Federal agents have broken up an alleged conspiracy by a group of self-proclaimed anarchists to blow up a bridge near Cleveland in an effort to stop money flowing to powerful corporate interests they called the “One Percent.”
The plot involved a confidential FBI source and an undercover agent who sold the group two ready-made improvised explosive devices, according to court documents. The two IEDs resembled genuine C-4 explosives but were, in fact, inert.
The anarchists agreed to purchase the IEDs, as well as tear-gas canisters, gas masks, and ballistic vests for $900 cash. But the anarchists’ finances were a bit disorganized.
The undercover agents agreed to accept $450 upon delivery, with the other half due later.
According to a 22-page affidavit filed in connection with the case, the men had participated in various protests and rallies in the past and were seeking ways to turn peaceful demonstrations into riots and violent confrontations with police.
Once the group was infiltrated by the undercover operative, many of their discussions were recorded by law enforcement.
Initially, they discussed knocking illuminated bank signs off tall buildings in downtown Cleveland. But the alleged leader was unsure of how to topple the heavy signs.
The purported leader, identified as Douglas Wright, said that the signs were “the most important part because they need to make sure everyone knows that the action was against corporate America and the financial system, and not just some random acts,” court documents say.
“Now is the time to start planning,” Mr. Wright allegedly said, “because the Democratic and Republican conventions are approaching and many politicians will be traveling through Ohio over the spring and summer months.”
At one strategy session, the group considered attacking a bridge. Such an attacking near the city’s corporate district would cause significant financial damage and might force the government to put security on every bridge in America, a member opined.
Wright had other concerns. He didn’t want to give people the wrong impression about anarchists. According to the affidavit, he stated that the group didn’t “want people to think they are terrorists, so they would want to blow up the bridge at night or possibly pretend to be a construction crew and drop orange cones off at each end of the bridge to stop traffic before blowing up the bridge, thus limiting the number of casualties and the potential for killing possible supporters.”
The confidential FBI source offered to put the group in contact with a person who might be able to provide useful gear – including, potentially, C-4 military explosives. That’s how the IEDs entered the picture, according to court documents.
At one point, group members had second thoughts about the wisdom of blowing up a bridge. One alleged member, Brandon Baxter, said he was just throwing out ideas.
“Baxter advised he was really thinking that taking out a bridge was a good plan, but he did not know how the general public would take it, and he did not think the media would portray that in a good way,” the affidavit says.
“Baxter advised it would not stop money flowing to the ‘One Percent,’ and that blowing up a bridge would just [anger] the people who take the bridge every day,” the affidavit says.
He suggested a better plan might be to derail a train off a bridge or blow up a gathering of neo-Nazis or members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Wright suggested driving a car loaded with C-4 into a Federal Reserve bank. The discussion turned to attacking a “fusion center,” where the federal government assembles Justice Department and Homeland Security information.
They also considered dropping explosives from a bridge onto a passing cargo ship.
At one point, the group considered what might happen if they were arrested. “Baxter thought that they will all go to Guantanamo Bay if they get caught,” the affidavit says. “To prevent capture, he suggested getting tacks that they could throw out of the back of the car if they get in a chase.”
Eventually, the group decided to affix explosive devices to a pillar on the Route 82 Brecksville-Northfield High Level Bridge over the Cuyahoga River and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, according to the affidavit.
They placed the devices and attempted to detonate them by remote control, officials say. Nothing happened.
The men were arrested Monday by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Joint Terrorism Task Force. They are charged with conspiring to use explosive materials to destroy a bridge.
Of five men arrested, three are identified as self-proclaimed anarchists. They are Wright, Mr. Baxter, and Anthony Hayne. Two other men, Connor Stevens and Joshua Stafford, were also arrested.
“The complaint in this case alleges that the defendants took specific and defined actions to further a terrorist plot,” US Attorney Steven Dettelbach said in a statement. “The defendants stand charged based not upon any words or beliefs they might espouse, but based upon their own plans and actions.”