A 20-year-old Cleveland man is in federal custody after authorities say he planned to place a fake 911 call in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to ambush the park rangers who responded, steal their weapons and start an armed uprising, according to prosecutors.
Christian Ferguson, who authorities believe was trying to form a militia, is charged with attempted kidnapping. He has been in custody since May 8 and made his initial appearance Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen B. Burke.
The Cleveland FBI became aware of Ferguson in March, after a tipster informed them about violent and extremist social media postings Ferguson made on Discord, a communication app that allows users to communicate directly or in groups via text message, voice or video, according to a release. The app became an essential communication tool for far-right groups and white supremacists, including in the run-up to the deadly 2017 rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In the messages, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by an FBI agent, Ferguson discussed his plan to ambush cops and said to “shoot to kill because they will,” and discussed ripping communication gear from cars.
“It’s too risky to take the cruisers so throw the bodies in and light ’em up,” he wrote, an apparent reference to putting dead officers in their police cars and setting them on fire to destroy the evidence, the complaint said.
Ferguson posted the messages under a username that the complaint does not disclose due to “ongoing investigation.”
Investigators tied the screen name to Ferguson in part because police stopped him in 2019 outside Valparaiso, Indiana, in a car that had a vanity license plate number that matched the name, the complaint said. He fled the traffic stop and led police on a chase that ended in a crash and his arrest. He faced a felony charge of resisting arrest. The complaint does not include a disposition in the case.
The FBI sent a confidential human source to join Discord chat rooms and communicate with Ferguson, the complaint said. In the weeks that followed, Ferguson honed the details of his plan, which included using a woman to call the police and report a domestic violence incident in a remote area, the complaint said. He said the attackers should clean off their bullets to remove fingerprints from the casings, and discussed throwing ammonia and “bleech [sic]” at police.
“When you shoot go for the arms and legs but if they pose a lethal threat go for the head,” he wrote, the complaint says.
Ferguson referenced the 75th Spartans, which investigators believe is the name of a militia that Ferguson either had formed or was in the process of creating to carry out the attack and the subsequent uprising, the complaint said. Ferguson, in another message, referenced leaving “a calling card with the Spartans name” at the scene of a “first small claim with the cops,” the complaint said.
“Once the media gets a hold of our card, we’ll spread like wildfire and other militias will get up,” the complaint said.
The appropriation of Spartan imagery is commonplace among many alt-right groups, including The Oath Keepers militia, which, in 2018 created so-called “Spartan Training Groups” to combat “antifa and the far left.”
Ferguson and the confidential informant also communicated with another Discord user whose identity the FBI agent said is known but was not disclosed in the complaint.
Ferguson suggested using homemade mustard gas and pipe bombs during an attack, but said the group would need money from a sponsor before they could buy high-grade, “military-style” ammunition because he barely has enough money to buy a pistol, the complaint said.
Ferguson also discussed using the attack to recruit members of his militia. He said that killing police officers and letting one live “with our calling card” may be necessary to get media coverage of the attack from outlets including Fox News, the complaint said.
“We still are building numbers but this will get patriots and future Spartans interested,” he wrote, the complaint said.
The two FBI sources and Ferguson agreed to meet up on May 2 at the Camp Belden Wildlife Area in Lorain County to practice drills and exercises to prepare for the attack, according to the complaint. Ferguson brought an AR-15 rifle and ammunition to the meeting, which was recorded by one of the FBI informants on a video camera, the complaint said.
The group agreed to meet again on May 8 in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to carry out a dry-run, and hiked into the woods to discuss the plan, according to the complaint. The informant wore an audio recording device that captured the conversations, the complaint said.
Ferguson said that once the officers respond and his militia ambushes them, they give police 10 seconds to drop their weapons, the complaint said. Once they dropped the weapons, the militia members should point guns at each officer’s head while they take their gear, starting with the bullet-proof vests, the complaint said.
“[I]f they try anything, anything, one in the head – there are 29 more right for you and another goes down, and another, for any movement below the nipple,” Ferguson said, according to the complaint. “[B]ut leave one to limp home and tell law enforcement that the Spartans are out here hunting us.”
The group then placed a hoax 911 call as they hid behind tree stumps to gauge the response time, the complaint said. Four park rangers showed up and left after a few minutes of looking around, the complaint said.
The group walked back to their cars, and Ferguson said that if that many officers were to respond to the ambush, then they would have to kill them all, the complaint said.
FBI agents and Park Rangers then arrested Ferguson.
Ferguson admitted to investigators after his arrest that he was planning an attack to kidnap and rob police, but denied ever wanting to kill them, the complaint said. He eventually said that he would be willing to kill the officers if he had to, the complaint said.
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