Tip Leads to Sting, Prison for Plotter
Demetrius Van Crocker told an undercover agent he wanted sarin nerve agent and C-4 plastic explosives, like those pictured above, for his plot
The details sounded ominously familiar:
a down-and-out loner with a professed hatred
of the U.S. government dreams of bombing
a government building—maybe even the
U.S. Capitol—then sets about procuring
the ingredients to carry out his scheme.
That was the plan hatched by Tennessee farmer
Demetrius Van Crocker, whose views were no
secret to people who knew him. But most discounted
his extremist rants as just that, the ideological
ravings of a former member of the right-wing
National Socialist Movement.
Then in 2004, Van Crocker’s plan crystallized—he
would buy materials to build a dirty bomb
to blow up a state or federal courthouse.
At that point a “concerned citizen” took
him seriously enough to call the Tennessee
Bureau of Investigation, which in turn called
“We thought there might be something
to it,” said Special Agent Daryl Berry,
who opened the case in September 2004 out
of the FBI’s office in Jackson, Tennessee.
That set in motion an undercover sting that
would reveal just how real today’s
threat of domestic terrorism is—and
why it remains a top FBI priority.
Berry’s office wired a “cooperating
witness,” whose recorded conversations
with Van Crocker confirmed his interest in
building a dirty bomb to blow up a courthouse.
The witness told Van Crocker he could put
him in touch with a supplier—an undercover
agent posing as a sympathetic military contractor
with access to explosives and biological
“At first he basically came out and
said, ‘I don’t know you. How
do I know I can trust you,’” said
the undercover agent, who met three times
with Van Crocker. “But he was highly
motivated. If you really want something you
will go against your best judgment.”
Convinced his supplier was legit, Van Crocker
told the undercover agent he wanted sarin
nerve agent and C-4 plastic explosives. The
agent said he would need $500 upfront to
bribe a guard at an Arkansas weapons arsenal.
Van Crocker gave him the money and then set
up a meeting in a hotel where the transaction
would take place.
FBI agents were waiting when Van Crocker
showed up on October 25, 2004 to close the
deal. The undercover agent, toting a bag
of wrapped plastic explosives and an inert
canister of the sarin agent, met Van Crocker
and the agents closed in.
A search of Van Crocker’s home turned
up components for pipe bombs, a cache of
loaded weapons, and right-wing paraphernalia.
It took a jury 90 minutes to convict Van
Crocker in April on five counts of trying
to acquire chemical weapons and explosives
to destroy government buildings. He was sentenced
November 28 to 30 years in prison.
The case stands as an example of how far tips
from the public go toward protecting the U.S.
from terrorists, abroad and at home. The undercover
agent said as much: “I’m firmly
convinced that had he come into possession
of the right stuff he would have done something.”
Stories From the FBI Field Offices | Counterterrorism Stories