountain town of about 27,000.
Not exactly the picture that comes to mind when you think of "war on terror," is it? Toccoa is just a few miles north of Athens, in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains, so I have to share in both being stunned that something like this was actually being plotted so close to where I live, and the age of the defendants.
My first reaction, like most from this part of the south, is that they sound very familiar. The group of old codgers who like to hear themselves talk about "the damn government" over cigarettes and coffee every morning at the Waffle House is practically a staple of southern life down here.
But apparently, they were doing way more than blowing smoke.
The government said that on more than 20 occasions between March and Oct. 29, F.B.I. informants recorded the men’s conversations. The plot began, court papers said, with a meeting at Mr. Thomas’ home. He asked the men if they were committed to the plan. Mr. Adams was. “I’d say the first ones that need to die is the ones in the government buildings,” he said.
During another conversation, Mr. Thomas is quoted as saying that he had made a “bucket list” of government employees, politicians, business leaders and members of the media that needed to be “taken out” to “make the country right again.”
“There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that’s highly, highly illegal: murder,” he said.
In May, Mr. Thomas drove to Atlanta to do surveillance on the buildings housing the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and was recorded talking about the explosives and weapons the group would need to blow up the buildings and kill federal employees.
Meanwhile, Mr. Adams and Mr. Crump, who had once worked as an electrician, were allegedly trying to figure out how to turn beans into poison that they would fling from their car as they drove along interstates on the Eastern Seaboard and in Atlanta and New Orleans.
LOL. Now, I know what y'all thinking: how in the name of Sam Houston all them geezers gonna pull that off? Kill all them people and then be drivin' hither and yond, throwin' ricin out the durn window?
Except, beyond the hilarity of it all, lies this Geritol Gang's ties to militia movements and ultimately the Tea Party.
In other words, all the over-heated, anti-government rhetoric of the past three year is finally producing a bitter harvest of fruits and nuts...people for whom "a negro being in the White House" is still so anathematic, they are willing to cash in those durn Social Security and Medicare checks and take up arms against, well, the very people signing those checks. Or something.
Sally Quillian Yates, the United States attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, said the case “demonstrates that we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security.”
Mr. Thomas, who agents say was the ringleader, devised a plot modeled on the online novel “Absolved.” In it, small groups of citizens attack federal officials, court documents say. It was written by a former Alabama militia leader, Mike Vanderboegh.The militia’s Web site has images of automatic weapons, links to Tea Party Web sites and conspiracy theories ranging from what “really” happened with Enron to who “the illuminati” are.
Anyway, look for this kind of madness and hysteria in the over 60 set to only amp up in the next 12 months as the presidential election nears. Hate crimes will no doubt surge, and more domestic plots such as this, however hare-brained they may seem, will be coming our way.