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The Waffle House Terrorists
January 20, 2012 5:34 PM   Subscribe

This past November, news broke of a rather odd domestic terror plot that had been broken up by the FBI. Four senior citizens in northern Georgia who met regularly at a local Waffle House, were allegedly planning to spread ricin and botulinum toxin in Atlanta and Washington, DC, in order to kill millions of people and "save the Constitution." But was there ever really a conspiracy?
posted by zarq (86 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite

 
The name doesn't have quite the same flair as "Baader-Meinhof".
posted by Trurl at 5:37 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nor LuftWaffle, I agree.
posted by zarq at 5:42 PM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


At some point in the last 2 decades, law enforcment got really really into LARPing.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:46 PM on January 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


"Especially in the case of the Waffle House terrorists, where it may be the Department of Homeland Security that's fomenting terror"

(emphasis mine)

Uh, how about like 90% of "terror" busts these days?
posted by symbioid at 5:49 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's all about market incentives. Washington has money for counter-terrorism. If you don't have terrorists, you'll create them.
posted by empath at 5:50 PM on January 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


You should add a ricin tag.

When extremists of any strip start sharing recipes it's probably reasonable to pay attention, even if you don't end up with a conspiracy charge.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:52 PM on January 20, 2012


er, stripe.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:52 PM on January 20, 2012


You should add a ricin tag.

Done. Thanks.
posted by zarq at 5:54 PM on January 20, 2012


As far as I can tell, the FBI pretty much make up or instigate nearly all terror plots these days. It’s how they make their living.
posted by bongo_x at 6:09 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really, really loving how the author finds it hard to believe that angry, stupid white men could be yankees.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:15 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


When extremists of any strip start sharing recipes it's probably reasonable to pay attention, even if you don't end up with a conspiracy charge.

Yeah, sure. Who decides who is an "extremist?" What does it mean to "pay attention?" FEH.
posted by JHarris at 6:23 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, sure. Who decides who is an "extremist?" What does it mean to "pay attention?" FEH.

Yeah, sure. What does it mean to "ignore a threat of mass murder"? At what point does "purchasing IEDs and manufacturing a poison used only for chemical warfare" go beyond good harmless fun?

FEH, indeed.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:48 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The name doesn't have quite the same flair as "Baader-Meinhof".
Man, I was just thinking that yesterday.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:49 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


After reading that article, I'm not really sure I understand the question of whether or not there was really a conspiracy. They got guys on tape talking about "patriotic assassinations", and, well, conspiring to actually carry them out. And this was before they started pushing the guys' buttons - they weren't even looking for these guys, they just luckily got them on tape speaking their minds without having been influenced by the investigators.

I'm apparently supposed to think there wasn't really a conspiracy because:

(1) Some of the initial people at the first meeting never came to future meetings (though new people did, and stayed on);

(2) After the feds caught these "patriots" on tape proposing widespread assassinations, they kept investigating;

(3) The guy who wore the wire is apparently a scumball;

(4) Some writer for Esquire says "Come on, they weren't really gonna do it, somebody should've just told them to cut out the nonsense and go home"?
posted by Flunkie at 6:50 PM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I don't think there'd have been any hand-wringing about the case is these men weren't white.
posted by ShawnStruck at 7:00 PM on January 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


"Wait, 'waffle'? I thought they said 'falafel'! Man, is my face red. You guys were this close to getting your asses waterboarded!"
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:03 PM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


...cut out the nonsense and go home

Wouldn't it be great if the US had a force of secret agents that just went to these meetings and said as much?

I think they are called "decent people."
posted by poe at 7:03 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


and by "these meetings" I mean all the awful goofy extremists, whatever colour or creed.
posted by poe at 7:04 PM on January 20, 2012


One of those "decent people" who the author of the article was counting on to step in and say "Hey guys, this is silly", which he apparently thinks obviously would have stopped the whole thing and had these patriots laughing about how silly their old wacky hijinks were the next time they met at the Waffle House, is the same guy the author spent the first 80% of the article pillorying as a despicable lout.
posted by Flunkie at 7:08 PM on January 20, 2012


I'm apparently supposed to think there wasn't really a conspiracy because:

There are some important points the article makes about these guys though.

a) They were "codgers".

b) The confidential informant ate Charlotte Thomas's homemade lemon bars.

c) Someone had picked up a phone and spoken in a wary country-boy baritone, but then he sounded like Elvis with a vestigial stutter.

d) They were going to manufacture and then distribute a sort of moonshined poison called ricin. I'm guessing the still was in the shed out back to hide it from the revenoors.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:09 PM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I am going to start a band and call it Waffle House Terrorists.
posted by trillian at 7:11 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Flunkie> (4) Some writer for Esquire says "Come on, they weren't really gonna do it, somebody should've just told them to cut out the nonsense and go home"?

