How a plot to bomb California's Democratic Party headquarters exposed a right-wing netherworld

How a plot to bomb California's Democratic Party headquarters exposed a right-wing netherworld
A coronavirus lockdown protest in Sacramento, California, Saturday May 9th, 2020 (Shutterstock).

Last year, two men from the San Francisco Bay area were arrested and charged with plotting to blow up the California Democratic Party's headquarters in Sacramento shortly after President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris won the 2020 election.

Suspect Ian Rogers and his workout partner Jarrod Copeland were arraigned in federal court for "conspiracy to destroy by fire or explosive a building used in interstate commerce, with Copeland facing an additional destruction of records in official proceedings charge for allegedly destroying evidence of his communication with Rogers," according to a report published on Monday by KQED.

"The Napa County District Attorney’s Office is also prosecuting Rogers for 28 felony counts over the numerous pipe bombs, and unregistered assault rifles authorities allegedly discovered inside his business, home and RV. He is also being charged with converting firearms into machine guns," correspondents Alexandria Hall and Julie Small gleaned from court documents. "If the case goes to trial, Rogers faces a statutory maximum of 45 years in prison. Copeland faces a statutory maximum of 25 years, if convicted on all charges."

Although the attorneys representing Rogers and Copeland declined KQED's requests to interview their clients, the reporters did successfully gain access to various public records as well as individuals that knew the would-be bombers, from which their profiles could be assessed.

"What emerged is a portrait of friends united by rage who found community within an obscure anti-government militia," wrote Hall and Small. "But one kept his affiliation quiet, while the other proudly displayed his allegiance."

Rogers and Copeland were members of lesser-known appendages of neo-fascist fringe organizations, Hall and Small uncovered, noting that "at the time of his arrest, Rogers told law enforcement he was a member of a 'prepper group' called 3UP, a California offshoot of the Three Percenters, court filings show. Detectives also found a bumper sticker on one of Rogers’ vehicles of the III% symbol: three lines encircled by 13 stars."

Threats levied by right-wing zealots against their perceived political adversaries are nothing new in the modern-day United States. But Hall and Small revealed in their analysis that what took the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice by surprise as they dug deeper into the foiled attack was the prevalence of "violent extremist activity" throughout Northern California, and the predominant lowest common denominator was the January 6th, 2021 Capitol insurrection.

"Since the spring of 2020, the FBI’s investigations of suspected domestic extremists have more than doubled, according to the U.S. Department of Justice," they wrote. "And just over a year after hundreds of people stormed the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the certification of the presidential election, the DOJ announced it was creating a special unit to address 'the threat posed by domestic extremism.'"

The statistics are alarming.

"The Justice Department arrested and charged more than 725 people for their alleged involvement in the insurrection. KQED found that at least 40 were from California," Hall and Small explained, "including Evan Neumann, a Mill Valley resident charged with 14 counts, including assaulting Capitol police. Neumann fled to Europe, crossing through pre-war Ukraine and successfully claiming asylum in Belarus, according to The Washington Post."

That was far from an isolated case.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Jon Blair of the agency's San Francisco field office told KQED that "it's not just the number of incidents that has gone up in California, but also the number of people involved and the severity of violence."

For example, Hall and Small obtained data from the Southern Poverty Law Center indicating that 45 white nationalist gangs "including four militias" – such as the "III% United Patriots, III% Defense Militia, California Three Percenters, the original Three Percenters, Oath Keepers, and West Coast Patriots" – have had long-confirmed presences in the Golden State.

“There are actors who are predisposed towards these acts of violence, who are violating federal law and who are adhering to ideology,” Blair said. “They didn’t just come into existence after 2020, right? I do think they were a little more emboldened now because the rhetoric has become so pervasive and so loud in our culture.”

The challenge in tracking and dispersing those groups, however, is that kanoodling with them even while they casually muse about overthrowing the government is constitutionally protected free speech. Their followers' pursuits of weapons and ammunition are also shielded by the Second Amendment. Only when someone breaks the law can action be taken.

“We don’t care what you believe, because we’re not allowed to care what you believe, no matter how reprehensible those beliefs may be,” said Blair. “It’s only if your beliefs or your ideology are motivating you to commit an act of violence — that’s when you would suddenly become of concern to us.”

Tips from eyewitnesses are therefore critical in curtailing potentially dangerous behavior before it manifests.

“There are people who are looking left and right and realizing that this is not necessarily the world we want to live in,” Blair contended. “I think we are getting more reports from individuals who happen to be near people who are spewing the ideology and taking steps towards those violent acts, saying, ‘No, not here, not on my turf, not around me.’”

The full story continues here.

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