theintercept | THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE announced the first FBI terror arrest of the Trump administration on Tuesday: an elaborate sting operation that snared a 25-year-old Missouri man who had no terrorism contacts besides the two undercover FBI agents who paid him to buy hardware supplies they said was for a bomb — and who at one point pulled a knife on him and threatened his family.
Robert Lorenzo Hester of Columbia, Missouri, didn’t have the $20 he needed to buy the 9-volt batteries, duct tape, and roofing nails his new FBI friends wanted him to get, so they gave him the money. The agents noted in a criminal complaint that Hester, who at one point brought his two small children to a meeting because he didn’t have child care, continued smoking marijuana despite professing to be a devout Muslim.
One of the social media posts that initially caught the FBI’s attention referred to a group called “The Lion Guard.” Hester told one of the undercover agents the name came from “a cartoon my children watch.”
But according to the DOJ press release, Hester had plans to conduct an “ISIS-sponsored terrorist attack” on President’s Day that would have resulted in mass casualties had it succeeded.
News reports breathlessly echoed the government’s depiction of Hester as a foiled would-be terrorist. But the only contact Hester had with ISIS was with the two undercover agents who suggested to him that they had connections with the group. The agents, who were in contact with him for five months, provided him with money and rides home from work as he dealt with the personal fallout of an unrelated arrest stemming from an altercation at a local grocery store.
Hester, who had briefly enlisted in the U.S. Army before being discharged in 2013, had posted images of weapons and a flag sometimes associated with terrorist groups on a social media platform. He had also written “Burn in hell FBI” and “Brothers in AmurdiKKKa we need to get something going here all those rednecks have their little militias why shouldn’t we do the same.” In another post, he asserted that ISIS was created as part of a conspiracy by the United States and Israel.