Yeah, I was dumbstruck by the insanity of this bit of Junod's piece:
He was never going to make botulism, and he wasn't going to make ricin, either, despite shopping for things like lye and acetone and having a stash of castor beans.
I stopped at the end of that paragraph. Maybe there's an actual reason why it's so obvious that Sammy Crump wasn't going to make ricin despite having all the ingredients necessary to make it. But Junod doesn't bother to explain it to me, so I'm going to go on thinking that Crump was intending to make ricin.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 7:12 PM on January 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


These guys were talking about shooting and poisoning people.

It's not like they were muslims buying cheap prepaid cell phones in Michigan to transport for sale in Texas - you know, actual terrorism. Did those guys get out yet ? God, I hope not. Muslims frighten me.

Now let white grampa go, he talks tough, but he means well.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:14 PM on January 20, 2012 [19 favorites]


Nor LuftWaffle, I agree.

Blintzkrieg?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:20 PM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'm sorry to keep harping on this, but the article is just so blatantly absurd. A few examples:

(1) The author uses the fact that one of the people at the initial meeting didn't attend future meetings as evidence that there was no conspiracy, and in the very next sentence mentions that that shortly after the first meeting that man was arrested for trying to enter Canada with guns and child porn. Gee, maybe that's why he wasn't at any future meetings?

(2) He refers to this as a conspiracy that didn't exist except in the suspicions of the FBI and "in the heads of two old men". First of all, there were more than two, as they recruited more members -- and the author tells us that immediately afterwards. Secondly, this reads to me essentially like "It's not a conspiracy, because the conspirators were conspiring".

(3) Near the conclusion, he makes a big deal out of his unbacked assertion that it could've stopped at any time. He frames this claim as if it was just something that the FBI was stringing along for no particular reason, and if they just stopped investigating it would've stopped. But the actual reasons he lists for why it could've just stopped at any time include, essentially, because the head conspirator was obsessed with carrying it out.
posted by Flunkie at 7:48 PM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


But Junod doesn't bother to explain it to me, so I'm going to go on thinking that Crump was intending to make ricin.

Sure, he might have had the intent to make ricin but his castor beans, Walmart chemicals, and internet recipe did not give him the ability to do so. That's the angle of the article, the disconnect "between what the conspirators allegedly planned to do and what they seemed capable of doing" (5th paragraph).

To get an idea on how far from they were from the successful manufacture of ricin, try The Recipe for Ricin parts 1, 2, 3.
posted by peeedro at 7:52 PM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Blintzkrieg?

Ja.

And MarziPanzer ground assaults.
posted by zarq at 8:08 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I realize that my earlier smart ass remark may have made it sound like these guys should not have been arrested. That’s not the case, it’s just I feel the FBI has become The Boy That Cried Wolf.
posted by bongo_x at 8:23 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now now, it's just that the author watched too many episodes of Matlock and so he couldn't imagine avuncular old white dudes being deranged right-wing terrorists.
posted by winna at 8:29 PM on January 20, 2012


That the whole "codger" thing as well as the general ageism of the piece is quite annoying.

My dad is 74 and I have no doubts of his ability to plan and carry through a complex act of terrorism if he wanted to. The only difference I can think of is that it isn't likely he'd get caught.

The article seems to be saying that anyone over 65 is by definition harmless. Don't count on it, Mr. Esquire guy.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:34 PM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Previous FPP: Bucket List -- Elderly men accused of U.S. ricin plot."
posted by ericb at 8:36 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hmm, to the extent they could not or would not have taken tangible steps without the money of the CI, then I'm with the Esquire writer.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:42 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Forbes:
"The following details were gleaned from FBI Affidavits, the federal indictment, and various public postings made by the defendants in the months leading up to their arrests. Like most right wing extremists, Fred Thomas, Dan Roberts, Sam Crump, and Ray Adams were furious at the current state of the United States.
Frederick W. Thomas, age 73, thirty-year veteran of the US Navy with experience in explosives, also worked as an aerospace engineer with top security clearance. Thomas was an Oathkeeper, a Three Percenter, and an active member of the TeaParty. He was also the ringleader of the group.

Samuel J. Crump, age 68, former contractor with the US Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Ray H. Adams, age 55, former lab tech with the US Department of Agriculture.

Emory Dan Roberts, age 67, retired sign maker and commanding officer of the 440th squad of the Georgia Militia.
.... Does painting these men who plotted to commit mass murder as harmless old geezers make the plot by Americans to kill Americans more palatable? Does pointing out the fact that they held a couple of their planning meetings in a Waffle House somehow make the plot less lethal because they must be nothing more than dumb Southern rednecks?

