"Protecting our citizens and our nation remains the Justice Department's top priority," U.S. Attorney [Justin] Herdman said. "This defendant plotted and scouted locations in downtown Cleveland for an attack on July 4th, when he knew it would be packed with people celebrating our nation's birthday. We will continue to do all we can to identify, arrest and prosecute those threats while working to keep our communities safe and secure." --FBI press release, July 2, 2018
Well, that sounds like pretty good news, doesn't it? The supposed July 4th attack sounds like it could have been horrendous, right? And your Justice Department saved us all yet again, right? That must be why the Justice Department headlined its press release:
"Ohio Man Arrested for Attempting to Assist a Foreign Terrorist Organization With Homeland Attack Plot"
Actually, no, that's not quite what happened. This is fundamentally a big government lie. Actually, it's a tissue of lies.
The government press release begins with some facts:
"Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, aka Abdur Raheem Rafeeq, aka Salah ad-Deen Osama Waleed, 48, of Maple Heights, Ohio, was charged with one count of attempting to provide material support to al Qaeda, a designated foreign terrorist organization. Pitts was arrested Sunday [July 1] by members of the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force."
This press feed is well-framed to make readers think the worst -- "al Qaeda" and "terrorist" and "Terrorism Task Force." And all those aliases -- that's scary stuff. But what did Pitts actually do? And why only one count? And who else was involved? The details fail to live up to the hype.
Instead of clarifying the arrest, the press release then continues for its next four fat paragraphs with chest-thumping government officials offering bloated, irrelevant, and largely false rhetoric -- "the dangerous threat posed by radical Islamic terrorism" and "plans to attack innocent civilians" and "working to keep our communities safe and secure." This is all good, solid Orwellian language as it avoids lying without actually telling the truth. And it makes one wonder: Good lord, what on earth was Demetrius Pitts up to all by himself? According to the press release:
"'Pitts, a U.S. citizen living in Ohio, pledged his allegiance to al-Qaeda, a foreign terrorist organization, and was planning to conduct an attack in Cleveland on Independence Day, the very day we celebrate the freedoms we have in this country,' said Special Agent in Charge [Stephen] Anthony. 'The FBI commends the public for reporting individuals that espouse their radical beliefs and/or engage in behavior that threaten the lives of our military personnel and community.'"
This is the only -- mysterious -- reference in the press release to thank "the public for reporting individuals." And does the FBI now consider it a crime for people to "espouse their radical beliefs"? Isn't that a radical belief? And does the thanks to informers mean that there was NO independent investigative work? The balance of the press release comprises a summary of a court-filed affidavit that completely supports such a conclusion.
Apparently this heroic defense of public safety consisted of someone giving Pitts's name to the FBI some time ago and the FBI then executing a sting operation bordering on entrapment (or more likely actual entrapment) of a man of less than full competence or significant ability. Not only that, it's taken the FBI almost two and a half years to instigate Pitts to allegedly criminal action, as the FBI admits (indirectly) in its 31-page affidavit filed by Special Agent Andrew Wilson, a 22-year veteran assigned to the Cleveland Joint Terrorism Task Force:
"6. On December 31, 2015, a Facebook profile for ABDUR RAHEEM RAFEEQ (which was ultimately determined to be PITTS) came to the FBI's attention after RAFEEQ sent a private Facebook message to 'The Craig Sewing Show,' a California-based political commentary program, stating: 'f*ck America and there arm[sic] forces. The USA will be destroy. Allahu Akbar.'"
First of all, this is all Constitutionally-protected free speech. Secondly, no serious terrorist is going to out himself to the Craig Sewing Show. What Pitts probably unwittingly did was to set himself up as a clay pigeon for the FBI to take potshots at. There is a long, shameful pattern of FBI agents manipulating marginal people into imaginary threats to build a bogus arrest record that actually undermines freedom by "defending" it. Who knows how many people rot in jail as "terrorists" only because they were entrapped by the FBI in "plots" that never actually existed as real-world threats? The FBI apparently ignored Pitts for a year until he made another post, on Facebook, according to the FBI affidavit:
"7. On January 25, 2017, PITTS used his Facebook account Abdur Raheem Rafeeq (UID 100010669985661) to comment on pictures believed to be from a jihad training camp. PITTS posted, 'We as Muslim need to start. Training like this everyday. We need to known how to shoot guns. Throw hand grenades hand to hand combat. How survey out in the woods. Look at the bed blue eyed devils. They teach their little dogs on how to shoot and Hunt. If you fear death. Then don't say you love Islam. The Rasool saw said. We should always be prepared to fight in the name of Allah Akbar. All cowards stay home. Walsalaam. Abdur Raheem sahl Rafeeq. Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar.'"
The FBI slouched into action, reviewing Pitts's Facebook account in February 2017 and observing it into June 2018. According to the affidavit, during those 16 months, the FBI believed Pitts was "threatening violence against the United States," "expressed a desire to recruit people to kill Americans," and was "willing to conduct a U.S. based attack." The FBI took no action. Neither did Pitts.
As of early 2018, Demetrius Nathaniel Pitts, 48, an African-American US citizen, had apparently been living a quiet life in Willoughby, Ohio, about 19 miles east of Cleveland on Lake Erie. In May he apparently moved to Maple Heights, about 13 miles south of Cleveland. It's not clear what he did for work, or whether he was employed. He apparently lived alone. After the FBI arrested Pitts, Diane Stoudemire, his aunt near Cincinnati, expressed bewilderment, even though she hadn't heard from him in two years:
"He's never been a violent person, so that's what I don't understand... He had had some problems with drugs and everything. He came up without his father, which is my brother, that was killed before Demetrius was born. His mother passed away while Demetrius was in penitentiary, so he's been having such a hard time."
Diane Stoudemire said Pitts lived "on the fringe" of society, but had no idea he'd been living near Cleveland:
"We've been worried about him, because I was his favorite aunt. And he used to would come to me, and I haven't heard from Demetrius in a few years... He was a good person. I never knew him to get in no trouble, like hurting somebody or fighting or anything. Anything he ever done was to himself."
According to the FBI at a July 2 press conference, Pitts has a criminal history that includes felonious assault and aggravated robbery in 1989, when he was 19. He served less than a year before being released on probation. He was arrested in 2006 but charges were dismissed. He was arrested again in 2007, convicted on a theft charge, and placed on probation. He was arrested in 2016 for absconding from probation in 2009.
On June 18, everything started to change from bad to worse for Pitts. That was the day the FBI sent an undercover agent to meet with Pitts in Willoughby and surreptitiously recorded their conversation (excerpted in the FBI affidavit). The conversation is full of violent fantasy to which the FBI agent contributes, but nothing like a plan or even a credible threat emerges. Pitts makes it clear that he has not joined al Qaeda but would take a test to join. The FBI agent suggests a test: "take out a soldier? A US Army soldier?" Pitts responds: "He dead. He dead. He dead. It's like I said." Then Pitts seems to back off the idea. They go through a similar loop talking about killing a Marine. Nothing is decided, or even promised. Pitts does not ask the FBI agent to prove he's from al Qaeda.