A second person has been charged in connection with a Tennessee man's plot to attack Islamberg, a Muslim community in the Catskills, according to federal prosecutors.
Robert R. Doggart, a 63-year-old former congressional candidate, was arrested on April 10 for plotting to burn down buildings and attack the inhabitants of Islamberg, a community of about 200 black Muslims in the Delaware County town of Tompkins, near the village of Hancock.
Left: Robert R. Doggart in a campaign photograph, via Heavy.com.
On Tuesday, July 7, a federal grand jury in Knoxville, Tennessee charged Doggart with solicitation for recruiting another person to help him burn down Islamberg’s mosque, school and cafeteria.
Federal court documents do not name that accomplice, but they state that a South Carolina resident who had wiretapped conversations with Doggart faces federal charges.
No other information about the South Carolina suspect's identity has been formally released.
Racially-motivated violence is an especially explosive issue in South Carolina in the wake of the June 17 killing of nine black parishioners in Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Dylann Roof, the gunman, was formally charged with murder for the shooting this week.
Residents of Islamberg have been on high alert since the news of Doggart’s arrest and plot broke in May, and their fears have only been exacerbated by the massacre in Charleston, their representatives say. The Muslims of America, Islamberg's parent organization, has satellite communities across the United States, including one in York, South Carolina.
Tahirah H. Clark, a lawyer for Islamberg and The Muslims of America, asked the court to release more information the South Carolina accomplice on Wednesday, July 8. In a press release, Clark stated that her clients have “never received information about the [South Carolina] defendant.”
“The South Carolina Militia”
More information about the South Carolina defendant’s identify can be gleaned from excerpts of his wiretapped conversations with Doggart in court files.
In the original complaint against Doggart, prosecutors describe how Doggart and a person he referred to as the “commander” of “the South Carolina militia” planned to attack Islamberg.
Multiple phone conversations between Doggart and the "commander" were wiretapped in March and April.
In one call, the "commander" said:
“ . . . you know we’re going into a combat situation . . . If it’s my life it serves a purpose for the better good, I’m willing to give it. But I think in a situation like this it’s more important to show them that we are above and beyond way better than our enemy … If we get in there with a 10-man team and take out a 20-to-30-man crack troop, that’s going to show them something. Make them think twice about which town, which country and who the hell they’re messing with."
The "commander" offered to connect Doggart with a “demolition” expert, and agreed to meet up in person in March to plan the attack.
On March 29, Doggart travelled to South Carolina to meet with the "commander." Although the two didn’t meet, they stayed in touch until April 9, the day before Doggart was arrested, according to court documents.
Doggart may have recruited additional people as well. In wiretapped calls quoted in court documents, Doggart variously refers to “my nine guys” and "this battalion I command."
Not a “true threat”?
After Doggart was arrested in April, he admitted to making “interstate communication of threats” to attack Islamberg in a plea deal. But in June, federal Judge Curtis L. Collier rejected his confession.
In a June 29 order, Collier argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that Doggart was making a “true threat.”
Citing a 1997 case ("United States v. Alkhabaz") involving internet postings, Collier reasoned that Doggart’s recruitment calls were not “true threats” because they “involved planning attacks and wooing recruits rather than intimidation or coercion.”
It is unusual for a federal judge to reject a plea deal. In 2013, 97 percent of federal criminal cases that weren’t dismissed were resolved through plea deals, while fewer than three percent went to trial, according to the New York Review of Books.
Under the terms of the plea deal, Doggart would have faced five years in prison.
"Solicitation to commit a civil rights violation"
Judge Collier’s decision to reject Doggart’s plea meant that Doggart’s case would go before a grand jury. A team of federal prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) decided to convene the grand jury in Knoxville, 100 miles away, rather than in Chattanooga, which is closer to where Doggart lives.
On Tuesday, July 7, Vanita Gupta, the head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, and William C. Killian, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee, announced that the Knoxville grand jury had indicted Doggart on one count of “solicitation to commit a civil rights violation.”
That charge comes with a stiffer penalty than the plea deal charge. If convicted, Doggart faces a maximum of 10 years in prison.
From the DOJ’s press release:
According to court documents, Doggart planned an attack on Islamberg, a small settlement that is home to a large Muslim community. Doggart’s plans included burning a mosque, a school and a cafeteria in the community, and he solicited others to join in his plan through Facebook posts and in telephone conversations. Doggart has been charged with one count of soliciting others to violate federal civil rights laws by intentionally defacing, damaging or destroying any religious property, because of the religious character of that property, or attempting to do so.
Not a hate crime?
Clark, the lawyer for The Muslims of America, called the new charges against Doggart “insufficient.” She asked for prosecutors to file terrorism and hate crime charges against Doggart.
“Robert Doggart targeted this community because they are Muslim, therefore his actions must be called ‘hate crimes,'” Clark stated in a press release. “Additionally, his actions meet the legal elements of domestic terror and he should be so charged.”
Clark said that there is a double standard in federal prosecutions between Muslims and non-Muslims.
“If the offender were a so-called Muslim extremist, without doubt that person would be charged as a terrorist,” she said. “With the case of Robert R. Doggart, the tide of the selective prosecution of charging defendants with terror must change.”
Dylann Roof, the shooter in the Charleston massacre, also has not been charged with terrorism or hate crime charges.
Indictment of Robert Doggart, July 7
Correction: Islamberg is located in the Delaware County town of Tompkins, not the town of Hancock.