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Ricin kooks hit the big time

One of America's weirdest subcultures, the white male ricin kook, is big news today, folks! It's the geriatric Atlanta ricin beans gang, caught by the FBI with one making the absurd claim that he'd just get up on the highway and throw it out of the car. Danger!


Uh, sorry to spoil the party. Not so much really.


To rehash, from NBC last night:

Four Georgia men in their 60s and 70s were arrested Tuesday, accused of being members of a right-wing militia group that plotted to attack federal office buildings and to disperse a deadly biological poison in Atlanta.


Their alleged plot was revealed to the FBI by a confidential informant last spring, and members of the group have been meeting since May with someone they thought was a black-market weapons dealer but who turned out to be an undercover federal agent, according to court documents ...


The documents say the men, Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland, Ga.; Dan Roberts, 67, Ray Adams, 65, and Samuel Crump, 68, all of Toccoa, called themselves "the covert group" and began in March to talk about staging attacks against federal targets including the IRS ...


They allegedly obtained a silencer from [an]undercover agent and plotted to buy explosives. Crump claimed he could produce ricin, a deadly biological agent, and talked about dispersing it from a car driving on an interstate highway, according to court documents.


"Ya get on the trunk of Atlanta, you get up on the north side, ya get on 41, ya throw it out there right on 285, ya go up 41 or 75, go up 75 to get away from it. Keep the heater on, that way keeps the pressure out. Don't roll your window down," he told the informant, according to court documents.


One man, a glorified janitor. Another, a "lab technician."


Efficacy of plan? Non-existent.


What happens when someone throws a box of rat poison into the wind on a highway? Nothing. (Or "dispersing ricin from an airplane in the sky over Washington.")


Stated in basic English: You can't purify enough ricin from handfuls of castor seeds and it's not quite toxic enough to make such plans even work a little. As in, maybe, making some random rabbit or ground hog feel sick.


So why do people believe making a biological weapon is as easy as grinding seeds into a powder and throwing it out the window of a speeding car?


Because they've read about how allegedly easy it is and watched it in episodes on dramatic tv for the last ten years. And they've believed all the rubbish.


Why can I say this?


Because years ago I made a thorough study of the ricin recipes used by guys like this. They all come from the survivalist far right fringe in old weird America -- Eighties and early Nineties vintage -- the black helicopter crowd angry at New World Orders, the Fed, the tyrannical US government, you know the drill.


None of this is new. And this tiny American subculture wrote its own samizdat literature on how to take the war to its many enemies, published in books and pamphlets like the Weaponeer, The Poor Man's James Bond and The Poisoner's Handbook. And these publications, circulated widely at gun shows, were put into electronic form so everyone could have them. And they all carried ricin recipes.


And the recipes don't do anything but grind and degrease castor seeds into a dry powder. Which contains a small amount of ricin but which is not suitable in any way as a weapon of mass destruction.


At GlobalSecurity.Org, I discussed and wrote about these things many years ago here, here and here.


If you want the unvarnished truth, this is what you read. It's detailed and thorough.


That archive led to the author being asked to consult for a famous London anti-terorism trial in which ricin, or the lack of it, was at the center of the case.


That's a story from another time.


However, as for today, when you get right down to it, the accused -may- have had aspirations to use ricin. But there is nothing indicating they could employ it in any way and a good deal of indication that those interested in it were incompetent as to the real nature of the poison.


Take this absurd claim, attributed to one of the accused, published by NBC:


At the meeting, Thomas said: "There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly, highly illegal: Murder," according to the court records.


Roberts, who attended several meetings, mentioned in May that he knew a former U.S. Army soldier who was a "loose cannon" who may be able to help them make ricin that the group could disperse in major U.S. cities. Crump and Adams were assigned to try to obtain or make the lethal toxin, and Crump was recorded in September saying he would like to make 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) of the substance.


It's not clear from the court documents exactly how the men obtained the trace amounts of ricin.


An informant who met Adams' at his home in October saw lab equipment and a glass beaker, and a bean obtained by the informant was later tested by state officials as positive for ricin.


This is bog standard ricin kooks fare. It varies not a bit from the sorry tale of American men who've fiddled with small amounts of castor seeds over the last decade and been caught by the law. (An archive on such things, maintained by this author, is here.)


The fellows expose themselves as mean and worthy of scrutiny but out to sea when it comes to ricin.


Make ten pounds of ricin? Never been done. Ricin is a protein. Isolating pure proteins results in tiny amounts of active material. Proteins dislike being ground, pounded, put out in the sun and air -- in general -- being taken out of their source. They denature.


They could grind ten pounds of castor powder. Anyone can, actually.


However, these days, ordering enough castor seeds to do that (unless you have your own field of castor) draws the attention of the FBI and Homeland Security.


And those are facts, Jack.


But being spied with a beaker, just one castor seed or ten, and a trace ricin finding sets defendants up for the charge of taking a step in making a weapon. A conviction on this means hard time. And everyone who has been charged with such things in the last few years has been sent over.


Number of ricin attacks during the last decade: Zero.


Number of people perhaps sickened by ricin in last decade in this country: One, Roger von Bergendorff, a man who was sent to prison for grinding castor seeds.


This post was originally published at Dick Destiny blog.


 
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