Muslims blast handling of Tennessee mosque attack plan case

AP News
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Posted: Jul 09, 2015 7:49 PM

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Muslim groups say a judge's decision to release from federal custody a Tennessee man accused in court records of planning an attack on a mosque in New York state represents a double standard and should be revisited.

Court records show Robert Doggart, 63, was released into home detention by a magistrate judge on $30,000 bond after he agreed to plead guilty in April to plotting an attack on "Islamberg," a self-named mostly Muslim community near Hancock, New York.

Another judge threw out the plea agreement last month.

Doggart was indicted Tuesday on a charge of soliciting another person to attack the mosque. He is accused in court records of also planning to attack a school and a cafeteria, and use automatic weapons to kill residents by last April 15. Doggart wrote that Islamberg "must be utterly destroyed" and he had contacted a militia group, according to court documents.

Doggart had not been taken into custody as of Thursday.

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Doggart poses a threat to Muslims and shouldn't have been released. Other groups have echoed those sentiments.

"I think this case has been mishandled and it hasn't been treated with the seriousness it deserves," Hooper said. ""Unfortunately, this fits a pattern of cases in which no Muslim is involved and it is swept under the rug."

Hooper said he hopes this week's indictment leads federal officials to place Doggart back in custody.

"We're talking about a man who has admitted that he conspired to commit a Charleston-style massacre on a house of worship in New York," said Hooper, recalling a recent shooting that claimed several lives at an historic black church in South Carolina.

"These things are becoming all-too-common," Hooper said. "When they happen to Muslims, they tend to be downplayed or not reported at all. When a Muslim is somehow the perpetrator, it's international headlines."

Doggart's lawyer did not return repeated calls from The Associated Press.

Prosecutors said he solicited others to join in his plan through Facebook posts and through phone conversations, including one with a cooperating FBI source.

Doggart told the person on the phone that weapons such as "AR-15s, M-4s or M-16s" could be used and that he planned to bring his M-4 rifle with four magazines, according to court documents.

He pleaded guilty in April, acknowledging in the agreement that he "willfully and knowingly sent a message in interstate commerce containing a true threat" to injure someone.

"The defendant justified his attack on lslamberg by claiming that the residents of Islamberg were planning a terrorist attack," said the plea agreement, since thrown out.

In early May, Magistrate Judge Susan K. Lee ordered Doggart released from federal custody under conditions including home detention, psychiatric treatment and drug testing, refraining from possessing a firearm and posting a $30,000 bond.

Home detention required the Signal Mountain resident to be restricted to his house except for work, education, religious services and court appearances. That differs from home incarceration, which restricts someone to "24-hour-a-day lockdown," save for medical necessities and court appearances

In court documents, Doggart's lawyer Bryan Hoss has said Social Security disability records showed Doggart has depression and personality disorder, but is not a danger. Hoss wrote that Doggart has no prior criminal record.

Prosecutors appealed the release, arguing that concerns about the man's mental health remain and that Doggart posed a danger to the community. The appeal was denied.

In a June 29 ruling, U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier threw out the plea agreement, writing that it did not contain enough facts to constitute a true threat under the interstate commerce charge.

In a June 10 letter, The Muslims of America religious organization criticized the proposed plea agreement and the judge's release order, stating that home confinement left Doggart "cared for by the family who provides him love and comfort."

Max Abrahms, a Northeastern University political science professor who studies terrorism, said judges rarely throw out plea deals agreed to by prosecutors.

"He was very clear about what his intent was, and why he wanted to attack this predominantly Muslim town," Abrahms said, later adding: "So far, the treatment of this guy has been too lenient."

Abrahms said Muslims have a point when they complain about a double standard and misperceptions about Muslims. Abrahms cited a study by the New America research center that says nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists and other non-Muslim extremists in the U.S. than by radical Muslims since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Doggart ran as an independent last year in East Tennessee's District 4 congressional race, finishing with 6 percent of the vote.

He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the new charge of violating civil rights laws.