In 2009, the Newburgh Four allegedly tried to blow up a New York synagogue. The FBI arrested James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen after they attempted to detonate what they believed were explosives near a synagogue and a Jewish community center.
The case gained attention as it involved an FBI informant who significantly encouraged and facilitated the plot. The informant provided the fake explosives and promised financial rewards to the defendants. Some critics argued that the case raised questions about entrapment and the extent to which law enforcement played a role in pushing individuals toward criminal acts.
In 2010, the four men were convicted of conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and conspiracy to use anti-aircraft missiles to kill U.S. officers. They were sentenced to 25 years in prison.
This case is not the only example of the FBI going above and beyond in its eagerness to bait individuals and groups to perform acts they may not have otherwise followed through on without the agency’s help.
Two years before the Newburgh Four incident, five men were arrested for allegedly planning to attack the Fort Dix military base in New Jersey. In 2007, the FBI used informants to infiltrate the group, now known as the Fort Dix Five, and provide them with weapons. Critics argued that the informants played a significant role in pushing the individuals toward criminal behavior.
Another case is the “Christmas Day bombing plot” in 2010, where a man named Mohamed Osman Mohamud was arrested for attempting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon. The FBI used undercover agents who provided Mohamud with a fake bomb. Critics contended that the FBI played an active role in encouraging and facilitating the plot.
While the FBI defends its entrapment tactics as public safety enhancements, they create situations where individuals would not otherwise have engaged in criminal behavior. In the case of the Newburgh Four, $250,000 each and a promise of heavenly rewards for the “jihadist activities” motivated the four Muslim men to play along with the FBI’s carefully orchestrated plot.
US District Judge Colleen McMahon has ordered the release of Cromitie, who served 15 years of a 25-year sentence for being the “ringleader” in the Newburgh Four’s plot. McMahon criticized the government’s conduct, stating that nothing about the crimes was of the defendants’ own making. McMahon asserted that the FBI invented the conspiracy, identified targets, manufactured ordnance, arranged the transportation, recruited the men, and even determined the day of the mission.
Cromitie was recruited as the “ringleader,” and the three other men were brought on board for no other reason than to give him people to “conspire” with.
McMahon described the FBI’s informant, Shahed Hussain, as “most unsavory” and labeled him a “villain,” asserting that the United States was the real lead conspirator in the case. Hussain recruited the four, whom McMahon called “impoverished small-time grifters,” and facilitated a plot to blow up a Jewish synagogue and community center and to fire anti-air missiles at U.S. military planes. The anti-aircraft missile plot was added to ensure the four would receive a mandatory 25-year sentence for their crimes.
McMahon acknowledges that Cromitie’s “vile antisemitic language” and his agreement to take part in the phony plot were troublesome. Still, she found that it was an entirely fictitious plot that he and his “co-conspirators” would never have been able to plan or conduct without the FBI’s aid.
A leaked FBI memo in 2023 revealed that the agency considered Catholics to be “terrorists” and highlighted a plan to spy on churchgoers by recruiting members in local parishes. It was an astonishing admission that for the FBI, entrapment is still alive and well.
Democrats scoff at the idea that the FBI recruited individuals and groups to infiltrate the protest on January 6, 2021, and the agency denies it planted agents in the otherwise peaceful crowd. But for Americans who pay attention to the agency’s past overreaches, it’s clear that there is no line the FBI isn’t prepared to cross, especially in the ongoing battle against conservatives.
For thousands of Americans still targeted by the FBI three years later, that day marked the end of life as they knew it. But history shows that for the FBI, it was just another Wednesday.