Glendon Scott Crawford was a man with a dream: He wanted to build a mobile radioactive ray gun to kill Muslims in the US.
One problem with that dream was the only people who offered to help him were FBI informants and undercover agents.
Crawford is currently being tried in federal court in New York State, and faces at least 15 years if found guilty of terrorism charges. On Tuesday the jury heard recordings of conversations between him and Chris Barker, the Imperial Wizard of the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and an FBI informant, who was taping the call.
"First, the Mexican invasion, now the Muslim invasion. They are trying to strike the death blow to American culture," Crawford tells Barker on one tape, as the Albany Times Union reported. "Technology is such that you can build a (device) and put it in the van... a couple of Klans, a couple of chapters, would have to get together."
Barker, as VICE has previously reported, is a rogue white supremacist with a long record that includes multiple DUI charges, numerous arrests for violence, and such a loathsome reputation that even other Klansman regularly denounce him. In fact, Barker was a key suspect in a 2011 defacing of a church, an incident that led to him getting kicked out of one Klan group. Yet the North Carolina man was a key component of an FBI investigation into Crawford, a complex operation that shows the drastic lengths the authorities will go to bring terrorism charges—even when their targets have little chance of following through on their hopeless plans without the financing, prompting, and encouragement of the FBI.
According to Crawford's defense attorney, the 51-year-old wasn't anywhere near creating the fantastical weapon of his dreams; all he had was a "piece of paper and an idea." (Crawford's alleged accomplice Eric Feight pled guilty in 2014 to providing material support for terrorism.) Federal agents have acknowledged in court that they didn't know whether Crawford was serious about his outlandish scheme at first—and in any case experts have said the ray gun would have been impractical even had it been constructed. Still, undercover FBI operatives kept stringing Crawford along, offering to buy him equipment so he would continue corresponding with them.
When asked by Crawford's lawyer whether the FBI encouraged Crawford to commit a crime, an agent answered, "I don't think encourage is the right word. We would allow him to do that."
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The authorities had been watching the would-be supervillain since 2012, when he approached the Israeli embassy in New York City, showed up at a synagogue and Jewish community center, and called his Congressman asking for support for his plan to build a deadly X-ray device. All contacted law enforcement. Later that year, he reached out to Barker with the idea that the KKK leader could help him.
Crawford emailed Barker, "unbeknownst to the government," according to the FBI, and the two began to collaborate. Barker became so involved that on July 27, 2012, Crawford told an undercover FBI agent he was in contact with to call Barker, according to emails obtained by VICE. "The knights [Barker's group] may have the resources to invest and bring the project to fulfillment," wrote Crawford.
Then, on August 7, Barker was arrested on unrelated federal charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, according to Forsyth County, North Carolina, law enforcement officials and sources close to the investigation against Crawford.
Three days after he was arrested, he told the cops about Crawford's scheme. "While sitting in the can, on August 10 he called the FBI and sold the government this ridiculous story about how he had information of a plot with enough explosives in New Jersey to blow up New Jersey and New York together," said one source familiar with the case against Crawford.
On August 13, the same day he was released from federal custody, Barker, while wired up by the FBI, placed a call to Crawford, and invited him down to North Carolina. (According to the criminal complaint filed by FBI Special Agent Geoffrey Kent, Crawford made this trip "unsolicited and without any government role or direction.")
The two men met—while Barker was wearing a wire—on August 24. "Everything went well hope things are good on your end... great plan," Barker emailed Crawford on August 28. " Would love to see this once great nation in our hands again. Back in the hands of White Christian Americans just like our founding fathers planned it to be. Take care Brother keep in touch Hail Victory."
In the following weeks, Barker recorded multiple conversations with Crawford, and then arranged for Crawford to meet with two men he said were wealthy KKK members who wanted to finance the nuclear weapons plot, but in fact were undercover FBI agents. In the following months the agents provided cash, bought components, and even constructed a fake terror device, according to court documents.
"Chris Barker gives the Klan a black eye." –KKK Leader Billy Snuffer
Barker apparently remains in the FBI's good graces, even though he is the chief suspect in the painting of a swastika on a synagogue in Southeastern Virginia in July 2011—a hate crime has gone curiously unpursued, according to local and federal law enforcement, KKK members, and synagogue officials.
On that Independence Day weekend, four members of the Rebel Brigades of the Ku Klux Klan attended a cross burning in rural southeastern Virginia, got drunk, drove to Danville, and desecrated the Beth Shalom Synagogue by painting a swastika on the front door.
Danville residents placed an American flag to obscure the vandalism, and local police opened a criminal investigation; the FBI was notified immediately that a hate crime had occurred.
"Chris Barker has been very high on the list of suspects for the synagogue incident since the get-go," said Danville police chief Philip Broadfoot in an interview in July.
Multiple Klan officials, others with knowledge of events that night, and four law enforcement officials confirmed to VICE that Barker was the ringleader behind the hateful vandalism. Two months after the incident, one of those who committed the crime confessed to the Rebel Brigades of the Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard and named the people responsible. The KKK group promptly expelled the four members, including Barker and his wife.
"You do not deface houses of worship—ever," said Rebel Brigades leader Billy Snuffer. "We kicked them out in the third week of September, 2011 when we found out. Chris Barker gives the Klan a black eye."
No one has been arrested for the crime, though in July 2015 the FBI listed the case as "investigation closed," according to public records.
Members of the congregation remain upset about the lack of communication on the part of the feds—the FBI did send a document to the synagogue on March 6, 2013, but it said that "a criminal investigation can be a lengthy undertaking and, for several reasons, we cannot tell you about its progress at this time."
"If the FBI told me, 'We can't do anything with it, but I can't tell you why,' as a taxpayer I would find that less objectionable than what appears to be the case that the evidence is being ignored," said Peter Howard, a longtime leader of Beth Sholom. "How much patience should I have before I conclude I am being ignored?"
Detailed messages about the 2011 incident were left with several different FBI agencies but went unreturned. It seems clear that in the years since the swastika case, Barker has become valuable to the Bureau—even if no one else shares the Feds' high opinion of him.
"God said you should always find something good in someone, but I don't think God has ever met Chris Barker," said Snuffer.
Update 8/21: Crawford has been convicted.
Nate Thayer is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and correspondent with 25 years of foreign reporting experience.