A former Aryan Nations member and a Nevada man are charged in Las Vegas with possessing a deadly biological agent suspected to be anthrax.
Larry Wayne Harris, 45, and William J. Leavitt Jr., 47, were arrested late Wednesday by FBI agents who had followed them to a medical clinic near Las Vegas.
Federal authorities said Thursday they are not sure whether the two men had an intended target of the germ-warfare agent.
Harris, a 45-year-old microbiologist from Ohio, was an Aryan Nations member when he was arrested in 1995 for fraudulently obtaining germs that cause bubonic plague.
According to court documents, Harris told an unidentified group as recently as last summer that he planned to “place a globe of bubonic plague” toxin in a New York City subway station, where it would cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and be blamed on the Iraqi government.
Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler confirmed that Harris had been a member of the organization but had left it in 1995.
Butler said he’s never met or spoken to Harris.
He told a press conference Thursday at his Hayden Lake compound that he doesn’t think it’s wrong for someone to possess anthrax.
“I don’t care what they stockpile,” Butler said.
“The first law of physics is for every action, there is a reaction,” Butler said. “Well, there’s an action for the destruction of the white race, so these men are reacting to it.”
In Las Vegas, FBI supervisor Bobby Siller said the two suspects were arrested after agents got a tip the pair were possessing anthrax.
“We have reason to believe that’s what it is,” Siller said.
FBI agents trailed the pair from Las Vegas to the clinic in the suburb of Henderson, Nev.
Leavitt has lived in Las Vegas and Logandale, Nev. Federal authorities said he also has ties to right-wing extremist organizations, but little else is known about him.
Butler said Leavitt has no connections to the Aryan Nations or the Church of Jesus Christ Christian.
Harris also has ties with the National Alliance, another neo-Nazi organization. Its founder wrote a book called “The Turner Diaries” that is considered to be the blueprint for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Siller said there are no other suspects being sought in the Las Vegas case, but the investigation continues.
The suspects are being held without bond.
A lawyer for Leavitt said “the vial the FBI took is an anthrax vaccine” that the two men were developing to fight anthrax if it were ever released.
Court documents say authorities received a tip Wednesday morning from a local research scientist who told them he had been contacted by Harris and Leavitt.
The two men said they wanted to use the scientist’s equipment to test some anthrax bacteria, and other bacteria, including E. coli, the documents say.
The informer, whom authorities described as a cancer researcher with extortion convictions dating from the early 1980s, agreed to cooperate with investigators and arranged to meet the men.
FBI agents found no firearms or explosives in the suspects’ late-model Mercedes that was carrying the suspected biological agent, Siller said.
The FBI’s specially trained biological-chemical team from Washington, D.C., and other experts from the Army and Air Force arrived in Nevada to process the car.
The Mercedes was picked up by a forklift, wrapped in plastic and put on a flatbed truck for shipment and processing at Nellis Air Force Base, eight miles from Las Vegas.
Siller said agents are sure the suspected anthrax container did not leave the vehicle.
Public safety was his chief concern, the FBI official told reporters during a press conference carried live on CNN.
“This isn’t just a drug deal,” he said.
Siller wouldn’t say whether either of the suspects made any statements after their arrests.
The men were arrested at the medical clinic where obstetrics and gynecology procedures are performed. It wasn’t immediately known whether the clinic performs abortions.
There is a nationwide manhunt under way for Eric Robert Rudolph, another man with Aryan Nations ties.
He is charged in connection with a bombing earlier this month at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala. An off-duty police officer was killed in that bombing.
Harris was arrested on May 12, 1995, in Columbus, Ohio, after he fraudulently obtained three vials of Yersinia pestis bacteria, which causes the bubonic plague.
He could be charged only with fraud, but Congress later passed new laws making it illegal to possess chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.
Harris ordered the bubonic plague bacteria by mail from a Rockville, Md., laboratory which sells more than 60,000 microorganisms for scientific and medical research.
Authorities found the vials in the glove box of Harris’ 1989 Subaru.
They found assault rifles, blasting caps and Aryan Nations literature in a search of Harris’ house.
Harris was placed on 18 months probation last April in Ohio. He claimed in court that he was merely a scientist, working to find antidotes in case of a biological attack by foreigners.
“I am absolutely of no harm to anyone,” he told U.S. District Judge Joseph Kinneary.
But later, in an interview with U.S. News & World Report, Harris said others who share his white supremacy views would, if provoked, strike at government officials with biological weapons.
“If they arrest a bunch of our guys, they get a test tube in the mail,” Harris was quoted as saying in the news magazine.
In another article on biological terrorism, the magazine said the U.S. Office of Technology estimated that 220 pounds of anthrax spores, dropped from an airplane over Washington, D.C., could kill 1 million to 3 million people.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Graphic: Cities are preparing for attacks
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bill Morlin Staff writer The Associated Press and the New York Times contributed to this report.