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A Missouri man who pleaded guilty to making threatening phone calls to a Georgia mosque has been sentenced to two years in prison.

In a statement Tuesday, federal prosecutors said 50-year-old Preston Q. Howard, of Wright City, made numerous calls last year to the Islamic Society of Augusta in which he threatened to kill members of the mosque and “blow up” the mosque.

Howard acknowledged committing the acts and obstructing or attempting to obstruct the mosque members’ free exercise of their religious beliefs, the news release said.

“Threats made against houses of worship are abhorrent and this Office will work tirelessly to ensure that members of all faiths may worship in peace and without intimidation,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine.

Prosecutors said Howard’s sentence was enhanced because Howard chose his victims based on their religion and “thereby committing a hate crime.”

When imposing the sentence, U.S. District Chief Judge J. Randal Hall noted Howard’s “disturbing pattern of intolerance of many groups of people.”

The Augusta Chronicle reports Hall told Howard that his actions were “terribly offensive.”

“Whatever faith you chose — that goes to the heart of who we are as a nation,” Hall said during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing.

Howard told the judge and members of the mosque who attended the hearing that he was embarrassed and ashamed.

“For each one of you, I apologize,” Howard said.

During the seven and a half months he has been held without bond, Howard began to study Islam, he said, adding he understands that terrorists do not represent all Muslims.

Hall pressed Howard, however. What he saw in the pre-sentencing report, he said, was a man of intolerance. “When you’re released from prison, who’s next?” Hall asked.

Howard responded, “I am definitely not the same person.”

Defense attorney Hank Crane had asked Hall to take into account the change in Howard’s attitude. Howard had no criminal history and stopped calling the mosque once confronted by FBI agents in August 2017, Crane said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Greenwood asked Hall to consider not only the vile messages left over a three-month period, but also other indications of Howard’s intolerance — such as Confederate battle flag stickers covering his mailbox and the sticker of the president with a Hitler-style mustache overlaying a swastika, and similar messages and symbols on his three Facebook pages.

Hall granted the federal prosecutor’s request to go above the federal sentencing guideline range of 15 to 21 months. He also ordered Howard to immediately reimburse the mosque members for nearly $30,000 spent to increase security.

Speaking on the mosque’s behalf, Dr. Hossam Fadel told the judge that the members refused to let fear take them away from their faith.

Founded in 1976, the mosque has grown into a community that provides food, clothing and medical care to those in need, opened a full-time school and opened its doors to everyone in the community.

“We are part and parcel of the … community,” Fadel said.

Charlotte Observer

A 26-year-old Missouri man pleaded guilty to a terrorism charge Thursday for bringing an Amtrak train to a stop in southwest Nebraska last October and sending passengers into a panic.

Taylor M. Wilson, of St. Charles, Missouri, also pleaded guilty to possessing an unregistered 9 mm CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1 rifle, one of several guns FBI agents found in a search of his home, as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors there.

Several other counts will be dismissed at his sentencing Oct. 5.

“Why did you stop it (the train)?” Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart asked Wilson at his plea hearing Thursday.

“I was high,” Wilson answered.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lesley Woods said Wilson had a mask, hammer, knife, a loaded .38-caliber gun, a box of ammunition and a National Socialist Movement business card on him when he got into an secure area of the train and cut the lights to the train.

She said train employees were running up and down the aisles attempting to determine the cause of the emergency stop. Some passengers, in fear, attempted to escape through the train’s windows.

When Amtrak workers found Wilson in the engineer’s seat of the follow engine playing with the controls, he claimed to be the new conductor, Woods said.

He later told investigators he had dropped acid right before, she said.

The conductor and others subdued Wilson, then held him and waited for sheriffs’ deputies from Furnas and Harlan counties to arrive in Oxford, 23 miles southwest of Holdrege.

In body-cam video of him being disarmed by deputies, Wilson was caught making shooting sounds at deputies and the conductor.

None of the 175 people aboard the eastbound California Zephyr were injured.

But he ultimately was indicted federally — in Nebraska and Missouri — after learning he had links to a white supremacist group and had expressed an interest in “killing black people,” according to an informant.

Woods said a search of his Missouri home in December turned up a cache of unregistered firearms (including a machine gun and short-barreled rifle), Mein Kampf and a shield with a swastika on it, pressure plates used to make explosive devices and writings about ISIS.

She said Wilson had planned to travel to Syria to fight with ISIS and bought a plane ticket but never used it. Wilson denied it.

According to the written plea agreement, he told a deputy after his arrest: “I was going to save the train from the black people.”

Wilson faces up to life in prison for threatening to disable railroad on-track equipment and a mass transportation vehicle in the Nebraska case and up to 10 years for possession of an unregistered firearm in the Missouri case.

After the hearing, Wilson’s parents, who were in the back of the courtroom, told him they loved him.

“You did well,” his mom said as a guard ushered him out.

In the hallway, Omaha attorney Jerry Sena said at sentencing he plans to argue that given Wilson’s limited criminal record he should be sentenced within the range of nine to 11 years.

Wilson is being held at the Saline County jail in Wilber.

Journal Star

Taylor Michael Wilson, a white supremacist, attacked an Amtrak train with 175 passengers aboard.

An armed white supremacist who brought an Amtrak train passing through Nebraska to a screeching halt after setting off an emergency brake pleaded guilty to a federal terrorism-related charge on Thursday.

Taylor Michael Wilson admitted in a plea deal with federal prosecutors that he was armed with a .380 caliber handgun and National Socialist Movement identification cards when he entered a secure compartment of an Amtrak train, disabled the train and cut the lights back in October. As part of the agreement with federal prosecutors, Wilson will also plead guilty to a count of receipt and possession of an unregistered firearm.

When conductors subdued the defendant, Wilson said, “I’m the conductor now, bitch!” and reached for his waistband, according to the agreement. The attack happened in a part of the state so remote that it took deputies an hour to arrive at the scene. There were 175 passengers aboard the train at the time.

Wilson’s plea deal included additional revelations that weren’t previously disclosed. Wilson was caught on a body camera making shooting sounds at deputies, and he used racial slurs and insults against the conductor. He also said that human beings were “a plague” on the planet.

“I got a reason for doing what I’m doing. I stopped the fucking train,” he said. “I was going to save the train from the black people.” The plea agreement also says that Wilson quoted Friedrich Nietzsche.

A search of Wilson’s home outside of St. Louis found “hollowed out” portions of walls where he concealed “propaganda relating to the National Socialist movement, body armor, ammunition, and pressure plates that can be used to make an explosive device.” Some of the weapons, including a fully automatic machine gun and a short-barrel rifle, were illegal to posses under federal law.

The government also seized some of Wilson’s handwritten papers, including one that read “National Socialism: Victory of Death!” They also found journals full of “numerous derogatory and threatening comments about the Jewish race and African Americans” as well as writings about the defendant’s “frustrations with the American government, society, and the media.”

The plea agreement says that Wilson told a cellmate that he “dropped acid” right before he entered the secure part of the train. The Lincoln Journal Star reported that Wilson told a judge he was “high” at the time he stopped the train. His attorney said he hoped for a sentence in the range of nine to 11 years.

Wilson is set to be sentenced on Oct. 5.

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