The men were 55, 65, 68, and 73 and all of them had backgrounds that added to the lethal potential of the plan. Anyone who thinks that a man in the 55-73 year old age group is geriatric, incompetent, or too fragile to push a button detonating a car bomb needs to get out and mingle with the retirement age crowd a bit more. Here’s a good place to start.
Secretary of Defense (retired in 2011) Robert Gates: age 68

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: age 73

Vice President Joe Biden: age 69

Attorney General Eric Holder: age 60

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: age 64

Former CA Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger: age 64

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus: age 63
By playing up the harmless old kook card, the press is downplaying the seriousness of this extremist plot to kill both government employees and innocent civilians."
posted by ericb at 8:49 PM on January 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


None of y'all have hung around a Waffle House round about shift change and listened to the regulars,have you?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:51 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


If the regulars that you're listening to are talking about their intent to assassinate people, perhaps you should consider doing something.
posted by Flunkie at 8:55 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't understand your comment, St. Alia of the Bunnies. Are you suggesting that these men were expressing normal, harmless things, and should have been left alone? Or am I misinterpreting you?

For the record, I last ate at Waffle House a month or so ago. Biscuits and gravy, and hashbrowns, scattered, covered, and capped.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:09 PM on January 20, 2012


peeedro> To get an idea on how far from they were from the successful manufacture of ricin, try The Recipe for Ricin parts 1, 2, 3.

I did take a look at the 3-part article, and I have to say that I'm still in the dark about ricin manufacture. Which isn't a failing of the article, to be sure: there are good and obvious reasons not to be specific about the failings of widely disseminated ricin recipes.

But the categorical dismissals of these recipes leave me with some questions. Strong bases denature proteins, sure, but do the common recipes call for dilution? Is the denaturing full or partial with strong and weak bases? Given that ricin-A protein is poisonous, but not very, is the partial denaturing of ricin-A and ricin-B enough to render homebrewed ricin completely harmless? After reading the article, I believe that pure ricin can't be easily made by amateurs, but can they make something from castor beans that can still kill?

But I'm stuck. My background isn't in synthetic chemistry, and there's no way I'm going to do more research on this. So I'll defer to the experts and agree that the group couldn't have made ricin without help that hadn't materialized and didn't seem about to materialize. I do wish that Junod had spelled this out in his piece.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 9:11 PM on January 20, 2012


Sure, he might have had the intent to make ricin but his castor beans, Walmart chemicals, and internet recipe did not give him the ability to do so.

Is the punch line here the Anarchist Cookbook? The textfile from the 1980's?
posted by rough ashlar at 9:33 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ha ha, thanks FBI! Without you, we totally would've had old people killing millions with ricin in Washington, DC and Atlanta!
posted by planet at 9:37 PM on January 20, 2012


the group couldn't have made ricin

Ricin is part of the caster plant. No human makes it. Humans can concentrate it, but they can't make it.

Various 'experts' state you should not compost the plant because the ricin is in the plant itself.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:48 PM on January 20, 2012


For the record, I last ate at Waffle House a month or so ago. Biscuits and gravy, and hashbrowns, scattered, covered, and capped.

For those of you who think Waffle House biscuits and gravy cannot be weaponized through a simple biological process, you are sorely mistaken.

arrested...relating to plans to obtain an unregistered explosive device and silencer and to manufacture the biological toxin ricin for use in attacks against other U.S. citizens and government personnel and officials....Crump allegedly told the source that he was going to shell the beans that week, and Adams explained to the source how to manufacture ricin, showing the source a formula used to make ricin and identifying the ways he planned to obtain the ingredients to do so. FBI agents arrested all four defendants today without incident and executed search warrants at the residences of the four defendants.


Sounds pretty much textbook what the FBI should be doing with its time.

Pretty easy to make Ricin. It's a protein. If you've had chemistry, you can probably work out how to make it. Some equipment that might cost you. Not insurmountable.
Preventing it from killing you once you've made it, bit more complicated.

And the vector is tricky too:
Crump arrived and said that he would like to make 10 pounds of ricin and disperse it in various United States cities, including Atlanta. Crump described a scenario for dispersing the ricin in Atlanta in which the toxin would be blown from a car traveling on the interstates.


Yeah, that's not going to work out so well. The downside of chemical warfare has always been the stuff will kill you too. And if its really stupid dangerous like ricin, well, it gets Darwinian there.

Speaking of which:
Thomas and Roberts later expressed concerns that the undercover agent was a “cop,” but wanted to go forward with the transaction anyway.

Fanaticism makes you stupid. It really does.

If they were smart, and while they seem technically skilled and capable there's no evidence they were, they would have Step 1. coupled the explosive with some minor ricin deaths playing on the hype (from the "Ricin! It's easy to make and it's everywhere!") to create terror. Step 2 ? Step 3 save the constitution, or whatever.

We did this dance with Bill Frist and Thomas Lavy and the Minnesota Patriots Council, etc. etc.
Back in the early 80s the Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (founded by a retired Air Force Col. ... ever seen the film "Red"? Watch that and "Burn After Reading" back to back and you get a perfectly accurate mindset for this sort of thing, not the details, just the headspace) - had a big drum of cyanide. Some ricin too. Meh.

It's not the body count, it's the attention. The terror.
Terror - ist.
Having a barrel of poison doesn't mean they've got any sort of real plan beyond killing people randomly.
And hey, thankfully so.

The story itself though....

