A man who said he was a white supremacist was arrested for allegedly obtaining bubonic plague bacteria through the mail, and investigators say they are trying to learn what he planned to do with it.
Larry W. Harris had “rather radical views” and told colleagues at a food testing lab he was a white supremacist and sympathetic to the militia movement, Superior Labs spokesman Brad Starrett said Tuesday.
“He’s very open about it,” Starrett said.
The company fired Harris Monday because he used lab equipment and certification without permission to obtain the bacteria, Starrett said. Harris was a well and tank inspector at the suburban Dublin lab.
He was charged with buying $300 worth of yersinia pestis, the bacteria that causes bubonic plague. Police say he bought the vials through the mail by falsely claiming he owned a laboratory.
Officers searching Harris’ Lancaster home after his arrest Friday said they spotted an Aryan Nation document hanging on a wall. They also found hand grenade triggers, homemade explosive devices and detonating fuses.
Starrett said Harris told him he was a member of white separatist groups, including the National Alliance.
Police confiscated the freeze-dried bacteria - which is harmless in that form - before it could be reconstituted. The bacteria can be reconstituted by using a combination of heat and water.
Harris, 43, pleaded innocent to receiving stolen property, which carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail and a $2,500 fine.
Bubonic plague killed one-fourth of the European population in the Middle Ages. Although fatal if undetected, it now is treatable by antibiotics, said Ohio public health spokesman Randy Hertzer.
“The immediate public threat was probably minimal,” he said. “The long range, who knows? That’s why we wanted to get it back.”
Authorities were alerted by a telephone operator at American Type Culture Collection in Rockville, Md., which sold Harris the vials.