Prior to Tuesday's arrests of four Northeast Georgia men accused of plotting attacks against the government, few would have suspected their profiles to fit that of suspected terrorists.
Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland and Emory Dan Roberts of Toccoa were indicted Thursday with conspiring to possess an unregistered explosive device and silencer.
Ray H. Adams, 65, and Samuel J. Crump, 68, both of Toccoa, were indicted on counts of conspiracy to possess and produce a biological toxin and attempted production of a biological toxin.
During their first federal court appearance Wednesday in Gainesville, the men clearly showed their age.
Each of the defendants had either white or graying hair, wore glasses and had difficulty hearing magistrate Judge Susan S. Cole during the proceedings despite the fact she was using a microphone.
"I really don't know what those four guys were thinking because they really don't fit the profile of what you would look for if you were looking for a terrorist group," said Obie Clayton, Hollowell Professor of social work at the University of Georgia.
The men are accused of plotting attacks against government buildings and employees because of their dissatisfaction of government leaders, a Federal Bureau of Investigations affidavit indicates.
Since at least March, the defendants held clandestine meetings to discuss plans to obtain explosive devices, firearms and the biological toxin, ricin, which can be fatal if ingested or inhaled, the affidavit states.
An undercover agent and a confidential informant currently out on bond for a pending state felony charge, assisted in the investigation.
During meetings, often at Thomas' home, several recorded conversations indicate the men were hoping to spark political change as a direct result of killing federal employees, the affidavit indicates.
The men were targeting anyone associated with the Department of Justice including members of the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, police and judges, according to the affidavit.
At those meetings, Thomas was recorded in the affidavit as saying, "There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly, highly illegal. Murder."
"When it comes time to saving the Constitution, that means some people gotta die," Thomas added, according to the affidavit.
The age of the defendants, Clayton said, is interesting because political terrorists usually are younger.
"When we look at political terrorists, they tend to be younger and, from what I've read, they were educated," he said. "Terrorists seem to be a little more educated than the general population, but they tend to be young."
The affidavit states that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta confirmed Crump worked in the past for a contractor at the center.
It also states Adams previously worked as a lab technician for a Department of Agriculture agency called the Agricultural Research Service.
Another interesting aspect of the case, Clayton said, is the defendants allegedly used the term "murder" when discussing their intentions.
He said most terrorist don't view their attacks as murder, but rather a sacrifice.
"By using the term ‘murder,' which denotes that you know it's wrong," Clayton said. "National and international, you don't see any terrorist organizations saying ‘we're going to have to commit mass murder.'"
Most terrorists and terrorist organizations use violence to achieve some sort of political objective, which seemed to be the goal of the four alleged militia suspects, the affidavit indicates.
"If you look at the whole thing of terrorism, it's using violence to achieve a political goal and going against ‘the system,'" Clayton said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the threat of militant Islamic terrorism has garnered much attention, but the U.S. has experienced domestic terrorism since its founding.
Clayton has researched the area of terrorist recruitment, including within U.S. prisons.
"Once you go in (prisons) you find that domestic terrorism may pose a larger threat than homegrown (Islamic) jihadists," he said.
Most domestic terrorists, Clayton said, are upset with some aspect of government and aim to spark rebellion.
"What they were trying to do is bring attention, in their own way, to what they feel to be social problems not being addressed," he added.
Retired Army Col. Andrew Jurchenko, adjunct professor of ethics and morality at Georgia Military College, said the defendants seemingly were, at least at some point, loyal to their country. He cited Thomas' 30 years of service in the Navy.
"I can only surmise from what I understand and what I've read and based on my experience that these gentlemen were ... disenfranchised with the situation in the country as it is," Jurchenko said.
"They don't feel that the direction of the country is the correct direction and they feel alienated for whatever reason."
Because domestic terrorists are so distressed by political actions, they begin to convince themselves that violence is a solution, Jurchenko said.
"It's that disenfranchisement that, in their mind, makes them rationalize the actions that they're taking," he said. "And in their mind, it's for the good of the country or what they think the country should be, or once was and is no longer in their mind."
By using violence, though, Clayton said most often it has the opposite effect of what terrorists are attempting to accomplish.
"We find out that quite often the violence does more harm than good when used as a political tool," he said.
Jurchenko agreed if the defendants were to have fulfilled the plans they are accused of plotting, it would have only resulted in several deaths, but not necessarily political change.
"I think it would have led to a lot of death and destruction," he said. "It's that backlash that worries me a lot in the long term. Short term, yes, there would be a lot of dead bodies around Atlanta and other cities."
The direct result of such an attack would only create more fear in society, Jurchenko said.
"What it would do is make our lives much more difficult because of the fear to go out and engage in commerce," he said. "It might cause the government to take extraordinary means to protect the citizens."