I heard something about an editor at a newspaper. There was a page one picture of a girl's cheerleading team - completely tasteless shot - and the editor got mad. Runs downstairs to the photo department, slams the door open, the photo guys waiting to get reamed for putting such a prurient display on page one.
"Assholes!" the editor yells. "Always put the tits above the fold!"

Sort of the same thing here. Lead with agents pulling a dozen guns from the house of ex-military, CDC, ex-government men, extremists looking to buy silencers and explosives, it's a different story.
Run with old codgers at the Waffle House with castor beans - writes itself.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:09 PM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


What I have always found interesting is that for a long time before, oh, the second week of September 2001 or thereabouts, the FBI was spending pretty much all of their time trying this exact sort of sting operation on environmental groups. Who were just as dangerous as these pathetic loudmouth wannabe redneck tea party geezers. And during the Clinton years they were going after armed and probably not too dangerous right-wing cults, etc. It just stinks of politics.
posted by zomg at 10:27 PM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there some sort of internet vigilante group whose purpose is to find these types of forums and attempt to disseminate them or investigate identities and alert the proper authorities? Where do I sign up?
posted by june made him a gemini at 10:29 PM on January 20, 2012




The point of this article is not that old men are impotent and incapable of violence or murder. The point of this article is that the FBI spent months upon months of an "investigation" giving money to a child rapist and paying probably hundreds of thousands of dollars in agent salaries in order to make a big fancy shiny bust at the end, when all that ever needed to happen is somebody needed to tell these guys to stop. Seriously, there's no way to know how much of this plot was actually invented by Sims, the child molester, which is a seriously messed up way to run a prosecution. And the whole thing turned out ridiculously sloppy in the end. It was clearly engineered from the start to get that coveted terrorism arrest.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 PM on January 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Flunkie: "If the regulars that you're listening to are talking about their intent to assassinate people, perhaps you should consider doing something."

Apparently the message boards of the Georgia Militia are full of people talking about such stuff, and yet the Feds do absolutely nothing about it. They did nothing in this case, too, aside from paying a very dubious informant to foment enough plotting to keep his ass out of jail.

The goal here clearly wasn't to prevent violence. If it had been, they would have hauled these old guys in for questioning and put the fear of god in them at the start, letting them know in no uncertain terms that they were being watched. That would have cost a hell of a lot less money, too, and they could have just sent Sims back to jail.

The point of this whole thing was not to prevent violence; it was to make a flashy arrest.
posted by koeselitz at 10:58 PM on January 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


It was clearly engineered from the start to get that coveted terrorism arrest.

Really? They decided they were going to conspire to get a terrorism arrest and this was the best they could come up with?

I guess the old guys aren't the only ones who suck at conspiracies...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:00 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's actually an interesting question lurking in here somewhere. I mean, the FBI is clearly used to running these things through this method, surveillance and then a big arrest at the end backed by lots of evidence so that it sticks in court. I guess this is because they're an executive agency, and their jurisdiction technically starts where crimes are committed.

But this piece seems to suggest there were other options available, though it doesn't describe them in detail. Indeed, it seems as though this is true, if the piece is correct in stating that the old men tried to call off the whole thing at the last minute.

So - what other options does the FBI have? Work with local enforcement, perhaps, which can have a cop go by and visit Fred a few times a month to let him know they've got their eye on him? It seems like this would prevent this kind of thing more effectively than a questionable series of meetings with an opportunistic informant; but admittedly it'd be hard for the FBI to prove that it's preventing terrorist activities if they spent a lot of time surveilling people who don't end up getting arrested.
posted by koeselitz at 11:07 PM on January 20, 2012


Well, this is the obvious problem with arresting and charging people simply for talking about wanting to do something.
posted by delmoi at 12:19 AM on January 21, 2012


Is the punch line here the Anarchist Cookbook? The textfile from the 1980's?

Probably, although hearing it referred to as a textfile made me chuckle quite a bit. It was first published back in '71 as a -- I know it's hard to believe -- 'book'.
posted by mikelieman at 3:55 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


There was a guy named Roger Von Bergendorff that was found in a hotel room with the ingredients to make ricin, the recipe to make it and the final product. Nowhere in any story I could find did it say what education or training he had to make it. So, presumably any dumbass off the street could make it.

I don't really see what the problem is with assuming people who were recorded talking about murdering random people to inspire terror are terrorists and should be treated as such.
posted by stavrogin at 4:11 AM on January 21, 2012


Do thought crimes extend to the power of prayer?
posted by leftcoastbob at 5:04 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


had a big drum of cyanide

That's not poison - that's for gold refining.

(Glen Beck said ya need gold, so I was getting the gold myself.)
posted by rough ashlar at 5:49 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm pleased the FBI watches suspects planning serious crimes, but apparently this crossed the line into entrapment with the FBI informant actively egging them on, just like most other FBI terrorism convictions.

There is no question that, if the FBI continues "terrorist farming", they'll eventually create a real terrorist attack that would never have occurred otherwise.

