photo: Boone County Sheriff's Department
The Department of Justice proudly announced the first FBI terror arrest of the the Trump administration on Tuesday: An elaborate sting operation that snared a 25-year old Missouri man who had no terrorism contacts besides the two undercover FBI agents who paid him to buy hardware supplies they said was for a bomb — and who at one point pulled a knife on him and threatened his family.
Robert Lorenzo Hester of Columbia, Missouri, didn’t have the $20 he needed to buy the 9-volt batteries, duct tape, and roofing nails his new FBI friends wanted him to get, so they gave him the money. The agents noted in a criminal complaint that Hester, who at one point brought his two small children to a meeting because he didn’t have child care, continued smoking marijuana despite professing to be a devout Muslim.
One of the social media posts that initially caught the FBI’s attention referred to a group called “The Lion Guard”. Hester told one of the undercover agents the name came from “a cartoon my children watch.”
But according to the DOJ press release, Hester had plans to conduct an “ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack” on President’s Day that would have resulted in mass casualties had it succeeded.
News reports breathlessly echoed the government’s depiction of Hester as a foiled would-be terrorist. But the only contact Hester had with ISIS was with the two undercover agents who suggested to him that they had connections with the group. The agents, who were in contact with him for five months, provided him with money and rides home from work as he dealt with the personal fallout of an unrelated arrest stemming from an altercation at a local grocery store.
Hester, who had briefly enlisted in the US Army before being discharged in 2013, had posted images of weapons and a flag sometimes associated with terrorist groups on a social media platform. He had also written “Burn in hell FBI” and “Brothers in AmurdiKKKa we need to get something going here all those rednecks have their little militias why shouldn’t we do the same.” In another post, he asserted that ISIS was created as part of a conspiracy by the United States and Israel.
Hester was arrested by local police in October after getting into a dispute with his wife in the parking lot of a grocery store, allegedly damaging store property. The FBI complaint says that when store employees confronted Hester “he assumed an aggressive stance, forcefully placed his hand into the diaper bag he was carrying, in a manner that appeared to be reaching for a weapon.” Police, they said, later recovered a 9-millimeter handgun from the diaper bag.
Hester was taken into custody and released 10 days later, placed under electronic monitoring and subject to drug testing until his court appearance.
According to the complaint, the FBI undercover agent began communicating with him a day before he was arrested, and continued after Hester left jail — commenting on Hester’s anti-government social media posts (which included news articles about a US military strike in Yemen) and offering to help Hester with his expressed desire of “hitting [the government] hard”. The agent told Hester that he knew some individuals he had met recently who shared these ideas.
In subsequent private messaging conversations, Hester told the agent that he wanted to do something to hurt the US economy, adding that “we need some big help.” The agent offered to introduce Hester to “some brothers” who could assist.
The agent also “raised the subject of firearms,” sending Hester pictures of assault rifles that “the brothers” had transported for someone else recently.
The complaint reports that a few weeks later, the first agent set up a meeting for Hester with a second agent, who posed as someone with direct terrorist connections. The meeting was in an FBI car. Hester brought his two young children, which he said “could not be avoided, given his child care responsibilities that day.”
“I don’t like America, like for my kids,” Hester said, according to a recording.
On November 30, the second undercover agent gave Hester a ride home from his job and gave him $100, telling him that “this is one job that one brother is supposed to do to another….it’s my duty to make sure that the brother is okay.” Two days later, the agent gave him a ride home from work again. Hester said he “was thinking about oil lines, hitting oil pipelines and oil markets,” or targeting “computer systems and stuff.”
Fair Use Excerpt. Read the rest at the Intercept.