SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Two Bay Area men were indicted in San Francisco federal court Thursday, charged with conspiring to firebomb John L. Burton Democratic headquarters in Sacramento after the 2020 presidential election, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to court documents, 45-year-old Napa resident Ian Benjamin Rogers and 37-year-old Vallejo resident Jarrod Copeland started planning their attacks on targets they associated with Democrats in the wake of the 2020 Presidential election, seeking support from an anti-government militia group.
According to the indictment, the defendants planned to use incendiary devices to attack their targets and hoped their attacks would prompt a movement.
Rogers has been in state custody since his arrest in Napa on Jan. 15.
Copeland was arrested Wednesday and made an initial federal court appearance Thursday morning in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. Copeland will appear next on July 20, 2021, for a detention hearing. Rogers will appear next on July 30, 2021, for a status conference.
"Firebombing your perceived political opponents is illegal and does not nurture the sort of open and vigorous debate that created and supports our constitutional democracy," said U.S. Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds. "The allegations in the indictment describe despicable conduct. Investigation and prosecution of those who choose violence over discussion is as important as anything else we do to protect our free society."
"The FBI's highest priority has remained preventing terrorist attacks before they occur, including homegrown plots from domestic violent extremists," said special agent in charge Craig Fair. "As described in the indictment, Ian Rogers and Jarrod Copeland planned an attack using incendiary devices. The FBI and the Napa County Sheriff's Office have worked hand-in-hand to uncover this conspiracy and to prevent any loss of life."
The indictment described how Copeland and Rogers used a variety of messaging applications and discussed the attacks on numerous occasions. In late December 2020, Copeland told Rogers he contacted an anti-government militia group to gather support for the movement.
In January 2021, Rogers told Copeland, "I want to blow up a democrat building bad." Copeland agreed, replying, "I agree" and "Plan attack." The pair agreed to start with the Democratic Headquarters in Sacramento and to "see what happens."
In one exchange, Rogers wrote to Copeland, "After the 20th we go to war," meaning that they would initiate acts of violence after the inauguration on Jan. 20, 2021.
According to court documents, on Jan. 15 -- just four days after that exchange and five days before the trigger that Rogers and Copeland identified as the start of their campaign of violence -- law enforcement officers searched Rogers's home and business and seized a cache of weapons from Rogers's home, including 45 to 50 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and five pipe bombs. Rogers was taken into custody.
Copeland allegedly also attempted to destroy evidence of the plan. After Rogers's arrest, Copeland communicated with a leader of a militia group who advised Copeland to switch to a new communications platform and delete everything he had. Copeland agreed and when law enforcement obtained Copeland's devices on January 17, Copeland's communications with Rogers were missing.
Additional government documents filed by officials argued that the defendants understood they would be viewed as domestic terrorists and hoped that attacks might start a movement to overthrow the government. In November of 2020, Rogers allegedly used encrypted messaging applications to tell Copeland that he would "hit the enemy in the mouth" by using Molotov cocktails and gasoline to attack targets associated with Democrats.
In addition to firebombing the Democratic Headquarters Building in Sacramento, the men planned to target the Governor's Mansion. FBI officials have previously said Rogers had plans to attack Twitter and Facebook as well.
Rogers and Copeland are both charged with conspiracy to destroy by fire or explosive a building used or in affecting interstate commerce. Rogers is charged with additional weapons violations, including one count of possession of unregistered destructive devices, and three counts of possession of machine guns. Copeland is charged with an additional count of destruction of records.
"The rhetoric that he is espousing on his chat that talked about all the hate and discontent he had if Trump didn't win the election, people take that seriously today," said KPIX security analyst and former FBI agent Jeff Harp. He believes someone on the inside came forward to authorities.
"These domestic terrorism cases are usually initiated by an undercover operation or an informant or somebody tipping somebody off," Harp said.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years imprisonment, a three-year term of supervised release, and a $250,000 fine for the conspiracy charge. Additionally, Rogers faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for the weapons charge and Copeland faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the destruction of evidence charge.
A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. Rogers also faces numerous state charges arising out of his possession of the pipe bombs and machine guns, and his possession of assault rifles prohibited under California law, and is being prosecuted for those offenses by the Napa County District Attorney's Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Riebli of the Northern District of California and Trial Attorney David Cora of the National Security Division's Counterterrorism Section will be prosecuting the case against the two defendants.
A release issued by the U.S. Department of Justice said the FBI's San Francisco Field Office is investigating the case, with assistance provided by the FBI Sacramento Field Office and Napa County Sheriff's Department.
© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Andrea Nakano contributed to this report
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