September 24, 2010
The public became aware of Michael Finton September 24th, 2009. That’s when he appeared in a Springfield court facing alarming charges, especially for sleepy Springfield, Illinois. Finton was not being charged with fraud. It was not rape. Finton was not being charged with assault and robbery, as he was convicted of in 1999. No, Finton was there facing charges of terrorism. He was arrested after calling a cell phone twice. It’s charged he called the cell phone to detonate a van packed full of explosives that he parked downtown. That was nearly a year ago. Now, the man, known as Talib Islam, is in legal limbo.
"I believe I am legally innocent," Finton exclaimed wearing handcuffs, a black-and-white stripe jumpsuit and black-rimmed glasses.
This story is about a suspected terrorist busted by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Finton is accused of trying to kill a lot of people and scar an already damaged capitol city ego. Why would I write a story about a suspected and accused terrorist? Because he asked me to, quite frankly.
As host of a Saturday evening, alternative-theory, political talk-show on WMAY, I never get mail. I thought barely anybody listened. I’ve had a caller claim he has video evidence of county deputies abusing stun guns on his daughter while she was in handcuffs. My pleading for the caller to send the evidence in to the media has even resulted in nothing.
Only sometimes would I receive a book from various publishers about the afterlife, or UFOs, or even books about Stonehenge--things I do not talk about. My program covers growing institutionalized surveillance and secretive groups like Club Bilderberg and Bohemian Grove. I talk about the importance of the multitude and how globalization should be from below, not above. I preach the importance of our rights as humans to petition for redress from our government. I encourage everyone to be critical, to be the press and to think for themselves.
I had just arrived back into town from a cross-country journey to Los Angeles attempting to free Lindsay Lohan from jail with Producer Joe from the Free Beer and Hot Wings Morning Show. This was a ridiculously successful radio stunt. I tagged along to film the eight-day adventure. It sounds like an unreal trip because it was and there’s video evidence!
When I arrived back to work the Monday following the trip, Finton reached out to me with a hand written letter from the Sangamon County Jail. He requested an interview with me specifically. He noted that another media outlet in Springfield had requested an interview and he wanted the host of a little known talk show there so his story would be fairly covered.
Apparently he had heard me talk about his case and other cases involving a scenario which we’ve heard many examples. In the past 9 years we have had a flux of carefully crafted and controlled stories of terror plots playing out in the media. Here’s how they usually read: “The Joint Terrorism Task Force disrupted a sleeper cell today and arrested one (sometimes it’s three or four) person(s).” Basically, the FBI sets up sting operations for individuals or groups only to take them down with plenty of frightened, yet relieved citizens thanking the Feds. These acts are also met with plenty of editorials bolstering more funding for the Feds.
I show up to the Sangamon County Jail’s visitor room one Saturday afternoon. After setting up my recorder and ensuring the microphone was up to the ear piece, I see other Sangamon County inmates through three different panes of glass, both are young black women wearing orange and white stripe jumpsuits and they’re trying to get my attention. The stools were bolted down, as were the phones used to communicate with inmates.
I see a young, very thin red-headed man walk by two panes of glass away. We make eye contact. Then there’s an officer. The buzzer sounds and the doors unlock. I could feel the harsh metal clanging throughout the walls all around. Michael Finton came into the sterilized, institutionalized, visitor’s room. We are separated by a thick piece of reinforced glass. The yellowish light bouncing off the concrete blocks painted white is quickly overcome by the sound of heavy locks shutting.
“How did you get here?” I asked.
“It’s a long story,” he said.
"The things that happened from 2007 to 2009 need to be known, but my lawyer says that is not admissible in court." That's why Finton claims he had to get his story out, even against recommendations from his appointed public defender.
Finton converted to the Muslim faith after serving over seven years with the Illinois Department of Corrections for aggravated battery and robbery. After converting to Islam, serving his time and being released in 2009, Finton claims he was “a model parolee.” According to the 30-year-old, this all started after prison. He and a fellow Muslim man helped a doctor move from Decatur to Chicago. While in the windy city, the empty U-Haul they were driving was involved in a minor car accident. When police arrived at the scene, they questioned Finton, he recalls.
