Authorities have accused an Ohio man of threatening terrorism by leaving an expletive-laden message on an Iowa high school's answering machine to force the cancellation of an emergency training drill, authorities said Friday.
Robin Elston, 47, of Columbus, was charged with one count of threatening terrorism and one count of making threats, Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker said.
The proposed March 26 drill involving police, firefighters and other first responders was designed to feature an enraged teen shooter who was venting his anger over illegal immigration. The exercise drew criticism from groups opposed to illegal immigration who said the fictitious emergency scenario had a political agenda because it featured a teenage white supremacist gunman.
"If you are smart, I wouldn't go to work tomorrow, or today. Cause maybe your little training exercise might come into reality," the caller said in the message to Treynor High School in Treynor in southwest Iowa.
Officials traced the March 25 call that was left at 2:19 a.m. to Elston's cell phone and notified Columbus police. He was brought to Iowa on Thursday.
The message prompted authorities to cancel the drill.
Danker didn't know why Elston might have made the call.
"He really hasn't spoken with us yet," Danker said. "He talked to the Columbus (police), and he admitted making the call but he couldn't remember what he said."
Danker said he didn't know how Elston learned of the proposed drill, about 775 miles from his home, but that the county's emergency management agency and the school had received a large number of emails from people "expressing their opinion about this exercise and the scenario."
Exercise director Doug Reed had said the county incorporated the immigration issue into the training scenario to secure Department of Homeland Security funding. To qualify, Reed said, the exercise needed to be about terrorism.
Department of Homeland Security spokesman Chris Ortman had no comment Friday on Elston's arrest. In an email, Ortman said the department provides grants to states, which then distribute the funds to local agencies. Specific exercise scenarios are not dictated by the federal government, but rather developed at the state and local level.
Elston appeared Friday in Pottawattamie County District Court, where bond was set at $10,000. He remained in the county jail late Friday afternoon.
Online court records for his case do not list an attorney.
Danker did not know if Columbus police were familiar with Elston. He has no record in the Ohio prison system.
Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research with the Anti-Defamation League, said he was not familiar with Elston.
"It seemed to be a reaction to news of this incident getting out in the blogosphere," Pitcavage said. "There are far more people out there who can be disgruntled or who can work themselves up over something that they read than there are full-fledge extremists."