Tennessee man who planned attack against Muslim community sentenced to 20 years in prison

Tennessee man who planned attack against Muslim community sentenced to 20 years in prison

June 14th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Former Tennessee Valley Authority engineer Robert Doggart is escorted from the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building in Chattanooga after his four count conviction of planning an attack on a Muslim community.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

A former Tennessee Valley Authority engineer who was convicted of soliciting people to attack a Muslim community was sentenced to a maximum 20 years in prison Wednesday.

Calling him a distinct "danger and threat to the citizens of the United States of America," U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier ordered Robert Doggart to serve a 235-month sentence and have a mental health evaluation.

"You are not a monster," Collier told the 65-year-old man. "I have never sentenced a monster. In many respects, you lived a life of honor. But you're not standing here to be sentenced for that."

Prosecutors said Doggart, a former 2014 congressional candidate, believed a Muslim town called Islamberg near Hancock, N.Y., was a terrorist training camp focused on attacking New York City or poisoning the Delaware River. Law enforcement has said no evidence supports that conclusion. But dead-set on his belief, Doggart tried to recruit political outsiders from right-wing social media sites between January and April 2015 to attack the 70-acre commune. Among them, however, was a confidential informant who began taping their conversations. The idea was to create a "flash point," for homegrown militias to rebel against the federal government, which Doggart believed was going to impose martial law on April 15, 2015, prosecutors said. And it fit squarely into the definition of terrorism: to influence government decisions through intimidation.

"It's not just a war with Islam or Islamberg," explained Saeed Mody, a prosecutor from the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division. "It's a war with the federal government."

Prosecutors never charged Doggart with terrorism. But they sought Wednesday to convince Collier that many factors should be used to enhance Doggart's sentence. While Doggart was convicted in February of one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation, one count of solicitation to burn down a mosque, and two counts of threats via interstate, Collier threw a curveball earlier this month when he agreed with defense attorneys to dismiss two of the guilty verdicts. That reduced the maximum punishment Doggart faced from 40 years to 20 years.

Specifically, prosecutors wanted to use federal guidelines that would increase Doggart's sentence for hate crimes, terrorism, and being the leader of his plot. Collier denied the last request, questioning why the government never brought conspiracy charges, but agreed to the other two factors.

Defense attorneys, who declined to comment afterward, countered Doggart never committed a violent crime in his life, suffered from a narcissistic personality disorder, and hung with a political crowd that fueled his ego. FBI agents never found any evidence he'd packed his clothes or planned to leave for New York after Doggart was arrested April 10, 2015, attorney Leslie Cory said.

She called four witnesses who said Doggart had a habit of saying things for "shock value" and attention and never following through. He never harbored any racial animosity toward others but seemed unhinged sometimes. One family member explained how, about 15 years ago around the time of his divorce, he called her at work, saying he had slit his wrists.

Doggart denied everything when confronted by family members about the episode, which turned out to be a fabrication.

"I do not believe he would have ever committed an act of violence," said Theresa Lee, one of his daughters. "However, he embellishes and uses a lot of verbiage most would roll their eyes at."

Lee glanced at the defense table where Doggart was seated. "Sorry, dad."

When he had an opportunity to address the court, Doggart mentioned a plea deal he entered into with prosecutors in 2015 that Collier later rejected. Prosecutors promised to not to bring more charges if he agreed to those terms, Doggart said.

"That is a lie," Doggart said Wednesday, referencing the stronger, four-count indictment grand jurors returned against him a year later.

Doggart put three exhibits on the court's projector system: One detailed "the inverse law of Jihad," the other was an essay against grand jury systems, and a third showed a flow chart that challenged the government's understanding of his plan.

Doggart, handcuffed and wearing a light-blue jumpsuit, read definitions for the words "plan," "solicitation" and "threat." He estimated the government spent $3.1 million surveilling him for a few months. He said supervised release was cheaper per year than prison. He said he never hated Islam and was targeted for his demographic as an old white male. And he insisted the FBI's confidential informant called him 14 times and that he only called him back three times because he'd missed some messages.

"Meetings would have never occured otherwise," Doggart explained of the confidential informant's involvement.

He ultimately apologized, to his family and to the residents of Islamberg.

"I read your letters," Doggart said, before explaining that he only wanted to ensure Islamberg wasn't planning to attack New York. "I request your forgiveness. Please, please."

