Self-described "Christian minister" Robert Doggart of Tennessee has been accused of planning a terror attack against Muslims in New York. However, a federal judge has decided to release him on bail, which has received criticism from civil rights activists.
According to Raya Jalabi of the Guardian, a criminal complaint filed against 63-year-old Doggart indicated that he wanted to use his "battle-tested M-4" military rifle "with 500 rounds of ammunition, light-armor piercing" in the upstate New York community of Islamberg. He also had a pistol with three extra magazines and a machete to take out "the kitchen, the mosque and their school."
"We will be cruel to them," Doggart said of the people of Islamberg. "We will burn down their buildings ... And if it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds."
Jalabi reported that the FBI started investigating Doggart after receiving information from social media posts and a confidential informant. He pleaded guilty in April to "interstate communication of threats," a charge which carried up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.
"The defendant was ordered detained without bail after magistrate judge Susan K. Lee said she found 'clear and convincing evidence that the defendant [is] a danger to the community,'" Jalabi wrote. "But at a hearing soon after, Lee recommended Doggart be released into the custody of two family members on $30,000 bail after hearing evidence regarding his mental health."
According to a report from The Chattanoogan, Doggart was an ordained minister of the Christian National Church. He also admitted to collaborating with members of a South Carolina militia.
"Our small group will soon be faced with the fight of our lives. We will offer those lives as collateral to prove our commitment to our God," Doggart wrote in a Facebook post.
The Chattanoogan reported that the Council on American-Islamic Relations, better known as CAIR, urged President Barack Obama to treat Doggart's planned attack as an act of domestic terrorism back in May.
"It is deeply troubling that an individual who has admitted to planning a religiously-motivated terror attack on American Muslims is now free, while the intended targets of his plot remain unprotected," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said. "We urge authorities to place Mr. Doggart in custody until this case is resolved, and failing that, to offer protection to his intended targets."
According to the Guardian, court documents indicated that both the defense and prosecution thought that Doggart's stated actions proved that his threats were "true in nature." However, Judge Curtis Collier disagreed with the government's assessment, stating that they had "not shown by clear and convincing evidence defendant's release would pose an unreasonable danger to the community or any particular individual."
Ryan Lenz, who works for the Southern Poverty Law Center's HateWatch blog, told the Guardian that "there is a certain leniency granted to people with terrorist-like charges if they're non-jihadis."
"In the aftermath of 9/11, the federal government has turned its focus almost exclusively to Islamic terrorism," Lenz said, adding that domestic threats similar to those made by Doggart received less attention.
According to the Guardian, Doggart saw Islamberg, a small Muslim community in New York founded in 1984, as a threat.
"The defendant was fully aware of the religious character of the mosque when he identified it as one of the buildings that needed to be burned," the criminal complaint said.