The Donald Trump administration’s Department of Justice boasted about its first FBI terror arrest on Tuesday.
After an elaborate undercover sting operation, the FBI arrested 25-year-old Robert Lorenzo Hester of Columbia, Missouri even though the only ties he had to terrorism were the two undercover FBI agents, posing as ISIS terrorists, who paid him to buy terrorism supplies from a hardware store that they convinced him were for a bomb.
The agents came in contact with Hester after becoming alarmed over his comments on Facebook posted under a pseudonym.
During the sting operation, one of the undercover agents pulled a knife on Hester, threatening harm to his family if he reneged on participating in the attacks, according to The Intercept.
Hester didn’t have the $20 he would have needed to buy 9-volt batteries, duct tape and roofing nails to make shrapnel for the bomb his new FBI pals wanted him to buy pieces for.
According to the criminal complain included below, undercover FBI agents gave him the money after they “confirmed that Hester could not get the money.”
Then, after using the money to buy roofing nails, batteries and batteries, an agent came to Hester’s home to collect the needed items, except for copper wire, which Hester was claimed he was unable to find.
The agent opened the trunk, showing him several dummy assault rifles and fake bombs, which were presented to look real.
One agent, who befriended Hester through social media, stated he was planning to carry out a violent terrorist attack for the Islamic State on President’s Day targeting trains, buses and a Kansas City train station, asking Hester if he would take part.
“I’m down,” Hester replied, according to the criminal complaint against him.
For several weeks, Hester kept in contact with the agents saying in messages he was “happy to be a part” of the upcoming attack.
After he “expressed approval” of what agents had convinced him were upcoming attacks, Hester asked if more supplies were needed.
An undercover agent said they needed nails and screws to create shrapnel for a bomb.
On February 17, another agent arrived to pick up Hester up from his home, finding him with roofing nails.
The agent drove Hester to a storage facility where he was swarmed by agents and arrested.
Neighbors in Missouri described Hester as a “family guy” who liked to play outside with his kids, according to Fox4 in Kansas City.
In November, before his arrest, one of the undercover FBI agents was giving him a ride home from work when he said Hester stated he “was thinking about oil lines, hitting oil pipelines and oil markets” as well as targeting “computer systems and stuff.”
The agent warned Hester there was “no turning back” once he decided to proceed, pulled out a knife then “threatened to come back and find Hester” if he reneged on his agreement to carry out the attacks, or if he planned his own operation without letting him know.
Hester told the other agent it wasn’t right for the agent to threaten his family.
During meetings in an FBI car with agents, Hester brought his two kids and explained it “could not be avoided given his child care responsibilities.”
“I don’t like America, like for my kids,” Hester said during a secretly recorded conversation.
“He’s never ever done anything like this. He’s always been such a family guy. He’s always outside playing with kids and his wife is outside. He’s always very talkative towards the neighbors. Anybody who walks up he’s going to talk to you,” Hester’s friend and neighbor Analee Shatlain said.
According to the arrest complaint, despite proclaiming to be a “devout Muslim,” Hester continued using marijuana regularly despite the fact the religion forbids the use of drugs and despite the fact it violated the terms of the probation he received after being arrested in the parking lot of a grocery store for an argument with his wife.
The FBI’s arrest complaint states that when grocery store employees approached Hester, “he assumed an aggressive stance, forcefully placed his hand into the diaper bag he was carrying, in a manner that appeared to be reaching for a weapon.”
Daryl Johnson, a former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, said the attention given to perceived threats by ISIS detract from a more realistic and probable domestic threats.
“The percentage of the population that embrace white supremacy, militia and sovereign citizen extremists far outweigh the percentage of Americans that support ISIS, yet these ISIS cases get churned out at a much greater rate.”
Hester faces charges of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization.
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.