There are hundreds of reasons why they might lose control over some terrorist group they're developing, with the targets distrusting an informant being among the most likely, which grows more likely with the FBI entrapment practices growing in fame.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:57 AM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It was first published back in '71

Some of us are not old enough to have ordered from Loopmatics.

eventually create a real terrorist attack that would never have occurred otherwise.

If one goes looking on the big bad Internet, one can find exactly such charges being made. The only 'terror' event with actual corpses I have not seen such a claim for was the shooting out the back of the car trunk with a bushmaster rifle 2 man crew event a few years ago.

Beware associating with monsters lest ye become one (or some such quote) seems to apply.

The other variant would be the Ted Stevens trial a few years ago - tossed because of the people wanting a conviction SO badly they violated due process.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:20 AM on January 21, 2012


Loopmatics? I think you meant Loompanic's.
Loopmatics sounds more like DJ supplies.
Now, off my lawn.
posted by bashos_frog at 7:29 AM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


koeselitz: So - what other options does the FBI have? Work with local enforcement, perhaps, which can have a cop go by and visit Fred a few times a month to let him know they've got their eye on him? It seems like this would prevent this kind of thing more effectively than a questionable series of meetings with an opportunistic informant; but admittedly it'd be hard for the FBI to prove that it's preventing terrorist activities if they spent a lot of time surveilling people who don't end up getting arrested.

I'd be worried that with this approach you'd get people stepping up plans to go off early, going underground, etc. You go from an easily observed plot to a very paranoid and hard to observe one. Alternatively they wait a few years until resources get reallocated and then start up again more carefully.
posted by Canageek at 7:43 AM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]



"The National Security Notes article that Peedro provided is worth reading, not just for it's evisceration of the ricin threat, but for its generally excellent snarkiness about security theatre:

"However, it's also unsettling when our leaders demonstrate a similar lack of sophistication, deriving no benefit or comfort from the application of science, buying into whatever received wisdom or stupid rumor is generally accepted."


urinesoakedrube: I did take a look at the 3-part article, and I have to say that I'm still in the dark about ricin manufacture.

Maybe if you actually read the article? It says basically that the recipes available from the Al Qaida handbook and a 1950's US Army patent are useless for making ricin, and that people working for a government security organization should know better, but clearly don't.
posted by sneebler at 7:45 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not a biochemist but I know enough basic chem to know that if I wanted to denature a protein (like Ricin A or B) the three things I'd do to it would be to apply force, a strong acid or base, or heat. This "recipe" does two of the three so offhand I'd say it's pretty good at removing Ricin from Castor beans.

Everybody needs to go back & read peedro's excellent set of links that completely demystify the history of Ricin recipes & expose all authorities (law enforcement, politicians, journalists) opening their mouths on the subject as fools & liars.

Also, as a historical note I'd like to add that I actually read the original recipe on the Temple of the Screaming Electron BBS (510-935-5845, motto: "Raw Data for Raw Nerves") & realized it was crap written by an illiterate teenager even then. The language has been cleaned up since then but the recipe hasn't improved any.
posted by scalefree at 7:55 AM on January 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ricin is not dangerous. Well, it is, but only when INJECTED IV. The molecule is way too big to get through your membranes via skin contact or inhalation. So this "plot" was pretty poorly thought out from all angles; they could not have harmed people by distributing ricin around cities, or mailing it to people.
posted by TheMidnightHobo at 8:10 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sims' molestation and general skeeziness is a red herring. No one's saying you have to room with this guy. You would be shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that many criminal informants are people you wouldn't want to have close in your life.

The conspirators' age is also a red herring, for obvious reasons explained above.

Their doofiness about ricin is yet another red herring. They wanted to make ricin. That they were possibly going to fuck it up through their ignorance would not be a defense to the conspiracy charge. If he tried to buy a nuclear bomb, in the expectation that he could just chuck it at people to make it go off, he'd still be on the hook for planning to kill people with a nuclear bomb.

Law enforcement also waits for these conspiracies to ripen in order to get more serious charges to stick better. Look at people who feel that their doofiness about ricin is a mitigating factor. I could see the FBI wanting to hold off, until they wise up a bit about ricin extraction and weaponization, in order to make the threat more concrete, but after a certain point you have to deal with what you have.

Either way, it's not news that the vast majority of terrorists are also typically gigantic morons. These guys are the white version of Four Lions.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:27 AM on January 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


The trouble with popping around for a nice chat about possible consequences is that you don't necessarily know if there are others involved, others you'd really much rather draw a bead on. So there is a good case, often, to hang around in the shadows and let things progress. To see how messy it can get, check the back story for the London bombings.

Doesn't look like it in this case, but I wasn't there...
posted by Devonian at 8:28 AM on January 21, 2012


I started reading this, and I tried to get through it. But I couldn't. I was moments from loudly saying "Oh come on!" while at work, which would have been a bad idea. I'm not sure what happened to Tom Junod. His Mr. Rogers article was amazing, but between this and the Daily Show article that (rightly) received a lot of hate, it feels like he's turning into some sort of conservative Slate writer "Everything you know is wrong, get off my lawn."

