A former congressional candidate from Tennessee defeated in last fall's elections faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty to federal charges in connection with plotting to destroy the Muslim hamlet of Islamberg in Delaware County, N.Y.
Roger Rankin Doggart, 63, pleaded to one count of interstate communication of threats. He also faces a fine of up to $250,000.
According to the FBI, Doggart, of Signal Mountain, stated in a phone conversation wiretapped by federal agents on March 17 that "When we meet in this state, the people we seek will know who we are. We will be cruel to them. And we will burn down their buildings (and) if anyone attempts to, uh, harm us in any way, our stand gunner will take them down from 350 yards away."
"The standoff gunner would be me," Doggart said, according to the FBI's complaint.
Islamberg was organized by Al Sheik Mubarik Ali Shah Jilani Hasahimi, a Pakistani Sufi cleric.
Muslims of America Inc., which operates the commune, states on its web site that Islamberg's membership is made up primarily of African American Sunni with Islamic roots spanning four generations. The first generations were mainly converts from various branches of Christianity. Adult residents work in professional and trade jobs while the children participate in local youth sports programs.
The FBI says Doggart threatened to attack Islamberg with an M4 rifle, using, according to a transcript of the recording, "500 rounds of ammunition, light armor piercing. A pistol with three extra magazines, and a machete. And if it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.”
Hancock Town Attorney Leonard Sienko Jr. said Islamberg residents have been the victims of anti-Muslim propaganda "regurgitated" by Fox News. The residents, in actuality, have been good neighbors, he said.
"The danger here is from folks like Mr. Doggart, not the folks from Islamberg," Sienko told The (Oneonta, N.Y.) Daily Star.
Reports on Fox News have suggested the inhabitants of the hamlet could be involved in training for paramilitary activities. However, an FBI official told The Daily Star last year that the agency has seen no indications that terrorist training is carried out there.
According to the FBI, Doggart thought he could elude capture and that he was motivated to wipe out Islamberg because he was convinced its inhabitants were plotting a terrorist attack.
"I actually think we can get in and out of there without getting caught," he reportedly said. "There’s only four policemen in town. The fire department is a volunteer department, so it’ll take them 35 minutes to get there while that building will be burned down already. And we’ll be long gone by then."
The criminal complaint filed in Chattanooga states that much of the FBI evidence against Doggart was obtained by agents authorized to use wiretaps on his cell phone calls. The wiretaps were authorized on March 15.
The FBI informed the Delaware County Sheriff's Department about the investigation before the charge against Doggart was announced, and State Police assisted in keeping an eye on the hamlet once Doggart was apprehended, officials said.
On March 17, Doggart "explicitly (said) the plan included burning down a school, a mosque and a cafeteria," the complaint stated, according to The Chattanoogan.
U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier rejected pleas from prosecutors to deny bail to Doggart, contending the plan for home detention and global positioning monitoring "should go a long way toward ensuring Defendant does not pose a danger."
A spokesman for Muslims of America Inc. lashed out at the federal court system for allowing Doggart to be released after posting $30,000 bond ahead of his sentencing despite the gravity of the charge, contending: "All would agree, if a Muslim did this, the perpetrator would be immediately identified as a terrorist then prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
The groups said Doggart is an example of the "unchecked and rampant Islamphobia which has spread lies for years about our peaceful community."
Joe Mahoney writes for the Daily Star in Oneonta, N.Y.