SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The sentencing of a California man who pleaded guilty to plotting to firebomb the state Democratic Party’s headquarters and other buildings in Northern California after the defeat of former President Donald Trump was delayed Wednesday after a federal judge rejected a plea agreement.
Ian Benjamin Rogers, of Napa, pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to destroy the building in Sacramento by fire or explosives, possessing an explosive device and possessing a machine gun as part of an agreement that could bring him seven to nine years in federal prison.
But U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said he was concerned by statements Rogers made during the pre-sentencing investigation in which he told the probation department he felt very bad for putting himself in a bad situation ”that allowed the government to destroy my life,” according to the statement Breyer read during the hearing.
“I have to say in ... 23 years I’ve never seen that type of statement. I’ve never seen a defendant come in and simply say I regret I was caught,” he said.
The judge asked federal prosecutors to justify why they think a sentence of seven to nine years in prison is appropriate, "especially in light of the defendant’s statements, which to the court suggests that he continues to be a substantial danger to the community,” Breyer said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Cheng told the judge prosecutors found the plea agreement appropriate because a building was not destroyed.
“I don’t think we have to wait in light of the Oklahoma City bombing. I don’t think we have to wait until a building is destroyed,” Breyer answered.
The judge scheduled an Oct. 27 court hearing to sentence Rogers and his co-defendant, Jarrod Copeland.
Rogers' attorney, Colin Cooper, told the judge his client “regrets terribly” participating in the plot and highlighted that he has never been in trouble with the law before.
"I am hopeful that once you hear from all of us, you will recognize that the government and Mr. Rogers and I reached an agreement that under the circumstances was appropriate and that punishment of somewhere between seven and nine years will be significant for a man who’s never been in trouble before, never had a criminal conviction," Cooper said.
U.S. prosecutors in San Francisco charged Rogers and Copeland with conspiring to attack targets they associated with Democrats after Trump’s defeat in the November 2020 presidential election.
Prosecutors say Rogers, 51, used an encrypted messaging application to tell Copeland he would “hit the enemy in the mouth” by using Molotov cocktails and gasoline to attack targets including the Democratic Party headquarters, the Governor’s Mansion and buildings for social media companies Facebook and Twitter.
“I want to blow up a democrat building bad,” Rogers wrote in one of the messaging apps he used to communicate with Copeland, according to the indictment. In a different message, he said that after Democratic President Joe Biden was inaugurated, “we go to war.”
The pair “hoped their attacks would prompt a movement,” prosecutors said when they announced the charges last July.
Napa County Sheriff's Office deputies secured search warrants after receiving an anonymous tip that Rogers possessed illegal guns and, after searching his home and auto repair shop in January 2021, seized nearly 50 firearms, including four fully automatic rifles, thousands of rounds of ammunition and five pipe bombs, prosecutors said.
Agents also seized a “white privilege card” that looks like a credit card. “Trumps Everything” it says beneath the label, with the number 0045 repeated as a credit card number signaling the 45th U.S. president. “Scott Free” is listed as the cardholder, a member from “birth” through “death.”
Investigators also pointed to the “Three Percenters” bumper sticker on Rogers’s vehicle, signaling support for an anti-government movement named after the belief that just 3% of American colonists defeated the British during the American Revolution.
Prosecutors say that in late December 2020, Copeland told Rogers he contacted an anti-government militia group to gather support for their movement. After Rogers’s arrest in January 2021, they say Copeland communicated with a leader of a militia group who advised Copeland to delete his old messages and switch to a new communication platform.
Copeland previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and destruction of records. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 27.
Rogers also faces possession of illegal firearms and bombs charges in Napa County. His next court hearing on the Napa County charges is scheduled for Oct. 4, his attorney said.
Olga R. Rodriguez, The Associated Press