Robert Doggart and Tom Lineaweaver both fancied themselves independent politicians in need of running mates for the then-upcoming presidential election, prosecutors said. So it wasn't too strange they ended up on the phone together in March 2015.
What was strange, and even dangerous, federal prosecutors said this week, was the plot that Doggart, 65, began to describe to Lineaweaver, involving burning down a mosque in Islamberg, a 70-acre commune for blacks of Islamic faith in Hancock, N.Y.
Prosecutors have played several such phone calls between Doggart and would-be supporters since Monday, when jurors assembled in Chattanooga's downtown federal district court to determine whether the former Tennessee Valley Authority engineer is guilty of planning the assault. The former 2014 congressional candidate, who lives on Signal Mountain in Sequatchie County, Tenn., 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.
"They've got a camp," Doggart began in the March 20, 2015, phone call, as Lineaweaver listened from Pennsylvania. "There's about 140 people in there, and 40 of them are supposed to be fighters."
Like he had done in other wiretapped phone calls that month, Doggart reiterated his belief that Islamberg's members were either planning to poison the Delaware River or launch a full-scale attack on New York City.
"They want to take 40 men in vans, with no windows, and disperse themselves in four locations around the city and kill as many people as they can before they're killed," he said.
The worst part, Doggart added, was that the Federal Bureau of Investigation knew about it, but "had been ordered to stand down." And the National Security Agency and Homeland Security were in on it, too, he said.
"The whole bunch of them have been ordered to stand down," Doggart said in that call. "And unless somebody goes up there and burns down their buildings and kills whoever opposes the burning down of those buildings, [Islamberg] is gonna do that."
"Um," Lineaweaver replied. "Hmm."
Lineaweaver, who said Wednesday he remembered talking to "that quack," ended up counseling Doggart against the violent attack.
But Doggart continued to recruit people from Facebook militia groups for his mission, prompting authorities to arrest the self-described Christian minister in April 2015 before he could carry it out, federal prosecutors said. While his defense attorneys cannot present proof until the government rests its case, they have suggested Doggart often was blowing smoke during those phone conversations to appear tough while dealing with former military members.
That didn't stop the government from playing more recordings Wednesday. While Doggart failed to earn Lineaweaver's support, he found solace two days later in a conversation with a militia-minded man from South Carolina - William Tint.
Doggart told Tint they needed to move quickly, since a Texas militia called "Operation American Freedom" was planning a symbolic uprising on April 15, 2015, which happened to be tax day, special FBI agent James Smith said.
"So that's what you've got," Doggart said, outlining his concern that Islamberg was planning to attack. He wanted 10 men for his operation but had only four, he said in the recorded call.
Law enforcement officials have said they have never found any evidence to support the belief that the residents of Islamberg were planning an attack.
"I don't know when it's going to happen," Doggart said, "but it's got to be -"
"I have two cousins that are captains in police departments out in New York as well," Tint interjected. "If you're a man short, I will jog out there and stand by you.
"Senator Doggart, how do you feel about being my running mate?" Tint asked.
Tint offered to provide 50 men from South Carolina and another 150 from New York, and said he had experience in demolitions, and agreed the men should meet. Tint also had experience leading the Operation American Freedom militia, Smith said.
Tint ultimately pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents about the plot and received three years' probation in June 2016, news accounts show. Meanwhile, attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud, who is representing Islamberg in a civil lawsuit against Doggart, said community members have been watching the week-long trial and uncovering more of the conspirators whom Doggart tried to recruit.
"We are seeking a permanent injunction against Dr. Doggart from coming to our communities," Amatul-Wadud said. "Only two people have been [arrested] in this crime. But if you listen to the transcripts, [Doggart] communicated with at least seven people. We are taking note because perhaps there are people we need to investigate ourselves from a civil perspective."
U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier said the trial will continue today at 9 a.m. Attorneys are expected to delve into a meeting that Doggart arranged at City Café in Chattanooga shortly before his arrest in April 2015.