Monday's protesters called 63-year-old Robert Doggart a terrorist.
"Doggart is a terrorist, just like ISIS," a group of more than 80 American Muslims chanted outside federal court in Chattanooga.
Doggart, who is white, pleaded not guilty at his Monday arraignment to one charge of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation. Authorities believe he spent months gathering weapons and plotting an assault on a small Muslim community self-named "Islamberg" just outside of Hancock, N.Y.
Protesters traveled from Islamberg and from other states demanding that Doggart, a resident of Sequatchie County, Tenn., on Signal Mountain and a 2014 congressional candidate, be charged with a hate crime and kept behind bars for his alleged plan to burn Islamberg's school and church.
Federal agents became aware of Doggart early this year and began surveillance, and a local judge authorized a wiretap of his telephone in March, according to court documents.
In a call recorded March 17, Doggart told a woman, "we're gonna be carrying a M4 with 500 rounds of ammunition, light armor piercing, a pistol with 3 extra magazines and a machete. And if it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds."
Doggart was taken into custody in April and released on a bond of $30,000 to home detention in May. If convicted, he could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, along with a $250,000 fine and three years of probation.
Bryan Hoss, Doggart's lawyer, said Social Security disability records show his client has depression and a personality disorder, but is not a danger. Hoss wrote that Doggart has no prior criminal record, according to court documents.
During Monday's hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee turned down a motion to have Doggart detained, saying the charges against him have not been upgraded since he was released on bond and that he can remain at home until his trial begins Sept. 21.
National groups have been protesting the magistrate's decision to allow Doggart to remain at home with his family, saying racism is allowing him to be treated with leniency.
"If a Muslim was planning this type of thing, he would have been brought up on charges. He would have been in a Guantanamo Bay-type of imprisonment. Instead, Doggart was put on house arrest," said Matthew Gardner, head of public relations for the New York-based Muslims of America.
But at the time of the bond decision, U.S. District Judge Curtis R. Collier wrote, "because the chief concern is that Defendant may want to travel to New York to inflict harm on people or destroy buildings, the home detention and location monitoring, along with being in the custody of family members, should go a significant way toward ensuring Defendant does not pose a danger."
Home detention is not as strict as home incarceration, and Doggart is able to leave his house for work, education, religious services and court appearances. Lee told attorneys representing the U.S. that since Doggart is complying with these restrictions there was no need to detain him.
"He has not pleaded guilty to anything," Lee said in court. " I don't see anything that would warrant a change."
During the hearing, Khadijah Smith, who lives in Islamberg and is assistant chief executive for the Muslims of America, sat with a group of fellow Muslims in the front two rows of the courtroom. The group watched as Doggart walked into the courtroom, dressed in a black suit and red tie.
Doggart rarely glanced at the women in hijabs and the men in kufis, who he is charged with planning to attack, and instead stared straight ahead at the judge.
Smith said it is hard to understand why a man who never visited the community or knew its residents personally would want to kill them.
"We don't know him," she said shaking her head. "Why would he hurt us?"
Smith said she wanted to see Doggart placed in jail, saying "we want justice from our country."
Outside of the courtroom, protesters remained peaceful and organized, as local law enforcement and homeland security personnel stood nearby watching.
Kabah Raheem, a leader at the Chattanooga Islamic Center on Central Avenue, was at the rally with some members of that congregation, and said that as a Muslim he is called to stand for justice.
"Justice is supposed to be blind," Raheem said. "It isn't supposed to see color or religion I want the blindfold to be put back on justice."
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592.
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