Like others in the thread, I felt like what the article was saying was "surely these white people wouldn't be doing this, they're just old men." I'm not calling Junod racist, but that's certainly the tone that I was getting. There have been many sketchier instances of FBI stings, but the people involved in those were brown. Law enforcement often uses plants, informants, and agent provocateurs of dubious reliability and standing. But this is the one you're complaining about, not the ones that go into mosques and try to stir up shit there.

And please don't diminish the danger of ricin. The more I read about it, and how easy it can be to formulate, the more terrified I get.
posted by X-Himy at 9:59 AM on January 21, 2012


I should disclose that I myself am a white southerner who has been known to carry a concealed weapon on or about my person if I felt the situation called for it. But I've had an Oathkeeper show up in my office once to talk about buying some t-shirts. 300-pounder wearing a gun store t-shirt. I usually deal with e-comm and the like, but for some reason all the other reps had found some reason to be in the back of the building. Frightened the fuck out of me. I show him into my office.

"Have a seat."

"I prefer to stand."

"All-righty... So will you be wanting 50/50 or 100% cotton..."

Normally I talk to my customers about what their group is about, so as to get a feel for the demographics. Size, range of sizes wanted (any youth sizes), etc. I skipped that step with him, just going on that intuition that I didn't want to know. Looked it up later and quietly shat a brick... I'm all about the constitution, and don't always trust our leaders, but anything that seems to have any semblance of the military taking things into their own hands I find a little disturbing.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:22 AM on January 21, 2012


x-himey: And please don't diminish the danger of ricin. The more I read about it, and how easy it can be to formulate, the more terrified I get.

Why? Have you read this wikipedia article about ricin? What about this article by a biochemist from Arkansas: "So, what is the stuff, how bad is it, where did they get it, and what did they plan to do with it?"
posted by sneebler at 10:36 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


sneebler> Maybe if you actually read the article? It says basically that the recipes available from the Al Qaida handbook and a 1950's US Army patent are useless for making ricin, and that people working for a government security organization should know better, but clearly don't.

I did actually read the article, thanks. I assume by your comment that you did as well, so you should be able to answer all of the questions I had in my comment about the specifics of how and to what extent the commonly disseminated internet recipes for ricin extraction fail.
posted by UrineSoakedRube at 10:53 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would guess that extracting and purifying useful amounts of ricin would require medium to large scale liquid HPLC equipment, which isn't cheap or readily available. You'd also need enough knowledge to determine which reagents to use, the shape of the gradient and which peak to cut as your mainstream.

You'd also have to be able to convince the companies that you're trying to buy this stuff from that you're not trying to set up a meth lab. The days of ordering acetonitrile or tetrahydrofuran for your own personal use have been over for quite a while now.
posted by double block and bleed at 10:53 AM on January 21, 2012


X-Himy: “And please don't diminish the danger of ricin. The more I read about it, and how easy it can be to formulate, the more terrified I get.”

Then stop reading nonsense articles that have no basis in fact. I understand this is difficult – most of the news media seems to have entirely the wrong idea about ricin – but the fact is that ricin is very difficult to produce.

I'm going to recommend, as others have, that everyone in this thread should at least look over the very informative article that peeedro helpfully linked above [1, 2, 3].

The basic gist of it: the "Recipe For Ricin" that has floated around the internet for years, and that is the basis of all the news reports about how easy it is to produce, is a silly sham probably written by a teenager that is not at all factually correct and that does not actually reflect any knowledge whatsoever about how to manufacture ricin. A person who followed it would find themselves presented with nothing but dried castor beans, which are utterly harmless.
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 AM on January 21, 2012


Their doofiness about ricin is yet another red herring. They wanted to make ricin. That they were possibly going to fuck it up through their ignorance would not be a defense to the conspiracy charge. If he tried to buy a nuclear bomb, in the expectation that he could just chuck it at people to make it go off, he'd still be on the hook for planning to kill people with a nuclear bomb.

I don't know, it seems like 'doofiness' should be taken into account: as an extreme case, what if they had tried to order the necronomicon from amazon, and use it to summon demons to assassinate the president? Or what if they wanted to homeopathically poison the entire ocean? If we're arresting people for things they haven't done, but merely intend to do, then their ability to actually carry out those intentions ought to be taken into account; some doofus trying to buy plutonium on craig's list shouldn't be charged with attempted mass murder.
posted by Pyry at 11:21 AM on January 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


And considering that these doofuses didn't want to buy ricin at all until the FBI was involved, there's another level of distance here from the actual crime.
posted by koeselitz at 11:26 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've got to say, if I were in the FBI and I wanted to prevent a domestic terrorist threat, I'd pump up how dangerous a easy to use ricin poison recipe is on TV and online as a dangerous threat, hoping that at least some potential terrorists would buy it, instead of going after easily produced chemicals that are actually dangerous, such as chlorine gas.

