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Tennessee man sentenced for conspiring to burn down mosque

25th Aug 2017

Naveen Gharyal

An ex-Congressional candidate from Tennessee has been sentenced to nearly 20 years behind bars on June 15 for plotting to burn down a mosque in upstate New York. He ran for federal office in 2014, finishing with less than ten percent of the vote in the eastern Tennessee district.

Robert Doggart, 65, was sentenced by the US District Court in Chattanooga, where he was convicted in February of attempting to recruit about 10 people to commit arson and infringe civil rights.

Doggart was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents in April 2015 after saying in wiretapped telephone calls that he planned to recruit an armed force and travel to Islamberg, a rural town that is home to a small Muslim community in Hancock, New York, about 130 miles north-west of New York City. Doggart discussed his plan with an FBI informant in Nashville, saying the plan was to target and burn down a mosque and a school, along with a range of other buildings in the town.

The racist and ruthless man was prepared to go to any length with his planned attacks on innocent Muslims in Islamberg. “I don’t want to have to kill children, but there’s always collateral damage,” Doggart said on one of the recorded calls, according to the statement.

The US Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the sentence and said in a statement: “People of all faiths have the fundamental right to worship freely, and this administration will not tolerate attempts to violate that right.”

Now, the 65-year-old is facing one count of solicitation to commit arson, one count of solicitation to commit a civil rights violation and two counts of threat in interstate commerce. However, he is not facing any terrorism charges and has been under house arrest since his initial capture. Lawyers representing the Islamberg community claim a loophole in federal law allows defendants such as Doggart to escape terrorism charges.

Lawyer Tahirah Amatul-Wadud conceded that there is a gap in the law and “frankly, there is nothing on terrorism unless it’s connected to a foreign element.”

According to the Patriot Act, prosecutors can only charge a defendant with domestic terrorism if he or she had the intention to ‘intimidate’ or ‘coerce’ a civilian population, or influence the policy of a government to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

However, Matul-Wadud claimed, the requirements are less severe for pursuing terrorism charges if the alleged act has a foreign element to it, for example, ties to international terror networks such as Isis or Al-Qa’ida. Doggart was accused of plotting to burn down a mosque in Islamberg, a predominantly Muslim community in upstate New York.

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