Did you hear about the man arrested with a car full of explosives (M80 fireworks) outside a Michigan Islamic center? Here’s the Detroit News lede for “Plot to blow up Dearborn mosque foiled by tip to police”:
Dearborn — A decorated Army veteran accused of plotting to blow up a Metro Detroit mosque served time in federal prison for threatening to kill President George W. Bush and bomb a Vermont veterans’ clinic in 2002.
Roger Stockham, 63, who flew 600 combat helicopter missions in Vietnam, is behind bars in Michigan after he drove from his home in California last week and parked a car with a trunk full of explosives outside the Islamic Center of America, authorities said.
Acting on a tip, Dearborn police thwarted the alleged plot by arresting Stockham outside the sprawling religious center, one of the largest mosques in North America. At the time, 500 members were attending a funeral at the mosque.
I began researching this topic because while I had heard about this, it didn’t seem to generate the type of mainstream media coverage you might expect of a bombing attempt at a mosque.
But there are other problems with the coverage, too. For one thing, this is yet another story where mental illness plays a key role. That information should be placed higher than it is. The Detroit News report has a lot of information, but I found it somewhat difficult to follow. It explains that Stockham would tell people he was Muslim and call newspapers claiming to be “Hem Ahadin.” I didn’t understand if they were saying he had converted to Islam and, if so, when or if they were suggesting that he wasn’t Muslim but claiming to be or whether this was sort of a second personality for him.
The Burlington Free Press, which has prior experience with “Hem Ahadin,” filled in some details. He’s apparently been making bomb threats (whether or not he had the explosives to back up the threat) for a long time. Armed with a gun and a bomb in 1977, he took a psychiatrist hostage for four hours. In 1979, he took his 9-year-old son, rented a plane, took off and then called the Los Angeles control tower to say he had explosives and wanted a larger aircraft to fly to Iran. While out on bail, he set several oil tanks ablaze in Lompoc. He was found innocent by reason of insanity and released from a state hospital in 1983:
In October 2002, he called The Burlington Free Press two times in one day and in one call indicated he was going to explode bombs all over the place. He called again the next day, shortly before noon, identifying himself as Hem Ahadin, saying he was “a local Muslim terrorist on a roll.”
He said he was “planting explosive devices in the neighborhood” and that there would be the “biggest desecration of a flag you’ve ever seen.” The flag would wrap explosives, he said, and on the white stripes would be written: “The only reason for evil to exist is that good men do nothing. … This flag now represents the greatest evil on the planet.”
He ranted against the Veterans Affairs, the FBI and President Bush, whom he said he was going to kill, largely because of the things Bush had said about Iraq in a speech earlier this week.
He was a Muslim, he said, having been converted when he was in Indonesia in the 1970s in “prison,” although news reports say he worked there for a private helicopter company.
It goes on, detailing claims he made about his mental illness and what motivated his anger. (Randomly, does this blog comment seem to be from the accused? Here’s a Facebook post of Stockham from a couple of weeks ago on a page devoted to supporting Bradley Manning where Stockham says “Hem Ahadin” is his “Muslim name.”) There’s also this:
At 3:13 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, he had left a message on a Free Press editor’s voice mail that said: “You must now begin the process of learning how to recognize when you are speaking to a representative of the Islamic Jihad.” …
Stockham had threatened to carry out “jihad” holy war against the White River veterans office, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court by Sean Smith, a special agent with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Stockham told the Free Press he had placed a bomb in a storage closet where he knew a certain person went each day.
This story does a much better job of explaining the mental illness that has plagued Stockham for decades. I’m still curious about what role religion plays in this story. As in, I am completely unsure if he’s claiming to be Muslim without any merit, is a Muslim who happens to suffer from mental illness, or what. Oh, another detail that I thought interesting comes from a 1985 Los Angeles Times story about yet another bomb plot of Stockham’s — this time at Nevada’s Reno-Cannon International Airport:
The FBI has issued an arrest warrant for Roger Dale Stockham, 38, who, agents said, has used several false names in the past, including “Roger Hemaredin,” a name similar to one given to a newspaper in Reno by a caller claiming responsibility for the bomb.
I’m not sure if that’s a mistake by the FBI or if the alias changed over the years. Hemaredin/Hem Ahadin has been in use since at least the 1980s, then. What none of these stories explain is whether Stockham engaged in any of the worship or practices of a Muslim. Self-identification can mean many different things. I’m not entirely sure what it means in this case. While this story is enormously difficult to report on, on account of the serious mental issues at play, it would help to know a bit more about Stockham’s religious life. Was he ever part of a mosque community? How did people in the mosque view him, if so? How did people in the Dearborn mosque react to the news about Stockham’s self-identification? I’m most interested in what this story tells us about how people with severe mental illness are handled (or not handled) in our society, but the religious aspects to this story are also worth exploring. Do let us know if you see anything worthwhile.