Three men allegedly plotted to bomb public buildings across the country and kill a federal judge, an FBI agent said Friday at a bail hearing for the men on weapons charges.
The men, who authorities say are members of a white supremacist group, The New Order, were arrested Feb. 23 in raids at their southern Illinois homes in which authorities found guns, a pipe bomb and hand grenades.
One suspect’s lawyer said the government “was relying on a bunch of big talk” and a confidential informant, and the men had committed no crime.
“They’ve got taped conversation, but they’ve got no actions,” Douglas Forsythe said.
According to FBI agent Jason Thompson, the group had formed a “hit list” that included lawyer Morris Dees, who heads the Southern Poverty Law Center, based in Montgomery, Ala., and an unidentified federal judge.
They also planned to bomb the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York headquarters and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Thompson testified at Friday’s bail hearing.
He said the group planned to rob banks and armored cars to finance the plot, as well as contaminate “a large water supply” with cyanide as a diversionary tactic while they carried out the bombing in Alabama.
The three were identified as Dennis Michael McGiffen, 35; Wallace Scott Weicherding, 64; and Ralph P. Bock, 27. Weicherding is a retired guard with the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Each is charged with one count of conspiracy to possess and make machine guns and destructive devices, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Smith said other charges would be filed.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Clifford J. Proud ordered them held without bond and set a trial date of April 27.
A fourth man, Glenn Levelle Lowtharp, also is named in the indictment. Prosecutors said Lowtharp is in federal custody, but they would not say why he was not in court Friday.
Thompson said the plot began to unravel last May when McGiffen tried to enlist the help of a person in Denver, Colo. That person, who was not identified, became a confidential informant for the FBI, taping his conversations with the men.
Thompson said Weicherding went to Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville with a gun on Jan. 22 when Dees was speaking there, but turned back when he saw security officers and metal detectors at the auditorium, Thompson said.
“It concerns me greatly that someone would want to kill me,” Dees said,” but it’s not the threat to myself that I worry about, rather the American public is in danger of groups like this.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center tracks hate crimes and the spread of racist organizations across the United States.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which regularly monitors the activities of some 250 extremist groups, said it wasn’t unusual for his group to get hate mail and threats.
Prosecutors said Friday that McGiffen, a former regional KKK leader, was the leader of the group and recruited Weicherding and Bock.
After McGiffen left the KKK, saying it wasn’t radical enough, he began forming The New Order last May, Thompson said. The group was modeled after a similar group, The Order, led by Robert Matthews in Washington state.
“Their allegiance was strictly to the group, over family,” Thompson said. “There was only one way out of the group - death of a member.”