A New York state man was arrested by federal agents Tuesday, accused of plotting to blow himself up on the National Mall on Election Day.
Paul M. Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, is charged with unlawful manufacture of a destructive device and interstate transportation and receipt of an explosive, according to the FBI. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
A search of Rosenfeld's home following his arrest turned up a 200-pound bomb that had to be removed by bomb technicians, authorities said. Agents also found a fusing system and empty canisters that once held black powder.
"As alleged, Paul M. Rosenfeld concocted a twisted plan to draw attention to his political ideology by killing himself on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. -- risking harm to many others in the process," U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a news release. "Rosenfeld's alleged plan for an Election Day detonation cut against our democratic principles. Thanks to outstanding coordination between local and federal law enforcement, Rosenfeld's alleged plot was thwarted, and he is now in federal custody."
Assistant FBI Director-In-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. credited “the quick action of a concerned citizen and the diligent work of a host of … law enforcement partners and the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force” with thwarting Rosenfeld’s plans.
"I'd like to extend particular thanks to our partners with the Orangetown Police Department, the Rockland County Sheriff's Office, the Rockland County District Attorney, the New York State Police, the New York City Police Department and the Stony Point Police Department for their respective roles in bring this investigation to a safe conclusion," Sweeney said.
The criminal complaint against Rosenfeld accuses him of sending letters and text messages to an unnamed person in Pennsylvania in August and September, in which he said he planned to build a bomb he would detonate on Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C. NBC News reported that the person Rosenfeld contacted was a reporter.
Rosenfeld said he wanted the bomb to draw attention to his political belief in sortition, the complaint said.
According to the Sortition Foundation, sortition is the use of a random selection of people to fill political positions or make up assemblies. The practice has its roots in ancient Greece.
"An assembly that uses sortition would be composed of people just like you and me: it would be a representative random sample of people, making decisions in an informed, fair and deliberative setting," the foundation's website said.
The reporter contacted law enforcement authorities and reported what Rosenfeld told him, NBC News said.
Read the entire federal criminal complaint against Paul Rosenfeld below.
The subsequent probe into Rosenfeld’s actions led agents to conduct a traffic stop on Rosenfeld Tuesday, at which time he agreed to an interview with investigators. In that interview, Rosenfeld admitted that he’d ordered a large amount of black powder over the internet and transported the explosive substance from New Jersey to his home in New York, the criminal complaint said.
He admitted using about 8 pounds of the black powder to build the Election Day bomb and said he “installed certain components in the explosive device to ensure that he was killed in the blast,” the court document said.
Agents found the bomb intended for the National Mall in the basement of Rosenfeld’s Tappan home.
“The explosive device is a plywood box that contained what appeared to the agents, based on their training and experience, to be black powder,” the complaint said.
FBI experts X-rayed the device and determined that engaging the bomb’s firing switch would generate the necessary electrical charge to ignite the black powder inside the box, the document said.
Rosenfeld said he’d built smaller bombs in the past and conducted test detonations to ensure that the bigger bomb would explode as planned, investigators said.
Rosenfeld's family has expressed relief that the alleged plot was uncovered in time, according to the Rockland/Westchester Journal News.
"We're grateful to the FBI for managing to find out about this so no one is harmed," Rosenfeld's father, Peter Rosenfeld, told the newspaper.