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The Government Really Did Fear A ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ — From A White Supremacist

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The Government Really Did Fear A ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ — From A White Supremacist

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Reprinted with permission from ProPublica. This story was co-published with The New York Times.

The year was 2012. The place was Bowling Green, Ohio. A federal raid had uncovered what the authorities feared were the makings of a massacre. There were 18 firearms, among them two AR–15 assault rifles, an AR–10 assault rifle, and a Remington Model 700 sniper rifle. There was body armor, too, and the authorities counted some 40,000 rounds of ammunition. An extremist had been arrested, and prosecutors suspected that he had been aiming to carry out a wide assortment of killings.

“This defendant, quite simply, was a well-funded, well-armed, and focused one-man army of racial and religious hate,” prosecutors said in a court filing.

The man arrested and charged was Richard Schmidt, a middle-aged owner of a sports-memorabilia business at a mall in town. Prosecutors would later call him a white supremacist. His planned targets, federal authorities said, had been African-Americans and Jews. They’d found a list with the names and addresses of those to be assassinated, including the leaders of NAACP chapters in Michigan and Ohio.

But Schmidt wound up being sentenced to less than six years in prison, after a federal judge said prosecutors had failed to adequately establish that he was a political terrorist, and he is scheduled for release in February 2018. The foiling of what the government worried was a credible plan for mass murder gained little national attention.

For some concerned about America’s vulnerability to terrorism, the very real, mostly forgotten case of Richard Schmidt in Bowling Green, Ohio, deserves an important place in any debate about what is real and what is fake, what gets reported on by the news media and what doesn’t. Those deeply worried about domestic far-right terrorism believe United States authorities, across many administrations, have regularly underplayed the threat, and that the media has repeatedly underreported it. Perhaps we have become trapped in one view of what constitutes the terrorist threat, and as the case of Schmidt shows, that’s a problem.

The notion of a “Bowling Green massacre,” of course, has been in the news recently. Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump, referred to it in justifying the president’s travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Conway had Bowling Green, Kentucky, in mind, but she eventually conceded there had been no massacre there. She meant, she said, to refer to the 2011 case of two Iraqi refugees who had moved to Kentucky and been convicted of trying to aid attacks on American military personnel in Iraq. One was sentenced to 40 years, the other to life in prison.

Her gaffe, accidental or intentional, prompted a mock vigil in New York and a flood of internet memes. The imaginary massacre now even has its own Wikipedia page.

On Monday, Trump made the provocative, unsubstantiated claim that the American media intentionally failed to cover acts of terrorism around the globe. “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported,” he said in a speech to military commanders. “And in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that.”

At the Southern Poverty Law Center, Ryan Lenz tracks racist and extreme-right terrorists. So far, he said, he’s seen little from the Trump administration to suggest it will make a priority of combating political violence carried out by American racist groups.

“It doesn’t seem at all like they are interested in pursuing extremists inspired by radical right ideologies,” said Lenz, who edits the organization’s HateWatch publication.

Indeed, Reuters reported last week that the Department of Homeland Security is planning to retool its Countering Violent Extremism program to focus solely on Islamic radicals. Government sources told the news agency the program would be rebranded as “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” and “would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the Department of Homeland Security chose to look away. In 2009, Daryl Johnson, then an analyst with the department, drafted a study of right-wing radicals in the United States. Johnson saw a confluence of factors that might energize the movement and its threat: the historic election of an African-American president; rising rates of immigration; proposed gun control legislation; and a wave of military veterans returning to civilian life at a time of painful economic recession.

The report predicted an uptick in extremist activity, particularly within “the white supremacist and militia movements.”

Response to the document was swift and punishing. Conservative news outlets and Republican leaders condemned Johnson’s report as a work of “anti-military bigotry” and an attack on conservative opinion. Janet Napolitano, the head of Homeland Security at the time, retracted the report and closed Johnson’s office, the Extremism and Radicalization Branch.

Three years later, Richard Schmidt came to the attention of the federal government almost by accident. Schmidt had been suspected of trading in counterfeit NFL jerseys. Searching his home and store for fake goods, FBI agents discovered something far more sinister: a vast arsenal. A secret room attached to Schmidt’s shop “contained nothing but his rifles, ammunition, body armor, his writings, and a cot,” wrote prosecutors in a court document.

