Doggart Trial: Jury hears last phone calls leading up to arrest

Doggart Trial: Jury hears last phone calls leading up to arrest

February 10th, 2017 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Robert Doggart arrives on July 13, 2015, at the back entrance of the Joel Solomon Federal Building in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

Robert Doggart

Robert Doggart

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

When it came to discussing the destruction of Islamberg, Robert Doggart talked a big game on the phone. But his tone started to change the night before he was arrested in April 2015, prosecutors said Thursday.

"I'd rather have us not be the instigator of this, unless we have absolute intelligence of the threat," Doggart, 65, told an acquaintance of his idea to burn down the mosque in the Muslim community near Hancock, N.Y.

It was just past 11 p.m. at his home on Signal Mountain in Sequatchie County, Tenn. And for at least the third time on April 9, 2015, Doggart was extolling his fear that the residents of Islamberg were either going to poison the Delaware River or launch a full-scale attack on New York City.

"That's why I'm going to Hancock, N.Y., tomorrow," Doggart said. "Information, I'm going to take photographs, meet the mayor, meet the police people and all that stuff."

Doggart, who ran for Congress in 2014 and spent two decades working for the Tennessee Valley Authority, never made that trip. As it turned out, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents had been listening to his phone calls and following him for a month. And they didn't like what they'd heard.

No evidence existed of plans by the Muslim residents of Islamberg to attack, according to authorities. But Doggart 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 for openly discussing using assault weapons on community members who resisted him, prosecutors say.

Prosecutors, who have been playing recorded phone calls to jurors all week, will finish up their case when the trial resumes Monday at 9 a.m. But on Thursday, they focused on Doggart's final moments of freedom before his arrest.

An hour before the 11 p.m. call to his acquaintance, prosecutors said, Doggart touched base with William Tint, a conspirator in South Carolina who claimed to have demolitions experience. Tint has since pleaded guilty to lying to federal agents and received three years' probation, news accounts show. And on April 9, 2015, their conversation foreshadowed both of their eventual fates, prosecutors said.

"We met here in Chattanooga to talk about the, uh, plan," Doggart said on the call. "So, I guess, now when we start talking about this stuff on the phone, we have to be careful with our words."

"Apparently," Tint replied, "because I've gotten sucked into an FBI watchlist."

"I'm sorry," Doggart said. "Say that again please?"

"I found out I'm on an FBI watch list," Tint repeated.

James Smith, an FBI special agent, told the jury that Tint wouldn't have been able to access that official information online. But in the phone call, it prompted the South Carolina man to ask a critical question: "Are we actually positive that the right agencies know about what [Islamberg] is planning on doing?"

Doggart stumbled in his response, saying his fears were "non-confirmed" and "that's what the recon is about, obviously."

Although his defense attorneys had not yet been able to present their own evidence, they maintained that Doggart embellished several details about the attack on the phone. For instance, Doggart shared specific details about guns and tactical positions and getaway plans to family members, and they either didn't take him at face value or seemed bemused, attorney Garth Best said.

Furthermore, Doggart wanted 10 people to join his mission, most of whom he'd been recruiting from right-wing militia pages on Facebook, prosecutors have said. But in late March, Doggart only had three confirmed supporters, and one of them was the confidential informant who was working for the FBI, Best said. And time was of the essence, since Doggart was considering attacking before April 15, 2015.

Earlier on April 9, 2015, prosecutors said, Doggart attended an afternoon meeting at the City Cafe in Chattanooga with the confidential informant and two other supporters, Shane Schielein and Sally McNulty, an area real estate agent.

"That meeting," Best asked Thursday, "who set that up?"

"Shane Schielein and the confidential source," Smith said.

"And who invited Robert Doggart?" Best asked.

"The confidential source," Smith said.

The FBI investigated Schielein, one of the 10 people suspected of engaging with Doggart's plan, Smith said. McNulty, who declined to discuss the meeting over the phone, was not charged in connection with the plot.

During the meeting, while Doggart and the confidential informant were pulling up downloaded maps of Islamberg, McNulty asked if anyone was aware of the training camp in nearby Cleveland, Tenn.

"That's what I want to discuss," said Schielein, who at one point in the conversation added, "Let's not — — each other, there's no peaceful Muslim movement."

"I'm pretty in the loop on stuff going on around here," Doggart said. "We don't know of anything going on up there [in Cleveland]."

Meanwhile, the confidential informant was recording everything. And because Doggart said he was leaving the next day for New York, FBI agents decided to make a move on him then, Smith said.

Not wanting to encounter his stockpile of weapons, the FBI had Signal Mountain authorities lure Doggart into the station for arrest. Earlier that year, Smith said, Doggart called local authorities, concerned that a bus he saw was transporting undocumented immigrants across the country. It turned out to be an unfounded accusation, but served as the basis of their ruse.

"Today, they stopped a bus, and it was kind of in relation to what you were talking about," an officer told Doggart on the phone. "I know you've got a lot of insight on this and I was wondering if you could possibly come down and talk to me about it."

"You bet, you bet," Doggart replied.

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