A federal judge scuttled a plea agreement reached between prosecutors and attorneys for a former congressional candidate who plotted to massacre Muslims in a community identified by conservative media as a terrorist training camp.
Robert Rankin Doggart pleaded guilty in May to one count of interstate communication of threats and faced up to five years in prison.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Collier ordered attorneys who worked out the plea arrangement to show that Doggart’s plot was actually a “true threat,” reported The Chatanoogan.
“(The government) has not shown by clear and convincing evidence defendant's release would pose an unreasonable danger to the community or any particular individual,” Collier ruled.
A federal magistrate then reversed her earlier ruling and allowed the 63-year-old Doggart to go free until the case is resolved.
Investigators said Doggart, who ran as an independent last year for Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District seat, tried to recruit militia members to join his planned attack on a school and mosque in Hancock, New York.
Doggart plotted the attack with several people, including an FBI informant, in recorded phone calls and discussed his plans in Facebook posts.
“When we meet in this state, the people we seek will know who we are,” Doggart said in one recorded phone call. “We will be cruel to them, and we will burn down their buildings. If anyone attempts to harm us in any way, our stand gunner will take them down from 350 yards away. The standoff gunner would be me.”
Doggart – who had gathered an M4 rifle, explosives, and armor-piercing bullets – traveled to Greenville, S.C., to meet with a militia member to recruit “gunners.”
“If there’s a gun fight, well there’s a gun fight, and I want to come home because I love my family and I want to see my kids again,” Doggart told the militia member. “But I also understand that if it’s necessary to die, then that’s a good way to die.”
Collier gave attorneys 21 days to file briefs that showed whether the recorded threats and other evidence described in the plea agreement amounted to a “true threat,” which federal law requires under the criminal code.
Prosecutors argued that both the government and Doggart’s own attorneys agreed that the former candidate’s actions represented such a threat.
Federal Magistrate Susan K. Lee initially agreed that Doggart, an ordained minister of the Christian National Church, was a danger to the community and a potential flight risk -- and she ordered him held without bail until his sentencing.
But she later reversed her ruling after Doggart’s attorneys argued that he had overcome his addiction to prescription pain medication and no longer drank alcohol.
The magistrate ordered Doggart to be released into home confinement in the custody of two family members, undergo psychiatric treatment, avoid using alcohol or drugs, and participate in substance abuse treatment.
The federal judge rejected prosecutors’ appeal and ordered Doggart released from jail.
Two members of The Muslims of America, which is headquartered in Hancock, wrote to the judge last month to object to the plea agreement.
“We find it ironic and disappointing that Mr. Doggart stated during his terror attack planning that he wished not to die while killing the residents of Islamberg, and instead he wished to return home to the family he loved,” the group said in its letter.
“Now he is indeed home under house arrest and being cared for by the family who provides him love and comfort,” the group said. “Where is the punishment for his evil and criminal actions?"