May 1 (Bloomberg) -- Five people “associated with Occupy Cleveland” were arrested in a federal sting operation in which FBI agents provided fake explosives to suspects allegedly intending to bomb an Ohio bridge.
Douglas Wright, 26, Brandon Baxter, 20, and Anthony Hayne, 35, described as self-proclaimed anarchists in a Justice Department statement, were arrested yesterday on charges of conspiracy and attempted use of explosive materials. Connor Stevens, 20, and Joshua Stafford, 23, were charged today, according to court records.
“The individuals charged in this plot were intent on using violence to express their ideological views,” Stephen D. Anthony, special agent in charge of Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cleveland division, said in a Justice Department statement.
While those arrested were “associated with Occupy Cleveland, they were in no way representing or acting on behalf” of the protest movement, according a statement on Occupy Cleveland’s Facebook page.
“At some point, I think it would be fair to say, all five had attended events” of Occupy Cleveland Jacob Wagner, an organizer for the group, said in a telephone interview.
“Nobody had any idea what they were allegedly doing,” said Wagner, 26, a law student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. “We clearly don’t condone it. We condemn it in the strongest possible way.”
The accused men initially considered using smoke grenades in a plot to topple signs of financial institutions atop high-rise buildings in downtown Cleveland, prosecutors said in a criminal complaint unsealed today.
The plan evolved into one requiring placement of C-4 explosives under a bridge that crosses from Brecksville, Ohio, to Sagamore Hills, Ohio, over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, according to the complaint. The explosives were to be remotely detonated, prosecutors said.
The fake explosives were controlled by an undercover FBI agent and the public was never in danger, prosecutors said.
The U.S. government has increased its use of alternative strategies, including stings and informants, to combat home-grown terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001. Undercover informants played a key role in alleged plots to bomb New York synagogues, detonate a bomb near Chicago’s Wrigley Field, attack a federal courthouse in Illinois and blow up a Dallas skyscraper.
In this case, the confidential informant has been working as a source for the FBI since July. The informant, who has a criminal record, including convictions for robbery and cocaine possession, allegedly met Wright at a protest in October. The FBI Cleveland office sent the informant to the event based on an initial report of potential criminal activity involving anarchists, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.
Wright, who wears a Mohawk and goes by the alias Cyco, gave the informant his phone number and e-mail, and over a series of meetings between Nov. 15 and Nov. 17 discussed plans to destroy property. The goal was to “send a message to corporations and the U.S. government,” according to the affidavit.
Wright and his group’s conspiracy weren’t part of anything larger, including the Occupy Wall Street movement, Vicki Anderson, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Cleveland, said in a telephone interview.
No Movement Plot
“This was not an Occupy movement plot,” Anderson said. “They were individuals that formed their own group to conspire.”
An undercover agent had infiltrated the group during the last couple of months and was in control of the situation and the explosives, Anderson said.
“At no time was the public ever in danger,” she said.
The bridge carries Route 82, a four-lane state highway, according to the affidavit. It’s a high-level bridge about 400 feet long that stretches over a valley, said Rose Mary Snell, a Sagamore Hills trustee for 19 years.
A large number of people might have been under the bridge at the time of an attack because it’s a popular recreation area with a railroad and trail for hiking and biking running underneath, Snell said.
“It could have been a real tragedy,” Snell said in a telephone interview.
The group was still debating on a target as late as mid-April, according to the affidavit. The list of possible attacks included tunnels under Cleveland, the Detroit Superior Bridge, also known as Veterans Memorial Bridge, a Federal Reserve Bank, and so-called fusion centers around Cleveland where federal, state and local jurisdictions share law enforcement resources and intelligence, according to the affidavit.
The men also discussed using stink bombs, explosives or paint guns against targets including a hospital or blowing a hole in a cargo ship traveling on the Cuyahoga River on May 1. Baxter, who uses the alias Skabby, said in a taped April 10 conversation that he would be rallying on May Day so he could create a diversion for police, thereby allowing the others to bomb the river, according to court documents.
Occupy Wall Street demonstrators planned marches across the globe today calling attention to what they say are abuses of power and wealth. Calls for a general strike with no work, no school, no banking and no shopping have sprung up on websites in hundreds of cities in North America, Europe and Asia.
Wright, who eventually purchased eight bricks of C-4 from an undercover agent last month, and Baxter told the informant during a meeting at the end of March that blowing up a bank would cause a lot of financial damage, and the bridge plan would force the government to put security on every crossing in the country, according to the affidavit. The men suggested limiting the number of casualties by stopping traffic on the bridge prior to blowing it up so people wouldn’t think they were terrorists, the affidavit said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Sophia Pearson in Philadelphia at firstname.lastname@example.org; Seth Stern in Washington at email@example.com; Mark Niquette in Columbus, Ohio, at firstname.lastname@example.org