Racist planned to attack St. Paul's Mexican consulate, spur immigration debate, FBI says

Joseph Thomas, a 42-year-old Mendota Heights resident, had a sick notion of how he could get America talking about immigration issues.

According to a federal affidavit obtained yesterday by the Associated Press, Thomas told an undercover agent he wanted to steal a pickup truck, fill it with oil and gas, drive it into St. Paul's Mexican consulate, then set the inferno-on-wheels ablaze with a road flare. His hope was that the dramatic attack would get the country talking about immigration and amnesty issues ahead of November's presidential election.

Last month, Thomas and Sam Johnson, a 31-year-old Austin resident, were indicted on drugs and gun charges, respectively, and the FBI revealed that the two stockpiled weapons and ammunition while making plans to attack the government and minorities.

Thomas and Johnson have been under scrutiny for years as a result of their connection to white supremacist groups. Johnson used to be a member and the Minnesota leader of the National Socialist Movement, and started a group called the Aryan Liberation Movement. The FBI says he tried to round up and train others at bases in Illinois and Minnesota to commit acts of violence against the government and minorities. A good backgrounder on both of the men can be found in this post from Minnesota politics blog Bluestem Prairie.

According to the federal affidavit obtained yesterday by the AP, Thomas told an undercover agent he considers himself a "domestic terrorist" rather than an American. He said he would risk his life for the white supremacist movement in the event of a "race war," adding that he expected such a war to break out within two years. He believed the group he and Johnson were trying to form would be able to prevent the military from coming into Minnesota by controlling an interstate highway and airports.

In addition to the plot against the Mexican consulate, Thomas also collected the license plate numbers of people with Barack Obama bumper stickers and asked a fellow racist to volunteer at a left-leaning bookstore to obtain customers' addresses, the FBI says.

FBI agents observed Thomas conducting surveillance on the consulate building in December, and the affidavit alleges he was tentatively planning his truck-inferno attack for May 1.

According to a Star Tribune report, at the time the initial affidavit was unsealed last month, FBI spokesman Kyle Loven said "the investigation was based on the fact that the FBI considered them to be legitimate threats and that they wanted to follow through with their plans."

Neither man has been charged with terrorism-related crimes. Instead, Thomas is charged with possession of and intent to distribute at least 50 grams of meth and with actually distributing five grams. He faces the possibility of life in prison just for the drug charges.

Johnson, meanwhile, has a history of firearm- and robbery-related crimes. He now faces new charges of possession of weapons, including a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle, and more than a thousand rounds of ammo. He also could receive a life sentence.

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