A Tip Sinks Domestic Terror Plot
Tips Lead to Sting, Prison for Plotter
|Demetrius Van Crocker told an undercover agent he wanted sarin nerve agent and C-4 plastic explosives, like those pictured above, for his plot.|
The details sounded ominously familiar: a down-and-out loner with a professed hatred of the U.S. government dreams of bombing a government building—maybe even the U.S. Capitol—then sets about procuring the ingredients to carry out his scheme.
That was the plan hatched by Tennessee farmer Demetrius Van Crocker, whose views were no secret to people who knew him. But most discounted his extremist rants as just that, the ideological ravings of a former member of the right-wing National Socialist Movement.
Then in 2004, Van Crocker’s plan crystallized—he would buy materials to build a dirty bomb to blow up a state or federal courthouse. At that point a “concerned citizen” took him seriously enough to call the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, which in turn called the FBI.
“We thought there might be something to it,” said Special Agent Daryl Berry, who opened the case in September 2004 out of the FBI’s office in Jackson, Tennessee. That set in motion an undercover sting that would reveal just how real today’s threat of domestic terrorism is—and why it remains a top FBI priority.
Berry’s office wired a “cooperating witness,” whose recorded conversations with Van Crocker confirmed his interest in building a dirty bomb to blow up a courthouse. The witness told Van Crocker he could put him in touch with a supplier—an undercover agent posing as a sympathetic military contractor with access to explosives and biological weapons.
“At first he basically came out and said, ‘I don’t know you. How do I know I can trust you,’” said the undercover agent, who met three times with Van Crocker. “But he was highly motivated. If you really want something you will go against your best judgment.”
Convinced his supplier was legit, Van Crocker told the undercover agent he wanted sarin nerve agent and C-4 plastic explosives. The agent said he would need $500 upfront to bribe a guard at an Arkansas weapons arsenal. Van Crocker gave him the money and then set up a meeting in a hotel where the transaction would take place.
FBI agents were waiting when Van Crocker showed up on October 25, 2004 to close the deal. The undercover agent, toting a bag of wrapped plastic explosives and an inert canister of the sarin agent, met Van Crocker and the agents closed in.
A search of Van Crocker’s home turned up components for pipe bombs, a cache of loaded weapons, and right-wing paraphernalia. It took a jury 90 minutes to convict Van Crocker in April on five counts of trying to acquire chemical weapons and explosives to destroy government buildings. He was sentenced November 28 to 30 years in prison.
The case stands as an example of how far tips from the public go toward protecting the U.S. from terrorists, abroad and at home. The undercover agent said as much: “I’m firmly convinced that had he come into possession of the right stuff he would have done something.”