Federal Agents Arrest Militia Leaders in Alleged Bomb Plot
ROBERTA, Ga. (AP) _ Two leaders of a small militia group were arrested in a raid at their homes Friday and 10 bombs were confiscated after an informant told authorities the two planned to build and distribute pipe bombs.
Early reports said the bombs were to be set off during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, but a top federal law enforcement official said there was no indication of any connection to the Olympics.
The Georgia Republic Militia group, which law officials said has 11 to 15 members, apparently wanted to hold the bombs at their homes in case of government invasion, according to a federal affidavit.
Robert Edward Starr III and William James McCranie Jr., both of Roberta, were charged with conspiracy to possess unregistered explosive devices and held at a county jail pending a hearing on Monday, said Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern.
In Macon, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms displayed 10 pipe bombs they said were found in the raid. Nine of them were made from one-inch diameter metal pipe with caps screwed on each end. The 10th was about 3 1/2 feet long and four inches in diameter. It was wrapped in mud-stained plastic and apparently had been buried, agents said.
The agents also showed explosive powder, pre-cut pipe and other bomb-making materials they said were recovered in the raid.
Roberta is 74 miles south of Atlanta, where most of the Olympic games are to be held, and 43 miles east of Columbus, the site of Olympic softball.
Stern said the government is making ``no allegation that they intended to explode any devices at the Olympics.″
``The Olympics only came up once during the investigation when at one of their meetings, one member said if a bomb goes off at the Olympics they would get blamed for it,″ he said.
But CBS, which broke the story, was standing by its report that federal agents had uncovered a plot by a militia group to set off bombs at Olympic sites prior to the games.
Several sources initially confirmed an Olympic connection to the AP, but a top-ranking law enforcement official subsequently denied it.
``Whether the games were the target or not, it’s better to have something connected with a bombing plot to be found out beforehand,″ said Scott Mall, a spokesman for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
McCranie, 30, is a plumber who works in Macon. Starr, 34, is a self-employed electrician whose company, Spectrum Electric, filed for bankruptcy in June 1995, according to court records.
Their families were shocked by the arrests.
``I have never heard him speak anything about bombs. No way,″ said Starr’s sister, Michelle Wilkes.
McCranie’s mother, Sherry McCranie, said: ``We don’t have any idea what’s going on. We believe it’s a terrible misunderstanding.″
Asked if her son was involved with militias, she said, ``He’s got lots of friends. It’s a misunderstanding.″
Starr and McCranie live about five miles apart in this central Georgia town of 980.
A sign on Starr’s driveway advertises fresh eggs for sale, while two signs on a gate blocking the driveway to McCranie’s trailer warn ``Beware of Dog″ and ``Trespassers Will Be Shot.″
Neighbor Georgine Fesperman said she’s seen a pickup truck full of men with shaved heads carrying rifles and dressed in camouflage and black berets drive onto the McCranie property.
``Something is going on back there,″ she said. ``There’s always gunfire back there. They’ve got vicious dogs back there. You can hear them.″
An informant told agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on April 5 that he had attended a meeting with McCranie, Starr and others at which McCranie talked about blowing up a bomb on his property and said he had enough chemicals to make 40 bombs, according to the affidavit.
Starr said the group needed to start making pipe bombs by April 20. Starr said he wanted to make as many bombs as possible and distribute them among the members after packing them with explosives and wrapping them with nails for fragmentation.
McCranie said he already had completed pipe bombs stored on his property.
The informant went to a meeting on McCranie’s property April 20 and saw pre-mixed explosives, fuse, igniters, chemicals and end caps. On Tuesday, the informant quoted Starr as saying he wanted to fully arm the pipe bombs on April 27.
``Starr said that whoever wanted one could have it but they were to bury them in their back yards. On other occasions, Starr had said that the pipe bombs would be to defend their rights against invasion of the government,″ the affidavit stated.
Starr, dressed in blue jeans and a plaid, shortsleeve shirt, looked up pleasantly but declined to talk to reporters as he left the courthouse in the custody of U.S marshals.
McCranie, dressed in a black T-shirt, camouflage pants and boots, covered his head and chest with a light blue jacket and ignored reporters.