Just a theory of mine, though I fully admit it is possible that some people are just incompetent.
posted by Canageek at 11:47 AM on January 21, 2012


The basic gist of it: the "Recipe For Ricin" that has floated around the internet for years, and that is the basis of all the news reports about how easy it is to produce, is a silly sham probably written by a teenager that is not at all factually correct and that does not actually reflect any knowledge whatsoever about how to manufacture ricin. A person who followed it would find themselves presented with nothing but dried castor beans, which are utterly harmless.

Do you know this? You don't. We don't know whether ricin is easy to manufacture; we don't know whether it is hard to manufacture, either, unless we've actually tried to go through the process. So please don't spout decisive statements gleaned from other internet articles. The fact that the anarchist's cookbook-esque recipe doesn't tell you how to create ricin doesn't mean that there are no recipes for ricin online.

For example, this patent. USPO patent document for ricin extraction. This seems pretty detailed to me; I'm assuming that these relatively simple (but still probably very hard) steps wouldn't be so far out of reach of a CDC contractor and a USDA lab tech.

--

In the end, the only thing floating this bad article up is a "but Jim, they're our boys, just a couple of harmless kooks, not terrorists" kind of race-tinged sentiment. You don't think that Mohammed Atta's family/neighbors/friends weren't thinking "geez, dude's really going intense about religion lately" at the beginning?

How to deal with supposed terrorist threats is another debate; discriminating between different kind of threats because the threat doesn't align with the typical social/racial stereotype that's been pounded into our heads since True Lies and every other action movie is another. Hopefully this will make us understand that there's no "outside threat", just fanaticism itself, that happens to be over there, or over here.
posted by suedehead at 12:39 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


@suedehead: While I agree with you that they shouldn't be dismissed just because they are old, I know Dr Lowe has a large following in the chemistry community who are unafraid to call him on mistakes, and they don't seem to have called him on his article. Which shows that while great for killing individuals it is pretty hard to use as a bioweapon as you'd have to get it airborn while still intact, which isn't exactly easy (Heat from an explosion? Torn to bits. Concussive force? Torn to bits. There is a reason it was so hard to do Mass Spec on proteins for so long; it was really hard to get them airborn. Even today it is hard to get some proteins molecular weights due to problems getting them airborn.

Though someone upthread claimed you'd need an HPLC system. You are just trying to kill people, not get it perfectly pure. I'd give old school column chromatography a try and see where that gets me in purity.

Regardless, there are chemical weapons that I'm given to understand are much easier to make (Hint: Go back to WWI and see what they used: They started with the easy to make one and then got fancy.)

Regardless, if I shot someone with intent to kill, I'd be tried for attempted murder, even if I accidentally loaded the gun with blanks. I don't see why this should be different.
posted by Canageek at 12:58 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The last link in the MoJo article was the subject of a previous post: Terrorists for the FBI
posted by homunculus at 1:46 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Canageek:

Though someone upthread claimed you'd need an HPLC system. You are just trying to kill people, not get it perfectly pure. I'd give old school column chromatography a try and see where that gets me in purity.

I'm not a chemist or chemical engineer, but I do have quite a bit of experience with automating the process of separating insulin from garbage in manufacturing for a big Pharma. You're right that the standard there was an extremely pure product and that isn't required for the task at hand. However, I can't think of how else one would go about separating one particular protein from many others in useful quantities. Mass spec would work for small quantities, but we're talking about poisoning two large cities. I'm not at all sure that old-fashioned isocratic low-pressure chromatography would work. Even then, the resin is very expensive.

Biochemistry is very complex and expensive. Proteins are delicate and easy to denature. At least I know that to be true for insulin. Our process had many steps that included anion and cation exchange, reversed phase and size exclusion chromatography at various points along with lots of different kinds of filtering that probably wouldn't be needed. We also had folding and splitting steps that would not be required at all. There were many variables including time, temperature and pH that could easily ruin a batch.

Like I wrote, I'm not a true expert but I'm pretty sure that the real process would be expensive and complex enough to be completely out of the reach of four untrained right-wing kooks plotting evil deeds in a Waffle House, regardless of their age, geographical location or motives.

I'm going to drop a line to MeFi's Own protein expert and ask him if he'll chime in about whether I'm full of shit about this.

Regardless, there are chemical weapons that I'm given to understand are much easier to make (Hint: Go back to WWI and see what they used: They started with the easy to make one and then got fancy.)

You can kill one hell of a lot of people with chlorine gas, as mentioned above.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:34 PM on January 21, 2012


hough someone upthread claimed you'd need an HPLC system. You are just trying to kill people, not get it perfectly pure. I'd give old school column chromatography a try and see where that gets me in purity.

Purity isn't the problem. If you don't do it right, you don't have any, because you've destroyed it.
posted by empath at 2:37 PM on January 21, 2012


double block and bleed, empath: My background is with small molecules, though I'm working in a chembio lab on my thesis right now. I was thinking more silica columns like you use in an undergrad organic synthesis lab then an ion exchange set up.

