Three men who were part of Occupy Cleveland and who were described by authorities as domestic terrorists, pleaded guilty Wednesday to trying to blow up the Ohio 82 bridge that spans the Cuyahoga River Valley in April.
Brandon Baxter, 20, of Lakewood, Connor Stevens, 20, of Berea, and Douglas Wright, 26, of Indianapolis entered their pleas and will be sentenced Nov. 5 and 6. Prosecutors said Wednesday that they will ask for life terms in prison. Defense lawyers will ask for five years.
They had been scheduled to go to trial Sept. 18 before U.S. District Judge David Dowd in Akron. The pleas mean the suspects will drop their intended defenses of entrapment. Their attorneys had claimed that an FBI informant walked them through the crime.
A fourth suspect, Anthony Hayne, 35, of Cleveland, pleaded guilty earlier in July and he cooperated with prosecutors against his compatriots. A fifth suspect, Joshua Stafford, 23, of Cleveland, is undergoing psychiatric evaluation.
The five men, self-proclaimed anarchists according to the authorities, were charged with planting what they believed were actual bombs at the Ohio 82 bridge that spans the national park between Brecksville and Sagamore Hills Township.
FBI agents reported that they foiled the plot with the help of an informant by supplying the men with fake plastic explosives and arresting the five on April 30 as they tried to detonate the explosives with a cellphone. The defense is claiming that the informant “cultivated” the defendants by buying them marijuana and alcohol and “nutured” the men into the plot, according to Terry Gilbert, attorney for Connor Stevens. The attorneys for Wright and Baxter echoed this sentiment. John Pyle, the attorney for Baxter, said the “men couldn’t blow their own noses, let alone blow up a bridge”.
Authorities dismissed this claim, noting the suspects selected the site to attack, bought what they believed were explosives in a hotel room and dug holes at the foot of the bridge to place the devices. He also said they went to a restaurant and tried to set off the bomb with a cellphone.
Authorities said the public was never in danger because the alleged “explosives” were inoperable and controlled by an undercover agent.
Supporters of the men, including some members of Occupy Cleveland were in attendance outside the courthouse. Some supporters wore shirts that said “Expose Entrapment”. Stevens’ brother, Colin, read a statement in supporting the suspects. He called the case “a complex and deeply disturbing picture of political oppression by the state.”
Via Newsnet5 -
About 50 members of Occupy Cleveland showed up at the courthouse in Cleveland to support the suspects charged in connection with an alleged plot to blow up a northeast Ohio bridge.
The five suspects — 21-year-old Connor Stevens, 24-year-old Joshua Stafford (aka “Skully”), 26-year-old Douglas Wright (aka “Cyco), 20-year-old Brandon Baxter (aka “Skabby”) and 37-year-old Anthony Hayne (aka “Tony” & “Billy”) – pleaded not guilty during their arraignment Monday morning.
The suspects had the charges — conspiracy and attempted use of explosive material to damage physical property affecting interstate commerce — read to them in open court.
After the arrests were made, Occupy Cleveland said the five suspects were “associated with the group” but they were “in no way representing or acting on behalf of Occupy Cleveland.” The city of Cleveland decided to not renew the group’s permit a day after the arrests, but did not say if the decision was related to the bomb plot. Facebook pages showed the supects’ involvement with Occupy Cleveland, which some listed as their “employer”. Douglas Wright, the alleged ringleader, was known for his quiet commitment to Occupy Cleveland, according to the National Review. Brandon Baxter had previously been arrested an Occupy protest and spoken to the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Occupy. He also was involved with organizing at Occupy Cleveland, including organizing the “Occupy the Heart Festival”. Anthony Hayne was on the lease of the Occupy Cleveland warehouse that they had been renting. See more on connections here and here.
The FBI said the five self-proclaimed anarchists came up with a plan to blow up the Route 82 bridge over the Cuyahoga National Forest in Brecksville. They were arrested after allegedly pushing a button they thought would detonate a C4 bomb placed at the base of the bridge on April 30. The bomb was planned to go off during early morning rush hour on May 1 to coincide with “May Day”. An estimated 13, 000 people drive over the bridge each day
An undercover informant working with the FBI had provided the group with an inert bomb. Wright met the informant at an Occupy event. Baxter’s attorney claims the informant has a long criminal record and “coached the suspects”.
Cleveland bomb suspects are to appear in court on May 7 for a preliminary hearing. Those charged are Douglas L. Wright, 26, of Indianapolis; Brandon L. Baxter, 20, of Lakewood; Connor C. Stevens, 20, of Berea; and Joshua S. Stafford, 23, and Anthony Hayne, 35, both of Cleveland.
U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said the five suspects were indicted on three counts: conspiracy, attempted use of an explosive device to destroy property in interstate commerce, and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction to destroy property in interstate commerce. They could face life in prison if convicted.
The FBI said the five bought fake explosives from an undercover and put them at the base of Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad bridge, a highway bridge over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park on May 30. 13,000 people travel the bridge daily, and the plan was to detonate it during the morning rush hour.
The affidavit details conversations the FBI secretly recorded in which its informant discussed bomb plans with some of the suspects.
In one, suspect Brandon Baxter allegedly said, “Taking out a bridge in the business district would cost the … corporate big wigs a lot of money” because it would cause structural damage and prevent people from going to work.
According to the Tallmadge Express:
The suspects had been associated with the anti-corporate Occupy Cleveland movement but don’t share its non-violent views and don’t represent Occupy Cleveland, organizer Debbie Kline said.
The alleged plotters were frustrated that other anti-corporate protesters opposed violence, Dettelbach said.
Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins, who has served as a liaison between City Hall and the Occupy movement, said May 3 that the charges against the men, who had been associated with Occupy Cleveland, show the group needs to watch for troublemakers.
“This is a horrific example in terms of the arrests of how the movement itself failed to identify and understand the dangerous potential of people affiliated with it,” Cummins said.
Occupy Cleveland spokesman Joseph Zitt said he wasn’t sure the group had the resources to monitor all protest participants for criminal activity.
“The group has not taken any action. It’s something we’re going to have to come together and consider,” he said.
The men had considered different plots, including trying to bring down financial institution signs in downtown Cleveland or attacking other targets, including a law enforcement center, oil wells, a cargo ship or the opening of a new downtown casino, according to the affidavit.
The document also alleges that one suspect talked about being part of group planning to cause trouble during an upcoming NATO summit in Chicago.
Brandon Baxter had previously been quoted at an Occupy Cleveland protest about foreclosures. According to Ohio Media Trackers:
He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in early March that he felt “the powers that be, whoever they might be—on all levels of government and those who hold corporate power—are not listening, because not enough people are actually taking a stance.” Occupy Cleveland’s Facebook page indicated that Baxter was involved in helping them organize and advertise events as recently as February 2012. Baxter and two of the other alleged co-conspirators — Joshua Stafford and Anthony Hayne — list Occupy Cleveland as their “Employer” on Facebook, where the three list one another as friends.
Occupy Cleveland spokesperson Zitt stated “These people participated in certain aspects of the movement, but once we discovered what was going on, we decided they could not be part of it. I wish we had learned earlier”.
Zitt’s statement is an interesting statement. What did they find out and when did they find it out? May 1? As we noted in our prior story, Anthony Hayne is still listed on the lease to Occupy Cleveland’s warehouse that they were renting.