U.S. News

Tennessee man sentenced over plot to attack Muslim community

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) - A former Congressional candidate from Tennessee has been sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison for plotting to burn down a mosque, a school and a cafeteria in upstate New York, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday.

Robert Doggart, 65, was sentenced on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chattanooga, where he was convicted in February of trying to recruit people to commit arson and violate civil rights.

Doggart was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in April 2015 after saying in wiretapped telephone calls that he planned to recruit a militia and travel to Islamberg, a rural town that is home to a small Muslim community in Hancock, New York, about 130 miles (209 km) northwest of New York City.

While there, he intended to “carry out an armed attack” that included burning down a mosque or “blowing it up with a Molotov cocktail or other explosive device,” the statement said.

“I don’t want to have to kill children, but there’s always collateral damage,” Doggart said on one of the recorded calls, according to the statement.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the sentence.

“People of all faiths have the fundamental right to worship freely, and this administration will not tolerate attempts to violate that right,” he said in a statement.

Doggart’s attorney, Leslie Cory, said on Thursday in a telephone interview that an appeal was likely.

Cory argued in court that her client would not have carried out the plot and liked to shock people because of a personality disorder and mental problems.

Islamberg, started by a group of African-American Muslims who moved from U.S. cities in the 1970s, is a gated community with dirt roads and several dozen small homes near the town of Hancock in New York’s Catskills Mountains.

The 200 or so members of the community, in which children are home-schooled and residents worship at a mosque built on the 70-acre property, follow a Pakistani Sufi cleric.

Reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville; Editing by Patrick Enright and Lisa Shumaker