RAEFORD, N.C. (AP) — A decorated Army Reserve officer left bacon at a mosque and brandished a handgun while threatening to kill Muslims and bury them there, North Carolina authorities said Friday.
Russell Thomas Langford, 36, made death threats against members of the mosque about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville, authorities said.
"He told people at the mosque that he would kill them and bury them behind the mosque," said Capt. John Kivett of the Sheriff's Office. "He brandished a weapon while he was on the property."
Langford, who lives in Fayetteville, was charged with ethnic intimidation, assault with a deadly weapon, going armed to the terror of the public, communicating threats, stalking and disorderly conduct, the sheriff's office said.
It began Thursday afternoon when the man insulted a mosque member doing construction work nearby and then left the packages of bacon at the mosque entrance, according to authorities and witnesses.
Advocacy groups say pork is often used to insult Muslims, whose religion doesn't allow them to eat it. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations said the act constituted a desecration of the place of worship.
Witnesses say the suspect left and returned to the Masjid Al Madina mosque several times in his Chevrolet Tahoe, prompting tense moments inside while children sheltered in the back of the building. Authorities said there were no injuries.
At one point, the suspect followed one member home, resulting in the stalking charge, according to a Hoke County Sheriff's Office news release. The person tried to evade him but couldn't.
A mug shot of Langford shows him with close-cropped hair, a tattoo resembling the U.S. flag on his right forearm and a green shirt emblazoned with a military-style rifle emblem.
Authorities found several handguns and other weapons, plus about 500 rounds of ammunition in Langford's vehicle, Kivett said. He said Langford didn't make specific threats about a mass shooting other than to say he wanted to kill mosque members.
Langford made his initial court appearance Friday, posted a $60,000 secured bond and was released, Kivett said.
Since posting bond, Langford has been placed under the control of his commander on base at Fort Bragg, said Army Reserve spokesman Capt. Eric Connor. He said what Langford is charged with doing is "totally contradictory to Army values."
Langford, who works full-time as a major in the Army Reserve, served two tours in Iraq while on active Army duty and earned the Bronze Star for "outstanding dedication to duty during combat" while with a military police battalion, Connor said. He received other decorations including the Army Good Conduct Medal.
About three miles from the mosque, several people at a house listed by authorities as Langford's address declined to comment Friday afternoon. Phone listings for him rang unanswered.
The threats came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations asked authorities to investigate the case as a possible hate crime and increase patrols around the area, especially during nighttime Ramadan activities.
Ahead of midday prayers Friday, a patrol car was parked outside the mosque just off a state highway between Fayetteville and Raeford.
"We've never had a problem with anyone," said Kamal Allan of Raeford. The mosque has been there for about three decades.
The general contractor and mosque member said he was leading a crew tearing down a nearby outbuilding when the suspect drove up in the late afternoon. Allan said Langford began insulting him and using expletives while asking white crew members, "Do you know who you're working for?"
"I said: 'Don't talk to him. Don't talk to him. Just leave him alone and let the police handle it," Allan said.
Retired Army officer Mohammed Khan, who served three decades in the military, said he was delivering tables to the mosque when Langford drove up. He said he spoke calmly to Langford, who was spewing hate and eventually flashed a gun at him.
"I was kind of dismayed, shocked and in disbelief. In all of my 32 years of military service I never encountered this kind of redneck," said Khan, who still serves as a volunteer Muslim chaplain at Fort Bragg. "He told me to go back to my country. I said, 'Which country do you want me to go to? Give me the ticket and I will fly.' He said, 'No I will not give you a ticket. I will kill you and bury your body right there.'"
Khan said Langford followed another member of the mosque to that person's home.
Witness Abdu Alsaidi, another mosque member, said police were called in the late afternoon, but they didn't arrest Langford until sometime after 8 p.m.
At one point while Langford was parked out front, Alsaidi said members made children move to the back of the building for fear of an attack.
"Our life was on the line," he said. "The way he acted, he didn't care about anybody."
Drew reported from Raleigh. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Allen G. Breed in Raleigh and Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina.
This story has been corrected to show the suspect's name is Russell Thomas Langford, not Thomas Russell Langford.
This story has been corrected to remove a detail, supplied earlier by authorities, saying the suspect followed a Muslim chaplain home. Witnesses say a different mosque member was followed home.