Did a confidential informant entrap Robert Doggart, encourage him to attack a Muslim community, and collect a nice bonus from the federal government in the process? Or did the Sequatchie County, Tenn., man solicit people on the internet over the course of two months and threaten to burn down Islamberg's mosque in New York with explosives?
Beginning today at 9 a.m. in Chattanooga's U.S. District Court, jurors must decide for themselves.
Doggart, a former engineer at the Tennessee Valley Authority and a 2014 congressional candidate arrested in 2015, 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. After playing several wiretapped phone calls the 65-year-old made to would-be supporters, federal prosecutors rested their five-day case on Monday.
During their only chance to present evidence, Doggart's defense attorneys called two family members. Christy Doggart Atkinson said her father specialized in non-destructive testing at TVA and received two presidential lifetime awards for completing 8,000 hours of community service. Shortly after her first son was born in 1993, Atkinson said, her father acted altruistically by rushing to help a neighbor whose home had been struck by lightning.
"Have you listened to the tapes?" U.S. attorney Piper Perry asked the Hixson woman.
"Not in detail," she said. "I've heard some of the content."
Was that the father she knew? Perry asked.
"That is not normal conversation," Atkinson replied. "My father wanting to ensure our country's safety, that is the same."
Since Feb. 6, when his trial began, defense attorneys have argued that Doggart sincerely believed residents of Islamberg were either planning to poison the Delaware River or launch an attack on nearby New York City in spring 2015. Attorney Jonathan Turner touched on that point further in closing arguments, saying the government prodded Doggart into planning the attack through a confidential informant. The problem was, Turner said, Doggart never conducted reconnaissance on Islamberg, like he wanted to, and like he had peacefully done with a Muslim community in Dover, Tenn., months earlier.
"We believe the case is here today because the government pushed the defendant into committing a crime," Turner said, adding that Federal Bureau of Investigation agents coached the informant on what to say to Doggart at every juncture.
"They're telling him what to say, what to do," he said. "They tell him to meet Doggart in Nashville, then Chattanooga at the City Cafe. My client showed up 55 minutes late to that meeting."
Turner appealed to the jury — six men, six women, all white — by listing a number of celebrities who promised to move to Canada if Donald Trump was elected president but never did.
"Even when we have a discussion, and the condition comes true, we don't always follow through with it," Turner said.
Federal prosecutors retorted that Doggart had planned his mission since late January 2015. And when he started discussing the use of explosives, it was simply good law enforcement to stop the alleged attack, they said.
It didn't matter if he exaggerated the facts, if he didn't have 10 men like he wanted, or if authorities didn't find the night goggles and cold-weather gear Doggart bragged about when they raided his house in April 2015, prosecutors said. What mattered, U.S. Attorney Perry Piper said, was that Doggart made true threats intended to intimidate Islamberg.
"His plan was to gather people to help him burn down a mosque," Piper said. "He claims it's all conditional on recon. But what's the next thing out of his mouth every time? Burning it down."
Using the image of a seed, Piper encouraged jurors to see how Doggart planted horrible ideas in the minds of his supporters. Specifically, he pointed to the City Cafe meeting on April 9, 2015, where one out-of-towner suggested, "Why don't we poison their water supply?"
"Here is their worst-case scenario," Piper said. "We go in there, they're innocent, and we kill them anyway."
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zack peterson918.