Justice Department Seeks Terrorism Punishment for Occupy Cleveland Conspirators
The U.S. Department of Justice wants to sentence as domestic terrorists three of the Occupy Cleveland members arrested for a bomb plot this spring, a November 9 court filing indicates. Defense attorneys continue to argue that the five defendants – all adult males – were manipulated by an FBI informant.
The prosecution, led by U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach, asserted in a November 9 sentencing memorandum that precedent requires the court to “first determine the scope of the criminal activity the particular defendant agreed to jointly undertake.”
“Upon that determination, the Court will then decide whether one or more co-conspirators committed a federal crime of terrorism that was reasonably foreseeable and in furtherance of that defendant’s particular agreement,” Dettelbach wrote. “If so, the court may rely on the actions of co-conspirators in applying the terrorism enhancement.”
According to the government, Brandon Baxter and Douglas Wright discussed targeting a Cleveland government building in suicide vests during one of the groups many drug-fueled planning sessions at an Occupy Cleveland-owned commune called the Warehouse. The group allegedly considered many other targets in the Cleveland area over the course of several months.
“As the leader of the conspiracy, defendant Wright made clear from the beginning that he was intent on engaging in violent activity against the government, namely law enforcement,” Dettelbach wrote.
“Of all the defendants, Baxter most clearly articulated the objectives of the conspiracy following his arrest,” the memorandum noted. While in custody, Baxter told an FBI agent that he “just wanted to stop the flow of money to some of these large corporations, slow it down a little bit.”
“[W]e just committed the biggest act of, only act of terrorism, that I know in Cleveland since the 1960′s,” defendant Connor Stevens allegedly said after the group planted what they thought to be C4 explosives on the Route 82 bridge spanning Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
“As an even cursory review of the documents submitted by the Government shows, there are different levels of participation by each defendant,” Dettelbach wrote. “The Government concedes that Defendants Hayne and Stafford were late arrivals to the conspiracy and, as such, should not suffer increased penalties for their roles.”
“However, Defendants Wright, Baxter and Stevens were participants from the early stages, and each took a material role in bringing the conspiracy to completion.”
As ABC 5 reported on November 2, the prosecution is seeking life sentences for Wright, Baxter, and Stevens.
Despite FBI recordings and confessions to the contrary, the defense argued in its own sentencing memorandum that the defendants’ months of planning, purchase of riot gear and C4 explosives – and attempted detonation of what they thought was C4 – “was more an act of vandalism with no defined goal than any allegedly vaguely discernible attempt to affect the conduct of government.”
Wright, Baxter, Stevens, and Anthony Michael Hayne have pled guilty to charges of plotting to blow up the Route 82 bridge. The 35-year-old Hayne was first to submit a guilty plea, and is testifying against his co-conspirators.
Defendant Joshua Stafford’s trial is pending as he undergoes psychiatric evaluation.
The five Occupy Cleveland members were recorded by undercover FBI informant Shaquille Azir, whose identity was almost immediately leaked by The Smoking Gun and promptly confirmed by defense attorney John Pyle in an apparent attempt to discredit the state’s witness.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Rolling Stone contributed to the anti-FBI narrative with a September 26 story titled “The Plot Against Occupy.”
“The problem is that in many cases, the government has determined that the best way to capture terrorists is simply to invent them in the first place,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote of the FBI’s sting operation.
Describing the night Azir met Douglas Wright, she wrote, “Azir listened with studious sympathy. It was a technique honed over the course of his devious, dishonest life.”
According to Rolling Stone, Wright was suspicious that Occupy Cleveland leadership was working with the government, at one point shouting, “You’re gonna get us sent to FEMA camps!”
Roughly three weeks before the group’s intended May Day bombing, FBI tapes indicate Baxter began to realize the seriousness of the plot, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.
Baxter was recorded exclaiming, “If we get caught for this, were going to Guantanamo Bay!”
The next sentencing hearing for Wright, Baxter, and Stevens is scheduled for November 20 at 9:00 AM.