Beefy, thick-necked, standing 6-foot-4, and weighing about 250 pounds, Schmidt had spent years in the Army as an active-duty soldier and a reservist. His military service ended in 1989 when he got into a fight and shot three people, killing one of them, a man named Anthony Torres. As a result, Schmidt spent 13 years in prison on a manslaughter conviction and was legally barred from owning firearms.

After searching his property, the government came to believe he was involved with the National Alliance, a virulent and long-running extremist group, which was once among the nation’s most powerful white supremacist organizations. They also suspected him of an affiliation with the Vinlanders, a neo-Nazi skinhead gang.

Founded by William Pierce, who died in 2002, the National Alliance has long been linked to terrorism. Pierce, who started the group in 1970 and ran it for many years from a compound in West Virginia, wrote The Turner Diaries, an apocalyptic novel that basically lays out a blueprint for unleashing a white supremacist insurgency against the government. The novel was described by Timothy J. McVeigh as the inspiration for his bombing in 1995 of a federal office building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

FBI agents came to believe Schmidt had been planning his own string of racially motivated attacks on African-American and Jewish community leaders. The agents spread out across Ohio and Michigan to alert his apparent targets. “They had a notebook of information from Schmidt’s home,” recalled Scott Kaufman, the chief executive of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. “Some of the items related specifically to our organization and staff — people’s names, locations, maps. It was certainly disturbing.”

In court, the defense lawyer Edward G. Bryan disputed the government’s portrayal of Schmidt, who was 47 at the time of his arrest. Bryan painted his client as a slightly eccentric survivalist who didn’t intend to “harm anyone, including those listed in written materials found within his property.”

The government saw it differently. Schmidt, prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo filed in court, planned to assassinate “members of religious and cultural groups based only on their race, religion, and ethnicity.” His cache of weapons, added prosecutors, had only one purpose: to start a “race war.” Other court documents suggest that he planned to videotape his killing spree and email the video clips to his fellow white supremacists.

After pleading guilty to weapons and counterfeiting charges, Schmidt was sentenced to 71 months in federal prison by Judge Jack Zouhary in December 2013.

These days, Kaufman of the Jewish Federation in Detroit doesn’t think much about Schmidt. He’s got plenty of other things to worry about. “In the last two weeks in our community we’ve had two bomb scares,” as well as an incident involving spray-painted swastikas, he said. He’s noted a spike in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year.

“This whole thing is trending in the wrong direction,” he said.

IMAGE: Richard Schmidt / Department of Justice

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22 Comments

  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth February 9, 2017

    This fellow Schmidt should provide Kellyanne a way out of the shameful position she put herself in. And the GOP’s complacency about Right Wing White supremacist activities over the past decades, with the backing of that “upstanding” American Terrorist organization, The NRA—a group which owns and controls the GOP—makes the GOP, Steve Bannon, and Trump complicit with the acts already committed, planned, and perhaps still being planned.
    If there should be a ban, it should be against the NRA, the GOP, Trump, Steve Bannon, and others who are as severely mentally impaired people as Schmidt. A society with higher standards of morality would have placed some sort of rigid restraints long ago on the GOP, the NRA, Trump, Bannon, and those who think and feel as Schmidt does.

    Reply
    1. Beethoven February 9, 2017

      I heard on a radio news program (on NPR) a few days ago that Barack Obama, in one of his last acts as President, had issued an order prohibiting certain people from being able to legally purchase weapons: namely, people drawing Social Security benefits who had been determined by the Social Security Administration to be so mentally incompetent that they were unable to handle their own Social Security checks, and had to have a court-appointed representative handle their checks. But the Republicans in Congress had introduced a bill to set aside that order, because they believed that those people had a right to be able to purchase and own weapons. How ridiculous does the Republican Party have to get before the citizens wake up and start rebelling against them?

      1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth February 10, 2017

        It makes the case stronger that the Right Wing branch in Congress have all lost their minds and no longer are capable of thinking reasonably. The sad state of Congress is a barometer of the sickness afflicting the country.

      2. Daniel Jones February 10, 2017

        As the 1% are so rich that they honestly hire and seem to require financial handlers to deal with all the shifting deals and financials, they thought, “appointed representative”, went into a panic, and started this push without knowing or caring it’s a false flag of their own creation.

      3. dbtheonly February 10, 2017

        I personally think there’s more to be made by pointing out that Congress opposes prohibiting gun sales to those on the terrorist “no fly list”. You’re willing to keep them off planes but not off guns?

        “How ridiculous does the Republican Party have to get before the citizens wake up and start rebelling against them?”

