Prosecutors: Special-ops game fed into murder suspect’s militia plans
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
HINESVILLE, Ga. — Georgia prosecutors believe accused Army militia ringleader Isaac Aguigui drew recruits to his cause through the medium of a Tom Clancy videogame.
If fellow soldiers reacted positively to a gaming magazine article about the first-person shooter “Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Patriots,” “they would be brought into the fold” of the Cashmere man’s anti-government organization, dubbed FEAR, according to court statements.
The still-unreleased game features the Rainbow Six anti-terrorism strike force facing down a group calling itself the True Patriots — a cabal of American military veterans committing acts of terror “to restore its interpretation of American values by beheading corporate America and overthrowing the government,” according to a synopsis in Game Informer magazine. The game itself is scheduled for a 2013 release.
Army Pvt. Aguigui, 19, and two others are accused of committing two murders to cover up their efforts to establish a similar militia, with goals including attacks on Washington’s dams and apple orchards and even the death of President Barack Obama. If convicted, he and his fellow defendants face the death penalty for carrying out the crimes in furtherance of terrorist activities.
Assistant district attorney Isabel Pauley told a Long County judge last week that Aguigui approached others at Fort Stewart Army base with a gaming magazine article previewing the “Rainbow Six” release “to gauge soldier’s reactions.”
“Aguigui called this process ‘The Awakening,’ and if those approached were sympathetic or in agreement to the concept, they would be brought into the fold of the organization,” Pauley told Judge Robert L. Russell III on Monday, as one of Aguigui’s fellow soldiers pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the Georgia case.
Pvt. Michael Burnett admitted his part in the December 2011 killings of former soldier Michael Roark and his girlfriend Tiffany York, 17 — carried out to keep the militia’s plans secret, Burnett said. In court, he outlined events surrounding the murders and said two other soldiers carried out the crimes under orders from Aguigui.
It’s not clear whether the videogame literature Pauley described differs from a document Burnett referred to in court. He told the judge Aguigui “introduced me to ‘The Manuscript’ was what he called it — a book about true patriots.”
The “Rainbow Six” videogame series launched in 1998 from Tom Clancy’s own entertainment company, in tandem with the release of a Clancy novel of the same name. There have been 15 sequels for various gaming platforms, including Xbox and PlayStation, making it one of the more enduring franchises in the popular first-person shooter genre.
The “Patriots” spinoff from publisher Ubisoft was rumored online in spring 2011 and officially announced in November, when Game Informer featured it in an extensive cover story. A trailer for the game, shown below, went online that month.
It’s unknown whether the Game Informer magazine was the same one used as a gateway to militia membership, or whether Aguigui’s alleged recruitment drive began prior to its publication. But by the time the magazine went on sale, prosecutors say, Aguigui had accumulated nearly $70,000 worth of “military-grade assault rifles and other weaponry and accessories.”
Those purchases were all made through the same seller — High Mountain Hunting Supply in Wenatchee. Pauley said Aguigui initially spent $32,000 at the store, while home from the Army on bereavement leave following the July 2011 death of his pregnant wife, Army Sgt. Deirdre Wetzker Aguigui.
His weapon purchases alarmed one of his family members, who reported the activity to Wenatchee police in September. Local police relayed that report to military police at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the FBI office in Spokane, and it caught the attention of a combined terrorism task force, Pauley said.
Aguigui then bought $38,000 more in weapons and gear from High Mountain via telephone “up to and through the end of November 2011,” Pauley told the court. She did not elaborate on the precise number or make of weapons bought. Aguigui was interviewed by the FBI after the police report, but his gun purchases to that point did not violate the law.
“It was never an issue with us,” said High Mountain manager Dewey McGowan. “Everything we did was above the board. It was all legal, he passed his background check.”
McGowan would not confirm the dollar amount Aguigui spent with the store. “I can’t comment on that, just for the fact that that’s privileged information — federal information,” he said.
A legal notice published by the FBI in May shows the U.S. Marshals Service seized the remaining balance of Aguigui’s store credit at High Mountain — $12,094.42 — on March 9 as part of the investigation. Unlike most such notices, it did not cite any federal statute as grounds for the seizure.
Upon his return to Fort Stewart, Pauley said, Aguigui alerted the other FEAR members of the FBI interest and “structured a firearms straw-purchasing network, in violation of federal law, to accentuate the extensive firearms stockpiling needed for his group without drawing further attention from the federal government.”
Burnett, fellow defendant Pvt. Christopher Salmon and his wife Heather Salmon acted as the gun buyers, Pauley said. The total spent on weapons and equipment purchases was about $87,000.
The weapon used in the murders of Roark and York — a Taurus Judge revolver, which fires either a .45-caliber bullet or a .410 shotgun shell — was bought in Georgia, Pauley said. The two were killed by .410 ammunition, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Burnett and unspecified other members of FEAR — an acronym for “Forever Enduring, Always Ready” — had matching tattoos identifying their membership, Pauley told the court. The symbol was also engraved on some of the weapons seized during the investigation.
As described by Pauley in court, the symbol is “the Greek letters for alpha and omega, overlapping. It resembles an anarchy symbol, and its meaning was elaborate and known to FEAR members.” The symbol sometimes appeared on the group’s firearms in conjunction with the number “666” and the letters “PLT.” No image of the symbol has been introduced at court or released by law enforcement.
The 666 number “is considered the elite platoon within FEAR, or the militia’s special forces unit. Symbolically, 666 is evil or the Antichrist, and Aguigui chose it for this symbolism,” Pauley said.
In chapter 13 of the Book of Revelation, 666 is “the number of the beast.” In three other chapters of Revelation, “the alpha and the omega” are associated with Christ. “PLT” is sometimes military shorthand for the term “platoon.”
Aguigui was raised in Cashmere and graduated from Army basic training in 2010. As of last week, no further hearings had been scheduled in his case.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123
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