Nov. 2, 2011— -- Four senior citizens accused of plotting terror attacks on the federal government appeared in court today in shackles and struggled to hear what the judge was saying.
The suspects, who all had gray or white hair and wore glasses, did not enter a plea. Instead they asked for more time to prepare for a bail hearing.
The men named in the charging documents, Frederick Thomas, 73, of Cleveland, Ga., and Toccoa, Ga., residents Dan Roberts, 67, Ray H. Adams, 65, and Samuel J. Crump, 68, were all members of a fringe militia organization, according to investigators.
During their court appearance today, several of the defendants had trouble hearing the judge although U.S. Magistrate Court Judge Susan Cole was using a microphone.
Despite their age, the defendants were shackled in court.
In court documents the FBI said the men referred to themselves as "the covert group," and met several times throughout the year to discuss killing federal employees with rifles, explosives and ricin, a dangerous toxin that can be extracted from castor bean seeds using acetone and lye.
An undercover agent recorded several of the meetings, including one in April where Adams said, "The first ones that need to die is the ones in the government buildings."
The former U.S. Department of Agriculture lab technician added, "When it comes down to it, I can kill somebody."
Thomas was reportedly fascinated with the online novel "Absolved" which centers around a small group of citizens attacking federal employees.
"Now of course, that's just fiction, but that's a damn good idea," he said during a March meeting recorded by an undercover investigator. He also laid out his "bucket list": all of the government employees who should be "taken out."
"There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly, highly illegal. Murder. That's f**king illegal, but it's got to be done," he said.
That's when Roberts brought up ricin.
Crump, who used to perform maintenance services at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eventually told the undercover agent he wanted to make 10 pounds of ricin and "put it out in different cities at the same time: Washington, DC, maybe Newark, N.J., Atlanta, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., New Orleans."
Distributing the biological toxin was simple, he said, "All you got to do is lay it in the damn road, the cars are going to spread it."
When making ricin, he advised the agent, the trick was "to know where the wind's coming from. You can't be … yonder and go down wind. That s**t's going to follow you," he said. "There's no cure for it [ricin] once it gets into your lungs. You're gone. You can kiss it goodbye."
By April, Thomas was telling one of the FBI's confidential informants about the illegal weapons they wanted to buy, providing a long list firearms, silencers and explosives. And in May, he began surveying buildings in Atlanta, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the IRS, as potential targets.
"I am of the, uh, old school, Mafia; one behind the ear with a .22 is all you need," he said at the time. "Of course a .40 Smith and Wesson or .45 ACP is just as good, even better, cause it makes the whole head explode."
Thomas' wife, Charlotte, told the Associated Press the charges against her husband were "baloney."
"He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country," she said.
Roberts' wife, Margaret, was similarly indignant, telling the AP her husband lives on pensions and, "He's never been in trouble with the law. He's not anti-government. He would never hurt anybody."
In October , however, Thomas and Roberts participated in an email exchange with an undercover agent where they decided to pool their money together to buy an explosive device.
That same month, Adams and Crump both showed the undercover agent a storage bin full of castor beans outside Adams' home.
They gave one of the beans to the undercover agent who then had it tested to verify that it was in fact a castor bean and that it tested positive for ricin. At the end of the month Adam shared his recipe for ricin with the undercover agent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.