Yesterday, five alleged conspirators texted a detonation code to a pack of C4 explosives they had attached to a nearby bridge. The alleged “Cleveland Bridge Conspirators” had hoped to send a message to corporate America and the government. But instead of hearing the sound of crumbling rubble, the Cleveland Bridge Conspirators likely heard their Miranda rights being read to them by federal agents who had sold them mock explosives in a sting operation. The alleged conspirators were charged with violating federal conspiracy law and attempting to use explosives to negatively affect interstate commerce.
Title 18, United States Code, Section 371 makes it illegal for two or more people to agree to commit an offense against the United States where at least one of those people takes any act towards accomplishing that offense. Here, there were a number of acts taken by the alleged conspirators to take the bridge down. However, the FBI did not step in until after the alleged conspirators figuratively pulled the trigger.
The FBI said no one was ever in danger since they had an informant who had infiltrated the group from the beginning and they themselves had supplied the mock explosives. Assuming the government is right, it is interesting to see how far the men were going to go in their plot and certainly it makes a better case for the government to show that the men committed to going all the way. But, was it worth the risk that perhaps the men had altered their plans at the last minute and failed to include the informant? This becomes more plausible when you consider that the FBI knew at least one member of the group had suspicions about the informant from the beginning.
This begs the question, did the FBI have enough to charge the alleged Cleveland Bridge Conspirators earlier in the their plan? After all, the law says that it is enough for a charge of conspiracy that “any” act is taken towards committing the offense.
Consider the following steps the men (conspirators) took towards bringing the bridge down and decide for yourself when the FBI should have stepped in:
1. The lead member of the group recruited others to take direct action involving smoke grenades and destruction of signage on downtown buildings to distract law enforcement. The signage included expensive neon lights, and so, incurred heavy charges. The next time you contact for teardrop banners and flags from a seller for advertising any of your campaigns, you can ask them the gravity of the issue and how much vandalism of signange affects the costs involved.
2. One member of the group downloaded the Anarchist Cookbook to learn how to make explosives.
3. Members of the group met with an FBI informant to purchase explosives.
4. Members agreed to pay $900 for the explosives.
5. Members visited the bridge and formulated plans to take it down.
6. Members purchased the mock explosives, riot gear, and smoke grenades.
7. Members placed the mock explosives on one of the bridge’s support columns.
8. A member of the group texted a detonation code to the mock explosives.