Residents of the Islamberg community near New York’s Catskill Mountains were terrified to learn of yet another planned terrorist attack on their community in January 2019. Authorities arrested four men from the Rochester area after their alleged plot was discovered due to concerns expressed by a local high school student. Brian Colaneri, 20, Vincent Vetromile, 19, of Gates, and 18-year-old Andrew Crysel of East Rochester have been taken into custody. Also arrested was a 16-year old whose name is not being made public by the Islamic Post due to his age. The group amassed an arsenal of more than 20 firearms in addition to at least 3 explosive devices which were intended to be used in their attack. While they were charged with criminal possession of a weapon and conspiracy, more charges, including federal, may be forthcoming.
Aside from the sheer horror from learning about the planned massacre of its community, residents of Islamberg were also forced to relive their collective traumatic experiences from 2015 when former Congressional candidate from Tennessee, Robert Doggart was arrested by FBI agents. Doggart, then 65, was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for his plot to burn down a mosque, school and cafeteria in the community.
The similarities between the two planned attacks are striking. Both involved groups of individuals with access to and experience with deadly assault rifles. Both involved persons who had not only been radicalized online but also, perhaps, more importantly, those who had believed and decided to act upon misinformation, lies, and innuendo spread online by far-right wing conspiracy theorists and purveyors of Islamophobia. Fortunately, one of the other things that the two heinous schemes shared in common was the fact that both were discovered and intervened upon by law enforcement officers prior to bloodshed and the loss of life. It was made clear by authorities, in both instances, that the individuals taken into custody were not simply making boisterous, threatening and inflammatory statements online. While addressing the recent Rochester-area arrests in a news conference, the Police Chief from Greece made the chilling remark, “there would have been a loss of life.”
There was, however, a striking contrast between Doggart’s case in 2015 compared to the most recent alleged terror attack. Perhaps indicating decreased tolerance for racism and Islamophobia, the community of Islamberg was thankful to have received an enormous outpouring of support from individuals and organizations who condemned this particular plot as well as the decades-long smear campaign against their community. Moreover, representatives from both New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, as well as New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office have been in touch with community leaders in Islamberg to provide words of comfort in addition to offering resources at their disposal to support residents of Islamberg during these difficult times.