BY ERIC TURE MUHAMMAD -CONTRIBUTING WRITER- | LAST UPDATED: SEP 6, 2012 - 12:11:05 PM
U.S. Army Sgt. Anthony Peden, 25, left, and Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, 19 are led away in handcuffs after appearing before a magistrate judge at the Long County Sheriffs Office Dec. 13, 2011 in Ludowici, Ga. Four Fort Stewart soldiers have been denied bond on charges connected to the killings of a former serviceman and a teenager in Long County. Two fishermen found the bodies of 20-year-old Michael Roark and 17-year-old Tiffany York on Dec. 6, the day after investigators believe they were killed. Photo: AP/Wide World photos
ATLANTA (FinalCall.com) - Prosecutors Aug. 30 made their case before a Long County Superior Court judge and charged three United States Army soldiers with the murder of a former serviceman and his girlfriend in an effort to protect the secret of an anti-government militia operating within the U.S. military with an expressed agenda to kill President Barack Obama.
Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, 21, Pvt. Christopher Salmon, 26, and Sgt. Anthony Peden, 26—all active duty soldiers based at Fort Stewart in Georgia, are reported members of the group, FEAR—Forever Enduring Always Ready. They are charged with 13 counts including, malice murder, felony murder and illegal gang activity. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the trio in the Dec. 4, 2011 shooting deaths of former serviceman Michael Roark, 19, and his 17-year-old girlfriend Tiffany York. Victims Roark and York, also militia members, were deemed “loose ends” by group leader Aguigui and had to be eliminated, according to testimony. In a videotaped interview with military investigators, a prosecutor said, Pvt. Aguigui referred to himself as “the nicest cold-blooded murderer you will ever meet.”
“At this point, there has been no evidence presented to prove anything,” said Keith Higgins, an attorney who represented Mr. Aguigui in court Aug. 30. “The fact that certain statements are being made does not necessarily mean these allegations are true,” he told members of the press.
No return court date has been announced for the soldiers. Because they now face capital charges, all three will need appointment of new attorneys with death penalty experience. They won’t be arraigned or asked to enter pleas before that happens.
Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney Tom Durden listed domestic terrorism as the factor that warrants the death penalty. However, all charges against the soldiers relate directly to the killings and not to the implied assassination of President Obama. No charges have been filed in state or federal court accusing the three suspects of terrorist plots or acts. In March, the Army brought its own murder charges in the case, only to drop them in August. It is unknown at Final Call presstime whether civilian federal prosecutors are building a case.
“We have one investigation that encompasses all the allegations made against these suspects,” said Chris Grey, spokesman for the Army’s Criminal Investigations Command. “We’re not aware of any other subjects beyond this.”
“Sometimes some of these things don’t fit neatly into our state laws,” Mr. Durden responded after court when asked about the absence of terrorism-related charges. “We’re going forward with what we feel comfortable with,” he said.
Prosecutor Isabel Pauley told the judge Pvt. Aguigui targeted troubled soldiers for his militia and funded the weapons purchases using $500,000 in life insurance money benefits paid to him from the 2011 death of his pregnant wife, Army Sgt. Deirdre Aguigui. According to published reports, Prosecutor Pauley described the wife’s death as “highly suspicious,” offering no further details.
‘No place for a Black president in the White House’
According to an under-resourced United States Secret Service, threats on the life of President Obama have risen by 400 percent since his inauguration and include more than 30 death threats a day. In August, Anton Calouri, 31, was arrested by the FBI in Seattle, Wash., for threatening the life of President Obama and assaulting a federal agent. In July, Uzbek national Ulegbek Kodirov, who has lived in the U.S. since 2009, was sentenced to 16 years in prison for threatening to kill the president and providing material support to terrorism.
A Marine Corps Times cover story, “Anti-Obama Marines,” released a poll of 792 active-duty troops and mobilized reservists asked if they approved or disapproved of President Obama’s job as commander in chief. Forty-four percent disapproved. The magazine also highlighted another controversy, “Other Than Honorably Discharged,” the plight of Marine Sgt. Gary Stein. Sgt. Stein while on active duty hosted a Tea Party Facebook page, often posting anti-Obama rhetoric including how he would not follow Mr. Obama’s orders as commander and chief.
