A neo-Nazi ex-convict and his white supremacist girlfriend were convicted yesterday in federal court of hatching an elaborate plot to bomb Jewish and African-American targets in Boston and across the nation to spark "a racial holy war."
Leo Felton, 31, and Erica Chase, 22, were arrested before assembling a potentially devastating fertilizer bomb and embarking on Felton's plan for "Aryan Unit One," a Boston-based underground revolutionary cell to eliminate what Felton called "mud people" - Jews, blacks, Asians, and other minorities.
After the court clerk read the verdict, Felton, who faces a minimum 35-year prison sentence, bowed his head and cried. But he quickly collected himself and smiled at his lawyer as the 12 jurors filed out. Chase rolled her eyes and whistled softly.
The federal investigation that unraveled the bomb plot - Felton and Chase had 50 pounds of ammonium nitrate in their North End apartment, enough to make a potent fertilizer bomb - "averted a potentially very damaging and horrific act that could have cost many innocent lives," US Attorney Michael Sullivan said after the verdict was returned in US District Court.
"The tragedies of Oklahoma City and later Sept. 11 remind us that terrorism, foreign or domestic, is a sad reality," said Sullivan, adding that Felton and Chase's political beliefs, "no matter how offensive or perverse, were never on trial here."
The jury of five men and seven women took just five hours to convict Felton of all 11 counts he faced, including conspiracy to bomb, bank robbery, and counterfeiting.
Chase was convicted of five charges, including a bombing conspiracy charge and obstruction of justice, and was acquitted of one counterfeiting charge. She faces a minimum of eight years in prison. A sentencing date has not been set for either defendant.
US District Judge Nancy Gertner said after the verdict that she would seriously consider overturning a gun conviction against the pair that carries a minimum sentence of five years on top of the other sentences, calling that particular charge a "stretch."
"We got a good decision from the judge," Felton's lawyer, Lenore Glaser, said after the verdict.
Earlier in the day, Felton attempted to address the judge, saying he should not have yielded to Glaser when she persuaded him this week not to testify in his own defense.
"It's my neck on the block, not hers," he said.
He also said he should have had a separate trial from Chase.
Gertner, however, told Felton to be quiet and submit any comments he had in a written statement through his lawyer.
During the quick-paced, two-week trial, federal prosecutors wove an account of a flurry of criminal activity binding Felton and Chase from the time he was released from a New Jersey prison in January 2001 until he and Chase were arrested by Boston police in April 2001.
To finance the "subterranean" terror cell planned through scores of prison letters and hundreds of telephone calls, Felton and Chase passed counterfeit money Felton made on a home computer. With a jail buddy, Felton robbed a Boylston Street bank and planned an armored car heist in New Jersey that was never carried out.
With friends, he discussed murdering the heads of the DreamWorks movie studio, including Steven Spielberg; assassinating the Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton; attacking minority organizations with nerve gas; and blowing up the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Ultimately, however, the prosecution convinced the jury that Felton and Chase had violated the law by building a bomb, owning handguns, and running a counterfeiting operation, regardless of the political beliefs that drove them.
"The story of how they ended up in this federal courtroom, instead of a footnote in the history of extremism, is a bizarre one," Assistant US Attorney Theodore Merritt told the jury. "But in their zeal to advance their white-power agenda, they broke a number of routine and conventional criminal statutes."
The trial afforded a rare glimpse into the underworld of white supremacists working in and out of prisons across America. According to trial testimony, Felton honed his beliefs in Aryan separatism and supremacy in New Jersey prisons, where he grew close to Wesley Dellinger, head of the East Coast Aryan Brotherhood.
With the words "skin head" already tattooed on his scalp, Felton - who has a black father and a white mother - bonded quickly with other neo-Nazis. He eventually joined the White Order of Thule, an organization that blended precepts of Norse mythology with racist ideology.
Chase, a member of the World Church of the Creator, had been writing to prisoners and helping them smuggle in neo-Nazi literature. She and Felton had a prolific correspondence leading up to April 2001, when Chase joined Felton in Boston.
Her friend, James Niemczura, 19, testified that before Chase moved to Boston, she told him "they were going to burn off their fingerprints with hot oil and assume the identities of missing children. They were going to go around and be terrorists."
An off-duty Boston police officer arrested Chase and Felton after he caught Chase passing a counterfeit $20 at a Dunkin' Donuts on April 19, 2001. Within days, federal agents from the Secret Service, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, and the FBI discovered a cache of bomb parts, a gun, and neo-Nazi paraphernalia in a North End apartment shared by Chase and Felton.
"This should be a reminder that those who try to effect social change through terrorist acts may be right here amongst us, homegrown Americans," said Tom Powers, assistant special-agent-in-charge of the Boston FBI office.
Robert Leikind, head of the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said hate groups have grown increasingly sophisticated by using the Internet to forge national networks.
"There are people with college degrees who come from homes with middle-class upbringing who find themselves drawn to these ideas," he said. "It's important that people appreciate these aren't games."
Thanassis Cambanis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org