A man who held federal agents at bay with fake explosives wanted to start a war between Christians and Muslims and kill President Barack Obama, according to charges filed against him Wednesday.
He also may have been driven by an order of protection issued in St. Clair County Circuit Court on Tuesday to bar him from contact with his grandchildren, officials said.
The eight-hour standoff Tuesday night began when FBI and Secret Service agents, accompanied by police, went to the home of Roman Otto Conaway, at 9030 Summit Drive, to question him about a report that he had been making threats. He eventually surrendered on the promise of getting a mental health evaluation.
Conaway was charged Wednesday in federal court in East St. Louis with making false threats to detonate an explosive device and threatening the president. If convicted, he might face five years in prison.
According to an FBI affidavit accompanying the charges, and federal officials, Conaway called someone associated with a St. Louis-area mosque about 1 p.m. Tuesday and said he would burn a Quran that night and provide a video of it to TV stations.
Conaway allegedly said that he thought that Obama had threatened the Rev. Terry Jones, of the Dove World Outreach Center in Florida, into canceling his planned Quran burning on Sept. 11.
Conaway said that he wanted to start a war between Christians and Muslims, kill Obama and other government officials, end the war in Afghanistan “which (expletive) Bush started” and “start an Apocalypse,” court documents say.
The person who received Conaway’s call called the FBI with a phone number obtained from caller ID.
Three federal agents arrived around 6 p.m. Conaway’s door was open, but it slammed shut when he spotted them. A short time later, he emerged with his wife and son, wearing a wide mesh belt with two blocks of an “inert putty-like material designed and formed to replicate blocks of C-4 explosive” to a what was intended to look like a triggering device – a curling iron – FBI Special Agent Richard T. Box wrote in the affidavit.
Conaway told agents that the detonator was also wired to two 55-gallon drums full of combustible chemicals in the front yard and another in the rear. He also told agents that he had experience in ordinance disposal from the U.S. Army.
He eventually allowed his son and wife to leave the house, and surrendered at about 2:10 a.m., Box wrote. There were no real explosives. The standoff triggered an evacuation of the neighborhood that lasted into the early morning.
Obviously we are dealing here a man who is severely psychologically disturbed. But it is hardly accidental that Conaway’s threats of violence drew on the anti-Muslim narrative promoted by the US right. And you can imagine how different the media response would have been if Conaway had been a Muslim calling for a war against Christians. He wouldn’t have been dimissed as a single mentally ill individual but portrayed as a representative of his faith.
See also LoonWatch, 22 September 2010