“What happened is the police saw that I was a Muslim and they saw, you know, there was a Koran in the U-Haul Truck and we had just finished emptying out the U-Haul Truck and they seen an empty U-Haul Truck and of course they jumped to conclusions. So, they called the FBI.” Finton continued “The FBI confirmed that I was telling the truth.”
Innocent explanations, house raids on “bogus” warrants, and an apparent pattern of harassment is what Finton worked to convey in the 30 minute interview. Finton even claims this is all well documented and investigated. All of this according to a man facing life in prison for charges of terrorism.
Micheal Finton says he knew the terror plot he is being charged with was a set up and there wasn’t anywhere else he could turn. Born in California, Finton says he was raised in the foster care system for most of his child and shortly after arriving in Illinois he ended up in IDOC for 7 1/2 years. “Jail is not really so bad,” he said.
A common element
Not long ago the FBI initiated a special operation called Tripwire. The operation has been reported to be involved in interviewing the nation’s crop dusters looking for potential bio-terror attacker and has kept a close eye on activities within prisons. Then there are the sleeper cells. You hear stories where a sleeper cell of 4 or 5 terrorists are busted by the FBI. Then you come to read in the story that there was an FBI informant or agent involved providing material and rhetorical support. These sting operations are developed to protect citizens from terrorists by "identifying potential terrorist sleeper cells within the United States." Apparently this is done in a very direct and aggressive manner.
In the affidavit against Finton the undercover confidential enforcement officer tells Finton that “two or three other such attacks might happen on the same day.” At least one other attack was planned for that day, and then taken down by federal agents that were involved in the planning.
Hosam Smadi in Dallas, Texas, was also arrested the just the day before Finton was arrested on basically the same charges. Smadi was arrested after placing what, authorities claim, he thought were explosives at the 60-story Fountain Place Tower. The fake bomb was provided by the FBI. Smadi, a Jordanian living in the country on an expired visa, pleaded guilty to attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction charge and is currently awaiting sentencing. "Smadi believed this was an active weapon of mass destruction," his statement said. "Smadi believed the bomb would explode and cause extensive damage."
A press release from the United States Attorney Central District of Illinois states Finton’s case “is not in any way related to the ongoing terror investigation in New York and Colorado.” Authorities are also on record saying there was no link between Finton and Smadi. But, there is a common element with Finton’s case and the Joint Terrorism Task Force’s “uncovering” of Smadi, the "Portland Seven," the "Lackawanna Six," and the Northern Virginia jihad. That relation is the Joint Terrorism Task Force’s informants and agents.
There are many similarities between what both Smadi and Finton are charged with. They both were under heavy surveillance by federal agents and informants. These informants then provided rhetorical and material support and even built the phony bombs and funded the operations. There were also no other individuals involved with the two distant cases. It was only the defendant and FBI agents in both the Finton and Smadi case. These were not elaborate plots by “sleeper cells.”
There are several differences between the two cases, however. Finton is an American citizen, here legally and according to Finton himself, a model parolee. Smadi was here illegally. As for the charges, Finton is charged with attempting to use a WMD and attempting to target a federal building. The attempting to bomb a public place charge against Smadi was dropped in a plea deal this past May. Smadi may serve 30 years.
Finton doesn’t want to plead guilty or even reach a plea deal. He was approached with a plea deal, but claims that was a set up too. “If I were to plead guilty it would just basically be on the um you know ... um ... to say basically um ... just get it over with, if you’re going to give me life, give me whatever you’re going to give me.”
“Everything that I did, I was told to do. Everything that I did, and what they say about me and this Aaron Schock’s office, I didn’t ... that wasn’t my idea. I didn’t bring that up. They did. If you look in every single one of the wiretaps every single time dead bodies are mentioned it’s always coming from the undercover, never coming from me. We can look at—um who built it? They did. Who supplied all the materials? Who supplied the van? Who gave me the phone,” Finton rants on, mentioning fed's money being exchanged for rent and travel back and forth for the recorded meetings. “This whole thing was their operation.”