I do know for how easy it is to destroy the protein depends largely on the protein. The one I am working with (HCN2) will take pretty much anything and be fine, while one of my groupmates is destroyed if he so much as looks at it funny.

I'm glad there are so few chemists trying to kill us: Really if an inorganic chemist wanted to kill a lot of people and was able to make some HgMe2 or TeCl4.... I'd be scared. Anything where you used to keep a small bird by the govebox to warn you when to run is scary enough for me to stay away from.
posted by Canageek at 3:20 PM on January 21, 2012


Those Aum Shinryoko wackos in Japan apparently succeded in making sarin. That scares the crap out of me, I tell you what.

I agree that extracting ricin from castor beans in city-decimating quantities and analytical purity would certainly be impossible for this gaggle of cranky septuagenarians and their pedophile advisor/personal Judas. However, I would not think it unlikely that they could extract a more individual-murder-level of impure yet potentially deadly mixture given a few simple procedures and easily obtained solvents. I find the question of prior restraint in this case ambiguous.
posted by zomg at 3:41 PM on January 21, 2012


Blintzkrieg?

Ja.

And MarziPanzer ground assaults.


Interesting - did the www.luftwaffle.com site come before, or after, the Onion article about the same thing?
posted by FormlessOne at 3:44 PM on January 21, 2012


However, I would not think it unlikely that they could extract a more individual-murder-level of impure yet potentially deadly mixture given a few simple procedures and easily obtained solvents.

They could have just bought a gun if they wanted to do something on the individual murder level.
posted by empath at 3:49 PM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kind of what Empath said, the thing about the Tokyo sarin attack that always amazed me was that they could have sent their operatives into the subway with 9mm pistols, had them open up at rush hour and killed far more people than they managed to with "weapons of mass destruction". Bruce Schneier laments movie plot security (things that will work to prevent precisely one movie plot) but, fortunately, terrorists seem to mostly focus on spectacular things that would normally only work in movies.

I think Double Block is right about how hard it would be to amass a significant amount of ricin. Looking at the molecule that B chain (with no beta sheets or alpha hexicies) just screams "denature me" but that's just me guessing. There was a patent on a ricin purification method out there once, but here they suggest the method in the patent probably wouldn't work because it would denature the molecule.

Having car-pooled with a purification person once upon a time, I feel fully confident in saying that taking a purification process from bench scale to production scale is not easy, and that's when your product won't kill you at trace levels. From my own "Hey look! The second link in Google is like the Big Book of Bioweapons" experience (staph toxin) I can say that while I never dealt with more than a couple micrograms at a time, every evening when I didn't develop horrible stomach pains or pink-eye like symptoms after running and assay, I felt very proud of my abilities and I had my own purpose built HEPA filtered laminar flow hoods and all the heavy duty orange plastic biohazard bags a man could want.

The difference is that ricin makes staph toxin (which mostly incapacitates rather than kill) look like "Sunday in the Park with George." My suspicion is that terrorists (whether they hang out in caves near Tora Bora or a Waffle House in Atlanta) who try to purify ricin is a sort of self correcting problem.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:53 PM on January 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Delivery system. Let's assume you've managed to purify a significant amount of Ricin without killing yourself in the process. How are you going to put it into enough bodies to cause a mass casualty event? Aum Shinrikyo had a terrible time coming up with something even halfway workable & they had Anthrax & Sarin, both of which can be inhaled. One time they drive a specially outfitted station wagon through downtown Tokyo with a spray nozzle on the roof spreading Anthrax throughout the city. Nobody even sneezed.

The only reported murder with Ricin in the last 50 years was done by a KGB operative using a needle-tipped umbrella. That's about what you'd have to do to poison enough people to be worth all the bother.
posted by scalefree at 9:29 PM on January 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kid Charlemagne, are you saying that you did, on occasion, "develop horrible stomach pains or pink-eye like symptoms" the evening after running an assay, or that you never did?
posted by Crabby Appleton at 4:41 PM on January 22, 2012


I never had any issue but found myself acutely aware of any little titch my stomach engaged in to move lunch down the line. Those are just the most common symptoms associated with non-aresolized laboratory exposure.

Exposure by inhalation is much worse.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:10 AM on January 23, 2012


Interesting - did the www.luftwaffle.com site come before, or after, the Onion article about the same thing?

Looks like the Onion article came out in 2005 (hilarious, btw) and luftwaffle.com was registered as a domain in April 2008.

Every once in a while I get this mad urge to hide a link like that in an otherwise normal FPP, just to mess with people's heads.
posted by zarq at 11:26 AM on January 23, 2012


After looking up the structures of Serin and VX I'm trying not to think about how easy it would be for a crazy organic chemist to make up a small batch. I'm sure the government watches the precursors like hawks and would have some questions for anyone buying more then standard lab amounts, but man, I was not expecting something quite so....simple. I guess it is way harder to make a useful drug then one that just kills people.
posted by Canageek at 7:44 PM on January 23, 2012


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