Pvt. Aguigui, who has only been a member of the U.S. armed forces since 2010, appears to have had a disturbing amount of influence. His ability to lead a secret operation and stockpile weapons, along with plans to carry out government overthrow and assassination, are at least alarming. Combined with growing anti-Obama sentiment in an already troubled and somewhat divided armed forces, questions arise about what does his operation represent and how far reaching was it? It also raises questions about how deep are anti-government, anti-Obama sentiments inside the military?
Part of FEAR’s mantra, according to published reports is, “there must be no place for a black president in the White House.”
“The big picture issue is that you have all of these isolated incidents which are dangerous and horrific that have to be seen within the context that there is literally a fringe of the United States of America that wakes up every morning angry, incensed and infuriated because there is a Black family in the White House,” Dr. Ron Daniels, a political analyst and college professor, told The Final Call. “And that Black family,” he continued, “symbolizes and epitomizes the change which (Whites) are desperately—I mean desperately—seeking to reverse, to combat. Because they see it as the death to America as it was once known and, of course, we need to see that America die.”
“It’s a backlash against the election of the president and a resurgence of the prejudice of mainstream White supremacists and their organizations,” said Salim Adofo speaking from the National Black United Front office in Washington, D.C.
During the mid- to late-1960s those types of organizations, Mr. Adofo continued, were heavily involved in the bombing of Black churches, and worked fervently to destroy any road or avenue toward social equality or Black acceptance. Finding this trend growing within the U.S. armed forces should be no surprise, he said. “If you go back to the early ’20s up to the ’60s, the White Citizens Councils, they were members of the police departments, members of city hall and this is no different. These White militia groups sent people into the military to train and teach those same skill sets. The man accused of attacking the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin was a military member,” he noted.
Dressed in his Army uniform in Superior Court, Pfc. Michael Burnett testified about the group and its role in the slayings of Mr. Roark and Ms. York. Mr. Burnett plead guilty to manslaughter, illegal gang activity and other charges in cooperation with authorities. He testified against the group to avoid the death penalty.
“I don’t know how it got to the point where two people got murdered,” Pfc. Burnett said in court.
First he told the court the four had begun hanging out, “just going out shooting guns, just guy stuff … and then Aguigui introduced me to ‘the manuscript,’ that’s what he called it, a book about true patriots.”
The four men became part of a group that aimed “to give the government back to the people,” according to Mr. Burnett, who admitted that revolution was its goal.
“As you know, since Obama has been president, the number of militia groups has increased dramatically. The sale of firearms has increased dramatically and the White supremacist groups have grown dramatically. All of that is because of the whole fear of this wave of people who are coming and obviously, African Americans being at the center of it, who are changing the fundamental nature of America as the extreme right wing and these White supremacists see it. That is why they talk more about American exceptionalism, and American values. That’s why (Republican presidential hopeful Mitt) Romney slipped when he went to England and talked about the special relationship with White Anglo Saxon Protestants,” Dr. Daniels said.
That’s the big picture to focus on, according to Dr. Daniels, “because that is what this election is really about. It is about these people who are couched up inside the Tea Party who have made a successful run at galvanizing their anger and translating it into a movement that has actually captured the Congress of the United States and every now and then it comes out.”
“I think that with the reemergence of this (activity) in the mainstream media, it’s important that Black organizations increase their level of political education. Because it is only a matter of time before our groups get infiltrated by the powers that be and try to have us move toward a more militant direction and militant actions where that may not necessarily be the purpose of our initial efforts.”
He closed by citing words of a colleague, “undisciplined action isn’t what we necessarily need. We need to remain focused on our institution building and not get sidetracked by” these not so random acts of violence towards us, Dr. Daniels, who is also founder of the Institute for the Black World 21st Century. His organization is hosting the State of Black World Conference at Howard University on Nov. 14-18 to dialogue about Black concerns and strategy after the 2012 presidential election.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)