Two Muslim men indicted last week on federal weapons charges allegedly had plans to bomb the Gateway Arch — and to kill St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson — the Post-Dispatch has learned.
Sources close to the investigation were uncertain whether the men had the capability to carry out the plans, although the two allegedly did buy what they thought was a pipe bomb in an undercover law enforcement sting.
The men wanted to acquire two more bombs, the sources said, but could not afford to do it until one suspect’s girlfriend’s Electronic Benefit Transfer card was replenished.
An indictment, with no mention of bombs or killings, was returned in federal court here Nov. 19 and unsealed Friday upon the arrest of Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Ali Davis. Their addresses and Baldwin’s age were not available; Davis is 22.
The arrest came three days before McCulloch revealed that a grand jury would not indict Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson in the controversial killing of Michael Brown. The announcement triggered looting and multiple arsons in Ferguson.
The charges say that between Nov. 1 and Nov. 13, at the Cabela’s store in Hazelwood, Baldwin claimed to be buying two Hi-Point .45-caliber pistols for himself when they were really for another person. Brandon also is known as Brandon Muhammad, according to court documents, and Davis now goes by the last name Ali, his attorney said. Each faces a charge of aiding and abetting the making of a false written statement made in connection with a firearms purchase.
The sources said additional charges, reflecting the plot, were expected to be filed. They said Davis was considered the leader of the plot, which police documented on hidden video.
The firearm charges and arrests were reported by the Post-Dispatch on Friday night. Some national news outlets reported, with no detail, that there had been a bomb plot.
One of the defendants’ plans, the sources said, included planting a bomb inside the observation deck at the top of the Arch. It was not clear how they could have gotten a bomb past airport-style security screening for rides up.
It also wasn’t clear, the sources said, whether the men intended to use bombs as the means to kill McCulloch and Jackson. Both officials became targets of national criticism and protests after Brown’s killing.
Local and federal authorities have served search warrants at two buildings, one in the 2500 block of Hampton Avenue in St. Louis and the other in the 1500 block of Reale Avenue in north St. Louis County, but the associated documents were sealed.
Baldwin and Davis pleaded not guilty in a hearing Tuesday. At a second hearing, prosecutors were prepared to argue that both should be held in jail until trial. An FBI agent was present, and photographic or video evidence was ready to play. But both defendants waived their right to make a case for bail, so the hearing did not proceed.
Bill Woods, special agent in charge of the FBI office in St. Louis, peeked into court at one point, but there were no available seats. The room was full with family and supporters of Davis and Baldwin.
After the hearing, prosecutors referred a reporter to U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan, who referred questions to Marc Raimondi, spokesman for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. Raimondi declined to comment on “anything beyond what was in the public document available through the court.”
Asked for comment after the hearing, a female relative of Davis, who refused to give her name, said the case consisted of “Lies, lies and more lies.”
Davis’ attorney, John Lynch, said that he had waived the detention hearing because, “This particular case involves serious issues, especially in light of the Ferguson matter. My client is entitled to a patient analysis and due process like anybody else, and he looks forward to a vigorous defense.”
Lynch said that Davis was “particularly bright” and had been associated with the Young Artists for Justice and Peace, which works to take back streets from drug dealers. He said prosecutors were accusing Davis of a “pretty serious” gun charge, “with other charges potentially looming in the distance.”
Davis and his wife were expecting a child Dec. 5, but the child was born over the weekend, after she fainted at another court appearance Friday.
Baldwin’s public defender declined to comment, as did relatives of Baldwin contacted by a reporter. He appeared in court in a neck brace, reportedly because of a car accident.
Law enforcement sources and neighbors of McCulloch and Jackson said police had been closely guarding both their homes.
Davis spoke at a New Black Panther rally at Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson last month about the police shooting of Brown, and was identified there as the Missouri chapter’s “minister of law.”
“This is not the first Mike Brown, and it won’t be the last, if we do not unite,” Davis told the crowd then. “Divided, we lose brothers and sisters. If you do not unite, put aside your difference and unite, you can expect no changes in the future. We must change our minds, our systems and ourselves.”
The New Black Panthers has issued a statement calling the allegations regarding bombing and killing “totally unfounded” and “trumped up and baseless.”
The statement also says that the New Black Panthers do “not teach, endorse, or allow its members to commit acts of violence against anyone regardless to the circumstance, unless in imminent danger according to the rules of Self-Defense.”
Davis also is a self-proclaimed “Moorish-American,” and in a YouTube video posted last year invited viewers to learn how to avoid taxes and unconstitutional laws.
He also said in the video that he was hit with a Taser and arrested by St. Louis police in 2013 after he tried to make a purchase without paying taxes at a St. Louis gas station. He said the clerk “denied me of my right not to be taxed as a Moorish national” and refused to accept his identification.
In July 2010, the Post-Dispatch photographed Davis as a recipient of an Access MO award letter for $1,510 to attend the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where he was planning to study economics. The story noted how budget cuts had threatened to slash the amount of financial aid students across Missouri receive. At the time, Davis told the newspaper that he would be the first member of his family to attend college.