A judge denied bond Wednesday to four Northeast Georgia men accused of planning extensive attacks against government buildings and employees.
"As Americans we have the right to be angry with our government," Magistrate Judge Susan S. Cole said after three days of hearings. "The defense lawyers have argued that the defendants have essentially done no more than that ... but the government has shown, to my judgment, that the defendants have done more than that."
As family members exited the federal courthouse in Gainesville, many shed tears and declined to comment on the decision.
Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland, is portrayed as the ringleader of the group and is facing counts of conspiring to obtain an explosive device and possessing an unregistered silencer.
"Mr. Thomas made many statements towards committing violence toward government officials," Cole said as she announced her decision.
Emory Dan Roberts, 67, of Toccoa, is facing the same charges. While Cole conceded Roberts hasn't shown the same commitment toward the plan as Thomas, she determined his risk to the community was still too great.
"While Mr. Roberts may not have been as vocal as Mr. Thomas, he was present during those discussions," Cole said.
The discussions Cole referred to were a series of recorded conversations between the accused men and either a confidential source or an undercover FBI agent.
The counts against Thomas and Roberts could result in a maximum 15-year sentence. The defendants' ages and lengthy list of medical issues could make 15 years essentially a life sentence.
Prosecution attorney Robert McBurney argued that fact alone could be enough to persuade the men to commit violence if granted bond.
"Fifteen years is more than Thomas' expected life span, so he could think it's not worth going to jail and cause violence," McBurney said.
Ray H. Adams, 55, and Samuel J. Crump, 68, both of Toccoa, also were denied bond. They're charged with conspiring and attempting to produce the biological toxin ricin, which can be deadly if ingested or inhaled. Those charges could bring a life sentence.
Defense attorney Dan Summer, who represents Crump, argued that while a search of his client's residence found castor beans, the main ingredient to produce ricin, Crump didn't have the means to actually create the toxin.
"He had shelled castor beans but he didn't have any other ingredients," Summer said.
McBurney said stripping the outer shell of the bean is the first step toward producing ricin. He also argued Crump, who he said is the "most peripheral" of the four defendants, knew how to produce ricin and could even recite the recipe without referring to notes.
"This is an individual that the other co-conspirators were afraid of," McBurney said.
He also countered Summer's argument that the castor beans were used as mole deterrent and said the beans would not have been stripped if that were the defendant's intentions.
"You don't hull them to make poison; you hull them to make ricin," McBurney said.
Prosecutors claimed Adams provided the castor beans that would be used to produce the ricin to be spread along roadways.
Defense attorney Barry Lombardo, who represents Adams, called upon his client's brother, Ed Adams, to testify.
During the testimony, the man claimed his brother was a retired lab technician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where he spent much of his work studying plants and nematodes.
Adams' daughter, Melissa Adams, also testified and described her father as being very involved in the community, charitable organizations and even playing the role of Santa Claus when he lived in Warner Robins.
"He may be intimidating at times, but on the inside he's just a teddy bear," Melissa Adams testified.
Following Ray Adams' arrest, about 20 castor bean plants and two buckets of the beans were seized from the man's residence in Toccoa, authorities said.
The defendant's brother testified those plants were for decorative purposes and, like Crump's, the collection of castor beans were used for mole control.
Cole's ruling focused on Ray Adams' threat to the community.
She cited a statement Adams made during a meeting with other defendants and a confidential source.
In the recording he said, "The ones in the government buildings should be the first to die." But defense lawyers claim that statement was taken out of context.
Defense attorney Jeff Ertel, who represents Thomas, claimed the men were, in fact, planning what they felt were patriotic acts.
The defendants, who are part of a fringe militia group called the Covert Group, were attempting to establish a united Georgia militia group to serve as "the governor's army," Ertel said.
But McBurney questioned why anyone would ever make statements about intentionally killing government employees and even citizens.
"Those words were coupled with actions that gave meaning to the words," he said. "It's no longer speech, it's actions."
Those actions, McBurney said, include Thomas and Roberts purchasing a silencer, explosive devices and a lightning link from an undercover agent the day they were arrested. A lightning link is used to convert a gun to fully automatic.
The defense also relied on questions about the credibility of the confidential source, who is out on bond facing South Carolina charges of possession of child pornography and molestation of a 13-year-old and a 15-year-old.
Defense lawyers argued the source and the undercover agent instigated the acts involving the defendants.
A trip to Atlanta to conduct surveillance of government buildings of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was initiated by the confidential source, Ertel said.
"The fact that the government waited months to make arrests shows it was being structured," Ertel said.
But Cole determined the defendants have done more than just boast and discuss desires, which defense attorneys argued were never intended to be carried out.
"These defendants have shown a lack of concern towards killing government employees and citizens," Cole said.
Attorneys said they expect the case won't go to trial for at least another year.