        The only answer I can give you is a lot more than I thought.

        1. Beethoven February 10, 2017

          Your comment is as much to the point as mine. The basic fact is that the Republican Party is owned by the NRA, and the NRA’s position is that anybody, and everybody, should be allowed to buy and possess all the weapons they want and can afford, with absolutely no restrictions whatever.

          1. dbtheonly February 10, 2017

            Indeed, but mentally incompetent? Potential Terrorists?

            Does this make any sense?

            Keep them out of the country, Muslim Ban, but let them buy guns once they’re here?

          2. FireBaron February 10, 2017

            They do seem to draw the line at firearms possession by minorities. How many non-white faces do you ever see in official NRA promotions?

          3. dpaano February 15, 2017

            And, Beethoven, that’s the reason why the U.S. has the highest number of homicides and accidental gun deaths on the planet…nothing to be proud of!

      4. dpaano February 15, 2017

        I saw that and I was equally amazed!!! We don’t need mentally-ill people running around with guns! I find it difficult to understand the Republican’s thinking on this…..maybe if one of them gets shot by one of these guys, they might change their minds (not saying this SHOULD happen, but just saying it would be a whole different story if it did).

  2. Daniel Jones February 10, 2017

    To: Ryan Lenz
    From: Daniel Jones
    Re: What the Trump Administration intends

    Dear Ryan:
    I feel compelled to expand of your assertion that the Trump Admistration doesn’t plan on “pursuing extremists inspired by radical right ideologies,” as I feel you almost nailed it.

    Instead, they seem hellbent on pursuing *extremism* inspired by radical right ideologies.
    Thank you.

    Sincerely,
    Daniel Jones

    Reply
  3. bojimbo26 February 10, 2017

    As Trumpy has said before ” If the lie sounds good , use it ” . ( Unfortunately `Baghdad Barbie` was found out ) .

    Reply
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  4. jmprint February 10, 2017

    I still say we need to build a wall around all white supremacist, including Bannon all frogs included, then for Trumpf “LOCK HIM UP”

    Reply
    1. dpaano February 15, 2017

      Can we build a wall around the White House in lieu of one along the Mexican/American border? We would have to include the Pentagon, the Senate and the Congress, etc. I bet it would be cheaper to build also!

  5. stsintl February 10, 2017

    I think, Alaska would be a nice place for all these Alt-Right and white supremacist Neo-Nazis to build their own nation. They can take Donald Trump and Steve Bannon with them to make it ‘Great’. They will also be able to see their friends in Putin’s Russia from Sarah Palin’s backyard.

    Reply
    1. DrMindbender February 10, 2017

      They can have an asteroid, or other oort-cloud body. I’d even be willing to pay for their air and water.

      Our earth is too pretty to have that kind of pollution ANYWHERE.

      1. dpaano February 15, 2017

        Maybe we can volunteer them to make the long trip to Mars!!! I’d go for that one! At least they would be far away and wouldn’t have to worry about African Americans or Jews, or any other types of people that they seemingly don’t like.

    2. dpaano February 15, 2017

      I wouldn’t want to see that….Alaska is a beautiful state and to sully it with these types of individuals would NOT be a good thing!!! They’d tear the place apart and take away the beauty.

  6. DrMindbender February 10, 2017

    The good ol boys’ network is looking frighteningly strong and playing a long, long game. It starts local; who has the guns closest to us? The Sheriff, an ELECTED official. Next, city councils, where they hire and fire the police chief…next state houses and governors; THEY CONTROL THE NATIONAL GUARD. Guns, unfortunately, have been allowed to get into the hands of mob-militias; time to really understand the notion of a “well regulated state militia” and take control of the guns.

    Imagine if the sheriff at Standing Rock was sympathetic to the Natives, instead of beholden to corporate paychecks? What if the Governor understood the plight of 400 years of genocide, instead of being greedy and wanting to create wealth for his rich friends? You would see the National Guard telling the US Army to stand down, that is what you’d see.

    Reply
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  8. dpaano February 15, 2017

    What’s truly unfortunate is that we can expect more terrorist acts by these types of people than we can from so-called “Islamic terrorists.” If you look at the crimes done by these people, it is much higher in number than ANY terrorist action by an Islamic terrorist!!! It’s just too bad that the government doesn’t seem to care about these, but then again, most of 45’s voters are part of the white supremacist group…so, what can we expect?

    Reply

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