A group of four United States Army soldiers who stand accused of killing a former brother-in-arms and his girlfriend committed the crime to keep their secret militia group under wraps, prosecutors in a Georgia court said on Monday. The soldiers, who are all stationed at Georgia’s Fort Stewart, are all members of FEAR—Forever Enduring Always Ready—an armed group with ambitions that plotted domestic terror attacks and stockpiled weapons as part of an elaborate scheme to overthrow the government, prosecutors said.
One of the Fort Stewart soldiers, Pfc. Michael Burnett, pled guilty to manslaughter and illegal gang activity on Monday, and testified as to the nature and aims of the plot. Dressed in his Army uniform in the court room, Burnett backed up claims made by the prosecutors, which allegedly included a scheme to assassinate President Barack Obama.
While much is yet to be resolved, The Daily Beast rounds up what we know.
Who are they?
The four soldiers accused in the two murders were all on active duty at Fort Stewart. Pfc. Michael Burnett, Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, Sgt. Anthony Peden, and Pvt. Christopher Salmon have been charged with the murders of another soldier, Michael Roark, and his girlfriend Tiffany York. While not much is yet known about the men, Gawker reported on Tuesday that Aguigui looks like and shares a name with a man who was a page at the 2008 Republican National Convention. It has not been confirmed that they are the same person. Aguigui’s father, Ed Aguigui, told the Southern Poverty Law Center that he doesn’t “know what my sons view’s are, and where they came from.”
Long County prosecutor Isabel Pauley said in court that Aguigui described himself in a taped interview conducted by military investigators as “the nicest cold-blooded murderer you will ever meet.”
The four accused soldiers, as well as their alleged victim, all served together in the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. It is there they met and allegedly became involved in the militia. Pauley said members of the militia wore the same tattoo, which allegedly is similar to an anarchy symbol. The militia looked to recruit “soldiers who were in trouble or disillusioned,” prosecutors said, and the total members the militia had remains unknown.
What did they plan?
According to prosecutors, the four men plotted to seize control of the base where they were stationed, and also plotted acts of terror at nearby locations, including the bombing of a park in Savannah, Georgia. The group’s schemes reached across the United States, prosecutors said, and included the poisoning of apple crops in the state of Washington and the bombing of a dam in the Evergreen State. But their grandest ambition, the prosecutors said, was to overthrow the entire government of the United States, in part by assassinating their commander in chief.
How were they going to do it?
The how is almost as staggering as the what in this case. Pauley said that Aguigui was bankrolling the operation with half a million dollars in insurance payments that he received when his wife, who was pregnant at the time, passed away last year. The group used that money, Pauley said, to purchase more than $85,000 worth of arms and armaments, including assault rifles and explosives. Aguigui also allegedly purchased plots of land in Washington state for the militia’s use.
Why did they allegedly commit murder?
According to Pauley, the four targeted and killed Roark and his girlfriend because they thought he had betrayed the militia and its members. Burnett, the soldier who testified against the three other defendants in court, said that on Dec. 4 of last year the four alleged murderers took the two victims out to the woods near the base. Tiffany York, 17, was shot and killed while getting out of the car she was driven to the scene in, Burnett said, and Roark was shot execution style. Burnett said that Aguigui called the killings a “loose end.”
How was the alleged plot uncovered?
A military spokesman said that the Army mounted its own investigation into the killings of Roark and York, filing charges in March of this year that it then never acted on. “Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield does not have a gang or a militia problem,” Kevin Larson, a spokesman for the military base, said in a statement. He said that an Army investigation into the case does remain open, however. The four defendants stand charged in Georgia with murder, felony murder, criminal gang activity, using a firearm while committing a felony, and aggravated assault. The district attorney said that charges have not been filed so far in federal court.