ATLANTA — Four men in Georgia intended to use an online novel as a script for a real-life wave of terror and assassination using explosives and the lethal toxin ricin, according to court documents.
Federal agents raided their north Georgia homes Tuesday and arrested them on charges of conspiring to plan the attacks.
Frederick Thomas, 73; Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68, appeared in court Wednesday but indicated they needed more time to prepare for a bail hearing, which was scheduled for next week.
The men wore glasses and had graying or white hair, and had trouble hearing a judge during the proceedings, even though she was using a microphone.
Relatives of two of the men said the charges were baseless. Their public defender declined to comment at the hearing.
Court documents accused the men of trying to obtain an explosive device and a silencer to carry out targeted attacks on government buildings and employees. Two of the men are also accused of trying to seek out a formula to produce ricin, a biological toxin that can be lethal in small doses.
Thomas' wife, Charlotte, told The Associated Press that the charges were "baloney."
"He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country," she said. "He loves his country."
Thomas, who is portrayed as the ringleader, talked of modeling the actions on the online novel "Absolved," which involves small groups of citizens attacking U.S. officials, according to court documents. It was written by former Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh, who wrote on his blog Wednesday that his book was fiction and said he was skeptical a "pretty geriatric" militia could carry out the attacks the men were accused of planning.
Vanderboegh told AP his novel was a "useful dire warning" about what could happen if the federal government encroaches too far on the rights of armed citizens. Vanderboegh said he is trying to warn the federal government to back off before violence occurs, yet he also believes a civil war is possible.Story: FBI: Four militia members plotted to attack buildings, release poison
"My reason for everything I write is that there are a number of people in this country who have been pushed back and will not be pushed anymore," he said.
Investigators said the four men took several concrete steps to carry out their plans. Thomas is accused of driving to Atlanta with a confidential informant to scope out federal buildings that house the IRS and other agencies.
During the trip, Thomas at one point said to the informant: "There's two schools of thought on this: go for the feds or go for the locals. And I'm inclined to consider both. We'd have to blow the whole building like Timothy McVeigh," according to court documents.
He and Adams also arranged to buy what they thought was an explosive device and a silencer from an undercover agent. The men were arrested days after a lab test confirmed they had trace amounts of ricin in their possession, authorities said.
"While many are focused on the threat posed by international violent extremists, this case demonstrates that we must also remain vigilant in protecting our country from citizens within our own borders who threaten our safety and security," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates.
Federal investigators have monitored the group since at least March 17, when a confidential source recorded a meeting of the fringe group at Thomas' two-story house in Cleveland, a small town in the mountains of north Georgia. Thomas boasted of making a "bucket list" of government employees, politicians, businessman and media members that he felt needed to be "taken out."
At the meeting, Thomas said: "There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that's highly, highly illegal: Murder," according to the court records.
Relatives of the Georgia men said they're shocked over the charges.
Thomas' wife, Charlotte Thomas, called the charges "baloney."
"He spent 30 years in the U.S. Navy. He would not do anything against his country," she said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.
Roberts' wife, Margaret Roberts, said she and her two children were in disbelief over the charges.
“I don’t know these people,” she told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I can’t say anything about them, but I know Dan. Dan wouldn’t hurt a fly. And he is not anti-government. He respects the law.”
No attacks were ever attempted. Federal officials say the men were disrupted before they could act on the plot.
At least two of the suspects are former federal employees, court records show.
Adams used to work as a lab technician for a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency known as the Agricultural Research Service. Court documents say officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that another suspect, Crump, worked there in the past for a contractor that did maintenance at the Atlanta-based agency.
The court records do not provide a timeline for when the men worked for the agencies, nor do they offer further details on their roles and responsibilities.
On Sept. 17, prosecutors say Crump was recorded by a confidential informant as saying he would like to make 10 pounds of ricin, which would be simultaneously placed in several U.S. cities. Prosecutors say possible cities mentioned were Washington; Newark, N.J.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Atlanta and New Orleans and Crump suggesting the ricin could be blown out of a car speeding down an interstate highway.
The group had been talking about "covert" operations since at least March, according to court records, discussing murder, theft and using toxic agents and assassinations to undermine the state and federal government.
At one meeting, investigators say, Thomas openly discussed creating a "bucket list" of government employees, politicians, corporate leaders and members of the media he felt needed to be "taken out."
"I've been to war, and I've taken life before, and I can do it again," he told an undercover investigator, according to the records.
Thomas and Roberts are accused of buying what they believed was a silencer and an unregistered explosive from an undercover informant in May and June. Prosecutors say he discussed using the weapons in attacks against federal buildings.
Thomas is accused of driving to Atlanta with a confidential informant on May 24 and scoping out an Internal Revenue Service building there and an ATF building "to plan and assess for possible attacks," the indictment states.
"We'd have to blow the whole building, like Timothy McVeigh," Thomas said during the Atlanta trip, referring to the man executed for bombing a federal building in Oklahoma City, the indictment states.
Adams, meanwhile, is accused of showing an informant the formula to make ricin and identifying the ways to obtain the ingredients.
This story includes information from The Associated Press, NBC News and msnbc.com staff.