April 27, 1996 in Nation/World

Agents Seize Militia Pair In Bomb Plot

Los Angeles Times

Federal agents on Friday arrested two members of a small Georgia militia group for allegedly planning to build and distribute pipe bombs, an incident that caused jitters about security at this summer’s Centennial Olympic Games here.

Olympic organizers breathed easier when authorities announced that there was no indication that the suspects had planned to disrupt the Olympics this July. Indeed, the militia members had worried that if a bomb did go off during the Olympics, they would be blamed for the attack, law enforcement sources said.

In Macon, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms displayed 10 pipe bombs they said were found in the raid. Nine of them were made from 1-inch diameter metal pipe with caps screwed on each end. The 10th was about 3-1/2 feet long and four inches in diameter. It was wrapped in mud-stained plastic and apparently had been buried, agents said.

The agents also showed explosive powder, pre-cut pipe and other bomb-making materials they said were recovered in the raid.

Arrested Friday were Robert Edward Starr III, 34, of Macon, Ga., and William James McCranie Jr., 30, of Roberta, Ga. They were identified by authorities as members of the Georgia Republic Militia, a group of no more than 15 members.

According to a federal affidavit, Starr, who owns an electrical company, and McCranie, a plumber, had wanted militia members to bury the homemade bombs in their back yards in anticipation of a war against the government.

Both men were being held in federal custody pending a hearing on Monday in Macon on charges of conspiring to possess unregistered explosive devices.

ATF agents said they put the case together after an informant attended a meeting with the suspects and others earlier this month. At that time, the informant reported, McCranie “stated that he he had enough chemicals to make 40 bombs.”

The informant also reported that on April 18, Starr said he wanted the bombs assembled and distributed among fellow militia members. “Starr suggested that they go ahead and pack the pipe bombs with explosives and wrap them with nails for fragmentation,” the affidavit said.

The informant stated that Starr said on Tuesday that he wanted to “fully arm” the pipe bombs by Saturday.

The informant also told authorities that Starr and McCranie often carried firearms, and that “both have made statements about shooting law enforcement, even if they were serving a search warrant.”

On Friday, ATF agents served search warrants on large tracts of land owned by Starr and McCranie in Crawford County, Georgia. The suspects were arrested without incident, officials said.

Authorities said the search turned up a number of explosive device materials, including potassium perchlorate, aluminum powder, pre-cut threaded pipe with washers and wires attached, and end-caps with drilled holes. They said they also found white PVC pipe with black electrical tape, a letter referring to the Georgia militia, nails, screws and staples, and a cloth material with the words: “Check it out and die.”

Neither suspect commented about their arrests. However a woman who identified herself as McCranie’s wife said “I have no idea why this happened. My nerves can’t handle this” before she hung up the phone.

Starr’s sister, Michelle Wilkes, said: “I have never heard him speak anything about bombs. No way.”

Starr appeared on CNN’s Talkback Live show a month after the Oklahoma City bombing last year and spoke in support of the militia movement. He urged President Clinton to invite militia leaders to hold a national conference much like he said the president called for with street gangs around the country.

John Parsons, commander of the Tri-States Militia, an umbrella group that claims to represent 900 militia or “Constitutional units” across the country, said he had never heard of Starr or McCranie or their Georgia Republic Militia.

“If they were building bombs, they need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Parsons said. “There isn’t a Constitutional thing about these jackasses.”

Experts who track militia activities said there are eight active groups in Georgia, a relatively small number in the Deep South where Florida and Texas have seen a sharp rise in membership since the Oklahoma City bombing a year ago.

Scott Mall, a spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, said “Whether the games were the target or not, it’s better to have something connected with a bombing plot to be found out beforehand.”

Mary Ann Mauney, research director for the Atlanta-based Center for Democratic Renewal, which monitors hate groups, said the episode hopefully will help raise the issue for the public about the potential threat of terrorism, at the Olympics or anywhere else.

“What was behind the Oklahoma City bombing was so easily forgotten by the American public,” she said. “We have become very complacent about the force of the militia movement in the United States today.”

MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition

Cut in Spokane edition

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