A mentally ill Vietnam War veteran who has spent much of the past three decades in prison or psychiatric hospitals said he meant to send a message the recent night he was arrested outside a Michigan mosque, just not the violent message authorities say he intended.
In his first public interview since his Jan. 24 arrest outside the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Roger Stockham, 63, told The Associated Press he meant to spray-paint "Crazy Horse 18" _ a message protesting the Iraq war _ on the mosque's exterior wall. But he said he didn't intend to use the powerful fireworks he had with him to attack the building or those worshipping inside, as prosecutors have alleged.
"I have a history of making threats of explosions," Stockham said during the 30-minute interview at the Wayne County Jail. "If I wanted to do that I would've had no problem doing that."
Stockham has been involved in several violent incidents since returning from Vietnam after a stint as a commercial pilot in Indonesia. Stockham went to prison for planting a bomb at a Reno, Nev., airport in 1985. He tipped off the FBI, which disarmed it. And by then, he had already held a psychiatrist at gunpoint for several hours, kidnapped his own son, tried to hijack a plane, crashed a plane, and set fire to buildings. More recently, he threatened to kill the president.
Police say when they arrested Stockham during a traffic stop, he had 96 fireworks in his car, including M-80s and smoke bombs, as well as alcohol and a ski mask they say he was wearing when officers first spotted him. Witnesses said hours earlier at a nearby bar, Stockham sipped Scotch and bragged about how he was going to cause an explosion at the mosque.
Stockham, who had been living the Imperial Beach, Calif., has pleaded not guilty to the charges of making a false report or threat of terrorism, and possessing explosives with an unlawful intent.
Family members, friends and doctors have described Stockham being able to function in larger society when taking his medication for bipolar disorder and abstaining from alcohol. During the interview, he seemed lucid and said he's been taking his bipolar disorder medication. He has also been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
He said that despite being locked up, he feels "better than I've been since the war."
"I feel much more at peace with what I've done," he said.
Stockham said he bought the fireworks while driving out from California, and that he only found out they were illegal in Michigan after his arrest. He called the charges he faces "absurd."
"Crazy Horse 18," he said, was a reference to the call sign used by a U.S. Apache helicopter crew during a 2007 attack in Iraq that killed several people, including a Reuters photographer and his driver. Wikileaks posted leaked classified video of the attack last year on the website "collateralmurder.com." The U.S. military concluded that the troops acted appropriately, despite having mistaken the camera equipment for weapons.
Stockham, who converted to Islam while living in Indonesia, said he was angry that the government didn't do more to investigate the attack. He said his choice of the Dearborn mosque, and the obscurity of his intended message, "might've been a step too far." But he said wanted to grab people's attention with an anti-war message that was brief and ironic.
"Here are good, now American Muslims, having enough money to build such a beautiful building," he said. "Their tax dollars helped buy the bullets fired by (the US helicopter in Iraq)," he said.
Wayne County prosecutor's office spokeswoman Maria Miller said Thursday that she couldn't comment on Stockham's statements or the case.
A judge last month denied a prosecutors' request for Stockham to undergo a mental health examination. Stockham's attorney Matthew Evans has said his client is "eccentric" but not insane.
Federal probation officials in Vermont have filed a petition seeking Stockham's eventual return, alleging he violated the terms of his 2005 release after he served three years in prison and a psychiatric hospital for making threats. But they declined to say which terms they believe he violated, and the document is sealed.
One of the terms of Stockham's 2005 release was that he refrain from drinking, which he admitted during the interview that he was doing in the hours before his January arrest.
Joe Nahhas, a manager at a Detroit bar, testified in February that Stockham nursed a Scotch while talking about setting off a "big explosion" at a mosque, which Nahhas took to mean the nearby Islamic Center of America.
Nahhas said he was so disturbed by Stockham's rambling that he called 911 and the FBI, which said a tip from the public led to Stockham's arrest.
Stockham said the bar manager "totally blew out of proportion what I tried to say to him."
"I said `event.' He was translating it into `explosion,'" Stockham said. "I had to (say) over and over, `spray can, graffiti.' ... I said nothing about blowing up anything.
"I planned to do it at night," he said. "I would've ordered another drink but finally he became such a nuisance I left."