GBI: ‘Hate rhetoric is not a crime’


Though it may feel to some like terrorism and anti-government activities have increased everywhere, state and local law enforcement officials say that is not necessarily true in Georgia.

One of the most recent case of terrorism that GBI Director Vernon Keenan recalls involved the four elderly men convicted two years ago of plotting over coffee to make ricin so they could kill Atlanta-based federal agents and judges and attack the government they hated so much. Two of them pleaded guilty and a jury in federal court in Gainesville convicted the other two.

Also in 2014, a former Fort Stewart soldier was sentenced to life in prison for murdering a 17-year-old girl and her boyfriend to protect an anti-government militia group he and others had formed inside the military.

And last August, three Rome men were sentenced to 12 years in prison for plotting to use “weapons of mass destruction” to attack the Transportation Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“There’s been an anti-government environment out there for the past decade,” Keenan said Monday. “I don’t know that it’s increased. I think it’s been pretty constant.”

Groups calling themselves “militias” are fairly common in Georgia. They view themselves as patriots and defenders of the Constitution; indeed, many adopt the name “militia” because the Founding Fathers used that word in the Second Amendment. Militias typically are well-versed in the use of firearms, but forming a militia and training with guns are not illegal. In public statements, some of these groups downplay any animus they may have toward the federal government and say they stand for personal liberty and self-reliance.

Keenan’s comments came on the second day that anti-government activists have occupied the headquarters at a National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. They are protesting a federal appeals court’s ruling that the trial judge should have given two local ranchers longer prison sentences for setting fires on federal land. The ranchers, Dwight Hammond, 73, and Steven Hammond, 46 — have said they accepted the appeals court decision and would report to prison and they do not want help from the protesters from outside of Oregon who have taken over the refuge.

Keenan said calls to Georgia law enforcement from concerned citizens — even those who live in other states — seem to increase after news accounts of crimes by anti-government groups and somehow citizens link those activities to terrorism by radical Islamic groups. Keenan said the tips are passed on to the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which includes the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and is led by the FBI.

Keenan said the GBI has no open investigation.

“There has to be some kind of criminal activity,” he said. “Rhetoric does not fall into that territory. Hate rhetoric isn’t a crime. It’s protected by the First Amendment.”


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Manhattan condo strips Trump name from building
Manhattan condo strips Trump name from building

A 46-story condominium in New York City has stripped the Trump name off its entrance, WABC reported. >> Read more trending news  Trump Place, located between 69th and 70th streets on Riverside Boulevard in Manhattan, will now be known as 200 Riverside Boulevard, The New York Times reported. The residents of the 377-unit Upper...
Momentum builds for local control in South Cobb
Momentum builds for local control in South Cobb

More than two dozen residents stopped by the new Mableton Square one recent sunny afternoon to chart a future for the small park they hope will become the seed for a revitalized city center in the South Cobb community. Next door sits the gleaming new Mableton Elementary School, and down the road a bit are the old railroad tracks that slice through...
Illinois dad designs Beetlejuice costume for son with cerebral palsy
Illinois dad designs Beetlejuice costume for son with cerebral palsy

An Illinois boy with cerebral palsy is unable to dress himself, but that won’t prevent him from having fun on Halloween. >> Read more trending news  Anthony Alfano, 9, of Melrose Park, will be dressed in a costume his father makes from scratch, WLS reported. This year, Anthony's costume will showcase the waiting room scene from...
Norfolk Southern CEO talks potential Atlanta move as  Gulch vote nears
Norfolk Southern CEO talks potential Atlanta move as  Gulch vote nears

The CEO of Norfolk Southern told employees Thursday the company is looking to consolidate its headquarters in Atlanta, “but only if many aspects can be resolved,” the Virginian-Pilot newspaper reported.  Though the company had previously discussed a potential consolidation of its operations, the comments by CEO James Squires were...
Executive’s lifestyle under scrutiny as duped investors wait for money
Executive’s lifestyle under scrutiny as duped investors wait for money

Christopher and Connie Brogdon’s asset list suggests the pinnacle of Atlanta prosperity. The couple’s $5 million residence near the top of the St. Regis offers stunning views from one of Buckhead’s most elite addresses. They can pick from a Lexus SUV, a BMW coupe and a Porsche Panamera to navigate the city’s traffic. For trips...
More Stories