Perry Piper, an assistant U.S. attorney in Chattanooga, said the government didn't ask for a specific sentence, "but we want something substantial given the lack of remorse, the blame shifting."

"The defendant wants to say everyone else is at fault. The FBI — if they'd just talked to him, everything would be OK," Piper argued. "How can one fault the people of Islamberg for thinking he was a danger when he kept telling people he was?"

Collier, who agreed to release Doggart on home detention in May 2015 to some criticism, told the 65-year-old his speech made it hard to trust him.

"How can I as a judge, bound to uphold the law, trust in you?" Collier asked. "Your comments about demographics? Judges have to do things based on the law. Many people were displeased when the court let you out on bond. You're going to be displeased by the court's sentence."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.

---

A judge has sentenced Robert Doggart to nearly 20 years in federal prison on one counts of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and one count of solicitation to burn down a mosque. 

Doggart was given the maximum penalty he faced of 235 months, or 19.5 years. 

PREVIOUSLY:

Attorneys spent the morning debating which enhancement factors should apply to Robert Doggart's sentence. U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier hasn't handed down a sentence yet for Doggart's two counts of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and solicitation to burn down a mosque. 

But he has heard arguments from defense attorneys and federal prosecutors on four major topics. 

Here's how they break down: 

1. Collier denied the government's request to enhance Doggart based on his position as a leader in his plot. 

2. Collier accepted the government's argument to keep Doggart's offense level at a level that probation suggested. 

3. Collier accepted the government's argument to enhance Doggart for a hate crime. 

4. Collier hasn't ruled yet on whether to enhance Doggart's sentence based on a terrorism guideline.

Collier called for a lunch break and said court will resume 

At that time, he will allow Doggart's defense attorneys to call four witnesses for five minutes apiece. 

The defense wants to keep Collier from applying the terrorism enhancement because it would increase his offense level and therefore the amount of time he has to serve. Their client has no prior criminal history. 

The purpose of the witnesses is to show Doggart didn't have racial animus in his mind and didn't want to attack Islamberg's mosque because of its religion, the defense argued. 

But prosecutors countered that Doggart wasn't just at war with Islamberg--but also the federal government.

"He was trying to influence government conduct," said Saeed Mody, a prosecutor from the Department of Justice's civil rights division, citing the definition of terrorism. 

Doggart wanted to create a flash point for militias nationwide who believed the government was trying to impose martial law on April 15, 2015, Mody said. 

The attack on Islamberg was a "diversionary tactic" that would provide cover for the uprising, he added. 

For evidence, Mody pointed to a handful of wiretapped phone calls in which Doggart discussed the militia operation and his desire to attack federal facilities. 

This is a developing story. Please check back later for more.

––– 

ORIGINAL STORY: A 65-year-old Tennessee man convicted of plotting to attack a Muslim community in New York faces 20 years in federal prison during his sentencing hearing today.

U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier will decide Robert Doggart's punishment for his solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and solicitation to burn down a mosque convictions.

The hearing begins at 10 a.m. in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court downtown.

Doggart, a former 2014 congressional candidate and Tennessee Valley Authority engineer, believed Islamberg, N.Y., was a training ground for terrorists and wanted to see for himself whether its members were planning to attack New York City or poison the Delaware River.

Law enforcement officers found no evidence of any such attack, but Doggart attempted to recruit several people from right-wing social medias between February 2015 and April 2015 to visit the roughly 70-acre commune armed.

To that end, prosecutors played numerous wiretapped phone calls in which Doggart discussed using assault weapons, machetes and demolition equipment on Islamberg, at one point referring to children as "collateral damage."

Doggart often spoke with a confidential informant for the FBI, who goaded him into a plan he never intended to carry outhis defense attorneys argued during his eight-day trial in February.

Ultimately, jurors found Doggart guilty of two counts of threat in interstate commerce, one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and one count of solicitation to burn down a mosque after deadlocking one day and asking for clarifications.

Collier dismissed the interstate commerce convictions earlier this month, agreeing with defense attorneys that Doggart never made a true threat because he didn't accomplish his goals through intimidation.

Prosecutors estimated Doggart faced 40 years maximum among his four convictions before Collier's decision; now he faces 20. They can appeal Collier's decision after the sentencing hearing today.

In the meantime, Doggart remains in federal custody in Dekalb County, Ala.