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5 Occupy protesters jailed in plot to destroy Ohio span

Cars travel on Ohio state Route 82 across a bridge over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. Five men were arrested for conspiring to blow up the high level bridge over the Cuyahoga River valley, but there was no danger to the public because the explosives were inoperable and were controlled by an undercover FBI employee, the agency said Tuesday in announcing the men's arrests. Associated Press photo

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 2:22 p.m.
 

CLEVELAND -- The FBI accused five men connected to the Occupy Cleveland movement of plotting to blow up a bridge and several buildings.

Members of the protest group said some of those charged this week with planting fake explosives under the Ohio 82 bridge over Cuyahoga Valley National Park have been involved with Occupy since its inception last year. They distanced themselves from the government's accusations.

"Occupy disavows any relation of violent action to our movement. We oppose using the same tactics the military-industrial complex uses to oppress global citizens, which is violent action," said Gloria Zenisek, 22, of Cleveland, who crafted a statement from the group.

Authorities on Monday arrested Douglas Wright, 26, of Indianapolis; Brandon Baxter, 20, of Lakewood; Anthony Hayne, 35, of Cleveland; Connor Stevens, 20, of Berea; and Joshua Stafford, 23, of Cleveland.

"They talked about making a statement against corporate America and the government as some of the motivations for their actions," U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach said in announcing the arrests with the head of the FBI in Cleveland, Stephen Anthony.

All are charged with conspiracy and attempted use of explosive devices. According to an affidavit, the FBI used an undercover informant to infiltrate the group, which talked about attacking or detonating explosives at the Federal Reserve Bank, the Justice Center, and an unidentified Ku Klux Klan location in Ohio, among other locations.

The group also proposed "to detonate explosives on ... the Cuyahoga River in order to sink a cargo ship," the affidavit states.

Zenisek accused the FBI's unnamed informant of planting the idea to blow up the bridge, and said the men are "very vulnerable to suggestion."

During Occupy protests, Wright had served an organizational role, making sure people tied tarps to their tents, according to group members, who declined to give their names. Some described the men as friends.

"There is no membership to Occupy Cleveland," said Robin Adelmann, 32, standing outside the group's white tent in Public Square at the center of the city. "Occupy Cleveland is all about nonviolence. If we had any idea any of those guys were even thinking about this, we would've kicked them out."

People reacted to the attempted demolition of a heavily traveled bridge with a sort of weary, post-9/11 acceptance.

"Fortunately, the people crazy enough to do this stuff are not very bright, or are emotionally or socially challenged enough that they do not succeed," said George Palda, 66, of Cleveland. "You can't be 100 percent safe any place at any time."

Debra Holmes, 48, arrived in Cleveland yesterday from her native Chicago, where law enforcement is busy locking down portions of the city in preparation for the NATO summit later this month. The way she sees it, if a bridge blows up while she's riding over it, there's nothing to be done.

"If it's God's will, it's going to happen. We live in a reckless world," she said while waiting for her friend to pick her up. "It is what it is. You can't be just hiding in your house."

Palda said he took comfort in knowing the FBI had monitored the plot for months.

The alleged plotters researched explosives and obtained what they thought was C-4 explosives. The material, in fact, was harmless, and the public was never at risk because the men got it from the informant, officials said.

The men planted the fake explosives at the base of the bridge, armed them, went to a remote spot and "entered the codes that they thought would blow up the bridge with innocent people traveling over it," Dettelbach said.

All five appeared in U.S. District Court, where Magistrate Judge Greg White ordered them jailed without bond pending a hearing on Monday.

The charges carry possible penalties of more than 20 years in prison.

Western Pennsylvania officials said there is no reason to believe the plot has any local ties. Officials weren't expecting any widespread problems from May Day political protests.

"We are business as usual," said Wes Hill, chairman of the Region 13 joint terrorism task force and director of Beaver County Emergency Services. The state emergency operation center said the region should be aware and prepared, which is standard procedure, Hill said. He was not aware of any May Day threats in the area.

Margaret Philbin, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney David Hickton in Pittsburgh, said she couldn't say anything about precautions the office took related to May Day and referred questions to the FBI. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Cleveland is investigating the threat there, she said.

Spin-off groups from the Occupy Wall Street movement planned events in about 135 cities to mark May Day, including a march yesterday in the Hill District.

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