Ex-militia leader charged in terror plot

Published Dec. 9, 1999|Updated Sept. 30, 2005

A 31-year-old St. Petersburg man is charged with plotting to blow up power transmission lines in the bay area.

A federal grand jury Wednesday charged the former leader of a regional militia movement with plotting to blow up power transmission lines that feed St. Petersburg and the Florida Power nuclear plant in Crystal River.

Donald Beauregard, 31, of St. Petersburg, planned to break into Florida National Guard armories to steal explosives and firearms needed to carry out his plan, according to a federal indictment.

No explosives were recovered, and authorities did not charge Beauregard with burglary.

Yet prosecutors said his words and actions crossed the line into criminal conspiracy. While any number of people might share his dislike of the federal government and taxation, an FBI official said, Beauregard and his militia colleagues "espouse violent action."

A federal magistrate granted a motion to jail Beauregard without bail late Wednesday, saying his plans "were too detailed, specific and concrete to be dismissed as rhetoric."

Prosecutors said Beauregard, a manager at the Hickory Farms store at Tyrone Square Mall, once headed the Southeastern States Alliance, a federation of militia groups stretching from Alabama through Virginia.

The indictment claims that in 1996 Beauregard and others had a "target map" identifying electrical, utility and law enforcement offices in Pinellas County. Beauregard studied explosives, gave an associate a can of nitromethane, an ingredient in explosives, and plotted to kill a militia member thought to be an informant, the indictment says.

Last year, according to the indictment, Beauregard and an associate planned to break into the Florida National Guard Armory in Haines City, in Polk County. He is also charged with supplying weapons to others.

The indictment charges Beauregard with conspiracy to damage electrical facilities and promote domestic terrorism, providing support for terrorist acts and four counts of illegal firearms transfers.

No other member of the alleged conspiracy was identified Wednesday, although investigators did not rule out further arrests.

Federal authorities said they seized rifles, handguns and a large quantity of ammunition from Beauregard's house at 6610 14th St. N in the Meadowlawn neighborhood of St. Petersburg. Beauregard and his wife bought it three weeks ago for $124,000, providing about $50,000 for a down payment.

The house, with a pool in the back yard, is on a quiet street and is surrounded by homes bedecked with Christmas lights.

Beauregard has made no secret of his militia activities in recent years, giving interviews to local television stations. A 1995 St. Petersburg Times story profiled Beauregard's home "outfit," the 77th Regiment Militia of Pinellas County. The group, with perhaps a few dozen members, undertook physical training and conducted study groups about the power of the federal government.

Beauregard is married and has a 14-month-old child and another on the way, according to his public defender, who spoke for Beauregard at his initial appearance in court Wednesday.

A woman who answered Beauregard's door Wednesday evening said, "We don't know anything, so there's nothing to say."

The lawyer noted that Beauregard has no history of violent arrests, and that his years of talk against the government have not led to violence.

"It never amounted to more than rhetoric," said the lawyer, federal public defender Craig Alldredge.

A Haines City police officer spent two years undercover, infiltrating Beauregard's militia world. Investigators said they didn't know why Beauregard plotted to destroy electrical facilities.

Watchdog groups say some militia members think the coming of the year 2000 will be the time for action. "They see it as either an opportunity or a justification to begin the revolution," said Mark Potok, a researcher with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Although he was aware of Beauregard's activity with the 77th Regiment, Potok said he had no information to indicate whether Beauregard was a threat to commit violence.

Nor did Art Teitelbaum, a Miami official of the Anti-Defamation League.

"It's a small organization," Teitelbaum said. "But when it comes to conspiracies to commit violence, numbers don't count, as we learned from the terrible destruction and cost in lives from the Timothy McVeigh experience" in Oklahoma City.

Federal investigators said Wednesday they could give no membership estimate for the Southeastern States Alliance or for the 77th Regiment Militia.

An employee at the Hickory Farms in Tyrone Square Mall, who wouldn't give his name, said he was a long-time friend of Beauregard and didn't believe the charges.

Other than traffic offenses, Beauregard's record shows no criminal activity.

_ Times staff writer Mike Brassfield and Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.