- The four old men from Georgia make unlikely suspects
- Federal authorities say they plotted to kill government employees
- Sheriff knew the men for 34 years and was shocked by the news
- The four are accused of being a part of a fringe militia
The four elderly men were improbable suspects wearing orange jail jumpsuits and leg chains.
They hailed from a close-knit, picturesque community in the Georgia mountains. In court, they cupped their ears and strained to hear U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cole.
They didn't fit a terror suspect's profile but Dan Roberts, 67, Frederick Thomas, 73, Samuel Crump, 68, and Ray Adams, 65 were charged with plotting to kill government employees using bombs and poison derived from castor beans.
Friends and neighbors were stunned by the news that federal authorities were accusing the four of being part of a fringe militia.
Sitting on his black leather office chair, Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley pondered the arrest of men he had known for 34 years. He of all people in the town of 10,000 people was perhaps more shocked than any other.
"Last week I would have said, 'there's no way.' Senior citizens we're talking about," he told CNN affiliate WSB TV. "These are friends of mine."
Adams, Crump and Roberts are from Toccoa, about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta, while Thomas is from nearby Cleveland, Georgia, prosecutors said.
One of Thomas' neighbors said Thomas could hardly walk, let alone plot to kill people.
Area residents who knew the four described them as quiet people who minded their own business.
But that's not what federal officials believe.
A government informant recorded the men discussing plans to manufacture ricin, a highly poisonous substance derived from castor beans, and attack Justice Department officials, federal judges and Internal Revenue Service agents, according to court documents.
Roberts and Thomas agreed to buy a silencer, a bomb and parts to convert a semi-automatic rifle to a fully automatic machine gun from an undercover agent.
"When it comes time to saving the Constitution, that means some people gotta die," Thomas said during one recorded conversation, arrest affidavits showed.
During an April meeting at his home, Thomas allegedly told participants he had a "bucket list" of politicians, government officials, corporate leaders and media figures he said should be targeted to "make the country right again."
"I could shoot ATF and IRS all day long. All the judges and the DOJ and the attorneys and prosecutors," the affidavit quotes Thomas as saying.
Meanwhile, Adams and Crump worked to obtain castor beans and produce ricin, an FBI agent said in the documents. The men talked about spreading ricin across several cities at once, including Washington, Atlanta, New Orleans and Jacksonville, Florida, the documents said.
Prosecutors said the public was never in imminent danger.
Neither attorney Jeffrey Ertl, who represented the four at the hearing, nor family members or friends had any comment.
The defendants have not responded publicly to the accusations. Roberts' wife declined comment when reached by CNN Wednesday.
His neighbor John Clark said he saw authorities haul away things from the Roberts home.
"Hell, carloads of it," Clark said. "I don't know what it was. Boxes and stuff. It surprised all of us here."
In nearby Cleveland, Thomas' neighbors said they were outraged that evil may have lurked among them, especially because Thomas was a Navy veteran.
"I think it's an absolute abomination that as a retired navy, serving our country that he would even have ideas like that to be terroristic to our country," a neighbor said.
One of Crump's neighbors, however, stood by his side. At least not until he learned more about what exactly was going on in small town Georgia.
"I am not making any assumptions," he said. "If Sam came to me tomorrow and needed my help, I would give it to him."
But Adams' cousin was less forgiving.
"When you break the law," he said, "you pay the price."
In one of the recorded conversations included in the court documents, Adams is quoted as saying: " l'd say the first ones that need to die is the ones in the government buildings. When it comes down to it, I can kill somebody."
Crump allegedly said he wanted to make 10 pounds of ricin for distribution.
"Dump that little (unintelligible) that's all you gotta do is lay it in the damn road, the cars are gonna spread it," the affidavit quotes him as saying.
According to one of the affidavits, Crump formerly worked for a contractor doing "maintenance type services" at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Crump also spoke of an even deadlier substance, "worse than anthrax," but the group would need financial backing to produce it, according to the affidavit.
The document states a castor bean provided to the informant by Adams and Crump tested positive for ricin.
The U.S. Agriculture Department verified Adams formerly worked at the Agriculture Research Service as a lab technician, an affidavit says.
Preliminary hearings are scheduled for next week.