Four suspected members of a fringe Northeast Georgia militia group pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of plotting attacks against the government.
The four men appeared before Magistrate Judge Susan S. Cole in federal court in Gainesville for an arraignment and bond hearing.
Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland and Emory Dan Roberts, 67, of Toccoa, pleaded not guilty to counts of conspiring to obtain an explosive device and possessing an unregistered silencer.
Ray H. Adams, 65, and Samuel J. Crump, 68, both of Toccoa, pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring and attempting to produce the biological toxin, ricin, which can be deadly if ingested or inhaled.
All four men were indicted last week.
The proceedings began at 2:30 p.m., but, due to time, a decision regarding bond will be made at another proceeding scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday.
During the arraignment, each defendant acknowledged he understood the charges and waived a formal reading of the indictment.
Arguments were presented regarding possible bond for Thomas, but time didn’t allow for arguments for the other three defendants.
Attorney Roger McBurney, representing the federal government, argued all four men should be denied bond, citing the danger they pose to the community.
“There are concrete actions that (Thomas) took that justify detaining this defendant,” McBurney said. “It’s too easy to get a gun. It’s too easy for him to be ready when law enforcement comes to get him.”
Among the notable figures McBurney alleges Thomas targeted are U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney.
Thomas is also accused of targeting personnel from the Internal Revenue Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, FBI, police and “everybody in the (Department of Justice),” an FBI affidavit states.
Attorney Jeffrey Brown, also representing the federal government, told the court the government is still processing and reviewing evidence, which he expects to be completed next week.
McBurney said evidence seized from Thomas’ home includes at least 52 guns. The weapons include assault rifles, shotguns, handguns and sniper rifles. Also seized, were more than 30,000 rounds of ammunition for the various weapons, all of which were registered and legal, Thomas’ son, Paul, testified during the hearing.
Among the accusations against Thomas, according to the affidavit, is a trip to Atlanta where he and an undercover FBI agent conducted surveillance of ATF and IRS buildings for possible attacks.
In November, Thomas met with the undercover agent and attempted to purchase an unregistered silencer and explosive devices, McBurney said.
“This was part of his plan to take direct action against government buildings,” McBurney said.
Public defender Jeffrey Ertel, representing Thomas, said the money used to make the purchase came from a confidential source working for the government, who Ertel said, is currently facing child molestation charges in South Carolina.
“If this is a terrorist organization, this is the worst funded terrorist organization in history,” he said.
Much of Ertel’s argument focused on Thomas’ physical health, which he indicated would not allow Thomas to carry out such an attack.
Ertel called upon Thomas’ wife Charlotte to testify.
She told the court about her husband’s various health issues including emphysema, two hospitalizations for pneumonia since 2010, failing kidneys, high cholesterol and blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
She also told the court her husband has problems with his rotator cuffs, which prevents him from raising his arms above his head.
Included in her testimony, she said her husband was a gun collector and did not stockpile weapons to be used in attacks.
“He loves his county,” she said. “He’s the most patriotic man I’ve ever met.”
In response to Ertel’s argument about Thomas’ age, McBurney cited James Von Brunn, who at 88 years old walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2009, where he shot and killed a guard and attempted to kill others.
Ertel argued that prosecutors failed to present any evidence to prove the defendants are guilty.
“This is not a presumption case. The government must overcome that presumption,” he said. “They put forward (no evidence). They put forward no argument.”
Following the proceedings, Roberts’ family members said the accusations are not true.
Kevin Roberts, nephew of Dan Roberts, said his uncle is an Army veteran and served in Vietnam, where he received several wounds.
“He is not a violent person and the only prejudice he has ever exhibited is to anyone who mistreats women, children or helpless animals,” Kevin Roberts said.
“He may not agree with another person’s political views but will strongly support their right to have and express them,” he added.
Family members were disappointed no decision was made regarding bond, meaning the men will be required to remain in the Hall County Jail for at least several more days.
“We’re very disappointed because tomorrow is Veterans Day ... and our uncle is going to be spending his time (in jail),” said Melissa Roberts, Dan Roberts’ niece.
“I want to see Dan go home and be back with his family,” said Jimmy Roberts, Dan Roberts’ brother.
The case will be assigned to Judge Richard Story for trial purposes and any pretrial motions will be directed to Cole. Both sides have 14 days to file any pretrial motions, unless granted an extension.