"I believe I am legally innocent," Finton exclaimed wearing handcuffs, a black-and-white stripe jumpsuit and black-rimmed glasses. "Intent and believe are the key words here ... " Finton said while sitting across the glass in the secured visitor’s room. “The people that set this up, without disparaging them, they are not very good at what they do. I knew that this was fake.” The affidavit with the charges against Finton indicates that he stated in recorded conversations with the informant that he suspected this to be a set up. “I knew it was a sting operation the day of, I knew it was a sting operation as soon as I saw it.”
The accused terrorist was not shy in confirming what the affidavits did get right. Finton did want to move to Pakistan to go to school to defend Palestine. “Most of those statements from the affidavit are basically true or somewhat accurate,” he said, hoping to one day defend the Palestinians.
Before his arrest, Finton traveled to the Middle East. But he claims it was an innocent trip. His trip to Saudi Arabia spawned from an Islamic matrimonial website. It was not an arranged marriage website, but rather a parent approved Islamic dating site, Finton said. He had a profile on the site that said he wanted to learn Arabic and move to the Middle East. He wanted citizenship in the Middle East and “If necessary I would have renounced my American citizenship,” he said. Interestingly, if found guilty of the charges, Finton could have his citizenship revoked if a bill promoted by TEA Party backed Senator Scott Brown and newly Independent Senator Joseph Lieberman.
The family from Saudi Arabia wanted to bring Finton over and it was decided that Finton would marry the daughter and move to Saudi Arabia. “I’m not from here in Southern Illinois. People are different, that’s not anything bad, they’re just different. When I went to Saudi Arabia I fit in.” Finton then rambled off about the scourges of modern society like disease, crime, drugs, etc.
After his trip and multiple run-ins with the law on what he claims were bogus reasons, Finton says he was approached by the FBI in 2008. He claims the Feds wanted him to be an informant at a mosque in Decatur. He refused. After continued traffic stops and warranted searches, Finton knew he was being targeted by the authorities.
“I was at the end of my rope,” he exclaimed.
In what could be his one chance to sound off about politics, Finton did have this to say about the forthcoming “International Burn the Koran Day” planned by an evangelical church from Florida; “This doesn’t seem like the greatest idea in the world to me,” he said. Finton says the “notion that Islam wants to destroy democracy is not true. The first country to recognize American democracy was not France or Germany, it certainly wasn’t England. It was the Kingdom of Morocco. The Founding Fathers were very, very aware of the Muslims.”
Finally, Finton claims that the resources the FBI wasted on him could have been used to catch the so-called “underwear bomber” and the young man accused of the Times Square bombing. Those two cases, by the way, do not have the element of the Joint Terrorism Task Force providing material or rhetorical support.
Finton was being represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Robert Scherschligt. Scherschligt requested to be removed from the case because of the lack of cooperation from Finton concerning media interviews. U.S. District Judge David Herndon permitted the request and has assigned Finton new council.
Though the arrest and charges came down last September in Springfield, Finton has been awaiting trial and it appears that the trial is going may be postponed even longer. The newly appointed council needs time to catch up on the case. As the 30-year-old converted Muslim from Decatur gets settled with his new public defender he also awaits a psychological evaluation.
Michael Finton’s trial date is September 27th. Then, he will face two counts in federal court: one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of attempting to harm or kill federal employees or agents. Since he was arrested nearly a year ago and charged with parking a van full of explosives next to the Findley Federal Building in downtown Springfield, Finton’s case has been on quite the ride. He has switched public defenders and FBI agents have been moved around. Even the judge presiding over the case will not be normal to Illinois’ Central Judicial District--U.S. District Judge David Herndon hails from Illinois’ Southern Judicial District. Judge Herndon could postpone the trial date even later to allow the new public defender to get acquainted with the case.
Greg Bishop can be contacted via email: email@example.com or by calling 217.633.4030