The white supremacist who intended to bomb a hospital during the coronavirus pandemic also discussed using Mylar balloons to attack electricity infrastructure and shooting up schools in minority neighborhoods, according to a new Joint Intelligence Bulletin on the plot disrupted March 24.
Timothy Wilson, 36, of Missouri was killed in a shootout with the FBI that day when he was picking up what he thought was an improvised explosive device from an undercover agent.
Wilson came to the attention of the FBI in September 2019 in connection with the case of Jarrett Smith, a Fort Riley, Kansas, soldier arrested then after allegedly plotting acts of violence targeting Democratic lawmakers, a news network and cellular phone infrastructure.
On March 22, the bulletin says, Wilson met with an FBI undercover employee and discussed a car-bomb attack against a Missouri medical center. The bomb was intended to be on a timer with detonation at 10 p.m. on March 24.
“Wilson said he wanted to attack a hospital because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the increased impact given the media attention on the health sector,” said the advisory. “Wilson and the UCE conducted reconnaissance of the target area, including the time it would take to drive to the medical center, and the walking distance to the rendezvous point where Wilson would be picked up by the UCE after he delivered the VBIED to the target location.”
After that meeting, they drove to a storage unit that held explosive precursors and containers to construct an explosive device. The FBI undercover employee took possession of the bomb-making materials on the premise that he or she would construct the device for Wilson; an inert device was ultimately presented to Wilson at the time of the March 24 confrontation.
“In autumn of 2019, Wilson had conversations with an FBI source where he described his desire to conduct violence against minorities, consistent with his RMVE [racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist] ideology. Wilson shared various attack scenarios to ‘kick start a revolution,’ including school shootings at minority schools, attacking the power grid with Mylar balloons, and attacking bridges and substations with explosives,” the DHS/FBI bulletin continued. “Furthermore, Wilson shared instructions on how to create improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rudimentary incendiary devices with an FBI source and indicated he wanted to begin planning for an attack after the 2019 holiday season.”
Early this year, the bulletin continued, Wilson had conversations with an FBI source “detailing the explosive standards and estimated blast radius of various-sized vehicles when used as a VBIED.”
“Wilson purchased bags of fertilizer under the guise of his employment and placed them in a storage unit, informing an FBI source each time he acquired new material to further the plot,” the bulletin said. “In late February, Wilson described potential targets and arranged to meet with an FBI UCE to select a target and conduct pre-attack planning.”
This month, Wilson allegedly linked the attack plot to the pandemic, stating that “if he contracts COVID-19, he would conduct a ‘lone wolf attack’ and ‘try to take out as many as I can during that time, but I don’t want to sit in a hospital bed and die, doing nothing.’” Wilson wanted to “attack high value targets if the government issued martial law and quarantine orders as a result of COVID-19.”
Wilson’s alleged plot is an example of “the persistent threat posed by RMVEs and the potential for world events to influence the timing and location of an attack.”
“Wilson’s target selection — while a hospital is novel for RMVEs — reflects the current trend of RMVEs seeking to maximize their audience and the dissemination of their message,” the advisory continued. “Law enforcement activities have identified RMVE actors often desire to promulgate ideology through enhanced media attention, including live streaming attacks, publicized manifestos, or engaging social media platforms. Additionally, an offender may select a target based on the perceived response from media outlets, and subsequent messaging/attention that could spark sympathetic dialogue or action.”
FBI and DHS urged state and local authorities in addition to private-sector security partners to “promptly report suspicious activities related to potential RMVE violence.”
The foiled plot came just a few weeks after FBI and DHS officials warned members of Congress that anti-Semitic and white supremacist terrorism is increasingly becoming a transnational threat that helps put the United States “at the doorstep of another 9/11.”
Brian Harrell, assistant director for Infrastructure Security at DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism that “based off of current events and the frequency of events, I am convinced that this country is becoming more and more violent every single day.”
Harrell stressed that, through CISA, “DHS continues our longstanding efforts with communities to share threat information, harden public gathering locations, train law enforcement and first responders and conduct a wide range of training and exercises.”
“We do not magically get better in a time of crisis. We always default to the things that we know, to training, to the lessons learned from exercises,” he said. “These are proven initiatives that have enhanced the safety and security of the American people and, through the strategic framework, DHS is augmenting its capabilities to address this increased targeted violence against our communities. To ensure the safety and security of our worshipers, we must be innovative, provide timely and useful resources and increase information sharing.”
Over the past three years, CISA has conducted 1,534 engagements with faith-based organizations, primarily through its Protective Security Advisor Program, and last year alone conducted over 800 engagements with houses of worship. Since 2011, CISA has conducted more than 300 in-person active-shooter workshops and nearly 975,000 people have successfully completed online active-shooter training.
“Following the strategic attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, members of the synagogue credited the training provided by our PSAs with saving lives,” Harrell noted. Last April, CISA partnered with the Secure Community Network to conduct a tabletop exercise with the Jewish community leaders from across the United States, law enforcement personnel and interagency officials.
“Freedoms that have made this country a shining city upon a hill do not come without a price. As I wrote to the faith-based community a little over a year ago, and this dynamic threat environment, we face the reality that differences in ideology can result in attacks even in the most holy of places,” Harrell said. “While this unfortunate truth may be a reality, it does not have to be inevitable. The threat is not going away, but neither is our determination to reduce the probability of a successful attack.”