This week marked the start of the trial of a Sequatchie County, Tenn., man accused of planning an assault on a small Muslim community in New York.
Signal Mountain resident Robert Doggart, 65, faces one count of solicitation to commit arson of a building, one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation, and two counts of threat in interstate commerce, records show.
On Monday, jurors heard from prosecutors that it was an FBI informant who first caught wind of his alleged plan. He had worked for the FBI for 16 years on public corruption, drug seizures and terrorism cases.
"I am in El Paso, Texas," the informant wrote in a message to Doggart, saying he had spotted several "Middle Easterners" in a village near the Rio Grande River. Seeking Doggart's advice, the informant asked him how to "target that village completely." Then, he signed off his February 2015 message with a name he often used on his social media, "Sangre de Lobo."
The informant's first name was also "Robert," and he would speak on the phone with Doggart at least six times over the next month and a half. They would discuss the weather — and the type of weaponry they should carry on a recon mission to a small Muslim community in upstate New York called Islamberg. Doggart was concerned that its members were planning to poison the Delaware River, or possibly attack New York, and he wanted more information about the 40-acre community that remains home to many blacks of Muslim faith. Law enforcement officials have said they are not aware of any such plans for an attack.
Prosecutors introduced those messages and phone conversations Monday in Chattanooga's federal district court downtown, hoping to prove to jurors that Doggart is guilty of planning an assault on Islamberg. During his trial, expected to last a week, federal prosecutors will call two more FBI agents, they said.
Doggart was talking to the informant at the same time he was sending messages to other like-minded individuals, FBI agent James Smith said. Doggart told the informant there were "23 of these things," meaning terrorist cells, across the country, according to Smith. Then, later that night, Doggart said they could make the 10-hour drive to New York and meet with public officials. Three days later, he started mentioning guns, like an M-4 and his shotgun, "the meanest [one] on Earth."
During one of the conversations, the confidential informant asked about the others involved in the operation. In the call, Doggart alluded to a group of 10.
After each call was played in the courtroom, one of Doggart's three attorneys, Garth Best, got to cross-examine special agent Smith.
The informant, Best pointed out, created a narrative about "Middle Easterners" to elicit conversation with Doggart. And, he insinuated, the informant primarily reached out to the government because he was motivated by money and had been paid "a little over $250,000" over his career.
"So, if he doesn't get them to talk, he doesn't get paid?" Best asked Smith.
Best also got Smith to reveal that the informant died of a heart attack shortly after the Reapers group on Facebook outed his identity in November 2015. By this time, Doggart was fighting his case while under house arrest. Four months earlier, protestors said that a Muslim accused of a similar crime would have been held behind bars.
"They started making threats," Smith said of the informant. And to help, the government approved a $10,000 lump sum, which ultimately passed to the informant's family when he died, Smith said.
The case continues today in U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier's courtroom, where the prosecution plans to introduce more evidence against Doggart.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeter firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zack peterson918.