Man plots to blow up 48 Oklahoma churches

Frequently when we read stories about lone wolf terrorist attacks, there’s the specter of mental illness. And this week’s story about a man held in a plot to bomb 48 churches in Oklahoma is no exception. Here’s how the Chicago Tribune put it:

By the time Gregory Weiler II was in his late teens, his family said, the Elk Grove Village native was well down a path toward destruction.

Both his mother and father had committed suicide before he was 16, and Weiler had also tried to kill himself in 8th grade. He had been hospitalized for mental illness at least six times. In between, he had become addicted to heroin and alcohol.

When Weiler, 23, left several years ago to join a religious group in Missouri, his family knew they’d eventually hear that “Greg” had again gotten into trouble.

It happened last week, when Weiler was arrested in Miami, Okla. for allegedly gathering materials to make 50 Molotov cocktails, with plans to bomb nearly that many local churches.

I can’t imagine how difficult his life must have been. And it’s pretty obvious that the man struggled with mental illness. It’s also true, of course, that he had fairly elaborate plans to bomb four dozen churches as part of a bizarre self-promotion effort. His family says they have no doubt that he would have followed through on his plans.

The mental illness issue is obvious and profound and the main gist of the interview with his family members. Is it the main point of the story? The bulk is given over to the elaborate plans and capabilities of the man. I don’t really have an answer for all this, I just find it intriguing as more and more mentally ill individuals (or seemingly mentally ill, at the very least) are charged with terrorism. How much emphasis should be placed on mental illness? Particularly when the mental illness doesn’t prevent elaborate plans from being made or executed

But what really intrigued me about the story was the way it treated the “religious group in Missouri” referenced above. We’re told that the family “couldn’t even begin to guess” why he targeted the 48 churches in the rural community of 15,000 people. We’re told about the serious mental illness that plagued each member of his family and then:

About three years ago, Weiler joined a church in Missouri that his family called “a cult.”

Is there some reason that this religious group/cult is a state secret? If the family is pointing to it and knows enough about it to call it a cult, can’t we get some more info?

Anyway, the story ends with a Facebook post from the man:

A Sept. 25 entry — apparently written from his motel room — referred to his childhood and focused on the Catholic Church, whose leaders he claimed are responsible for “hypocrisy, murder and deceit.”

He ends: “I have not opened a bible in a while, and I haven’t stepped foot into a church building in quite some time — and though I may be very lonely right now, I am hoping that someone, and maybe someday in the future, someone will take notice.”

Weiler is charged with threat to use explosives, incendiary device, simulated bomb to damage or injure persons or property, and a violation of the Oklahoma anti-terrorism act. He is being held without bail in Ottawa County Jail.

Perhaps we’ll learn more about this “cult” or more about why Weiler targeted churches in future stories.

  • Jerry

    I agree. In literary terms, it’s impolite to tease a reader with a plot element and then not follow through. This is a news story but the same critique applies. If you’re going to mention something like this church/”cult” don’t mention it in passing, explain how it might be relevant. Or leave it out.

  • The Old Bill

    I’d like to know more about this cult. He said he hadn’t been in a church building in quite some time. Did he leave the cult? Was he kicked out? If the cult had a church, was it targeted? What else was on his Facebook page?

    It’s certainly not hard to make 48 Molotov cocktails. Very low-tech. Six gallons of gas, two cases of beer, a pint of alcohol, a large box of tampons and a Zippo. And it doesn’t take much (especially with Google Maps) to chart out your campaign. Hitting 48 targets alone is a bit dicier.

    Most reports of stories like this include a line similar to, ‘Community leaders and mental health professionals are seeking ways to make sense of this.” But how often is that a fool’s errand? I wonder what lesson we can gain from this other than he was a very sick individual.

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I would also like to know more about the churches he targeted and if there was any kind of pattern in terms of the ones targeted and the ones not targeted, if any. There have to be two dozen churches of various kinds in the downtown area of that town. Only one of them appears to be Catholic, so his disdain for the Catholic church does not seem to be too great a part of his motivation. Given the man’s mental health status, there may not be much to be gained by such an inquiry, but I would have found it interesting and it would have added some depth to the story. And it might reveal some connection to the “cult” to which he belonged in Missouri.

  • Julia

    “How much emphasis should be placed on mental illness? Particularly when the mental illness doesn’t prevent elaborate plans from being made or executed”

    Obsessed and delusional people may very well be able to make elaborate plans and carry them out.
    The issue is the legal definition of insanity or diminished capacity in the particular jurisdiction. The actual medical diagnosis may not line up with the relevant legal definition for criminal law purposes.

    • Jon in the Nati

      “The actual medical diagnosis may not line up with the relevant legal definition for criminal law purposes.”

      It rarely does, in fact. The bar for criminal competency is very low (astoundingly so, in some cases). That said, the issue of his mental illness is quite relevant for coverage, in order to help us understand what was going on and why, even if it likely will not figure in this man’s eventual trial for his crimes.

  • sari

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/gregory-arthur-weiler-ii-_0_n_1949008.html

    A better, though still imperfect write-up, which includes the name of the church he attended until recently.

    One thing I’d love to see addressed in articles such as these is how the mentally ill weave religious ideation into their delusions. A friend who worked county crisis (intake for involuntary assessment straight out of the cop cars) spoke often of the many Jesuses, John the Baptists, Virgin Marys, and one Mother of god (the one with the big G) who came through their doors. Would Muslims see themselves as individuals from the Koran or Hindus as manifestations of their different gods?

    To the question about mental illness, a lot depends on the illness and its presentation. Many individuals with bipolar, for instance, appear quite competent and are very social, especially during the manic phase. The problem is that their understanding of reality may differ markedly from actual reality. This guy’s history and that of his parents suggest severe, intractable mental illness. It will be interesting to see if he can be medicated into competence to stand trial or whether he will be allowed to show the judge (and jury) the degree to which he’s afflicted. The latter is important, since it’s very difficult to force medication on anyone outside of an institutional setting, one reason so many mentally ill people live on the streets, alienated from their families.

    • JoFro

      I know of cases of Hindus who see themselves as manifestations of one of their gods. As for Muslims, in most cases the mentally-ill who claim to be either Muhammad or the next Muhammad are mostly jailed for heresy until someone realises they are mentally ill or in worse cases, get killed.

  • Benchwerks

    We all want to know about the cult.

    We don’t seem to notice as much the part when he said, “I have not opened a bible in a while, and I haven’t stepped foot into a church building in quite some time — and though I may be very lonely right now, I am hoping that someone, and maybe someday in the future, someone will take notice.”

    Knowing about the cult would probably be helpful for investigators. It would probably also be helpful to know about his heart. And not just for him, but for us. The things we focus on are pretty clear indicators of where our own hearts are.

  • Will

    That his family “called it a ‘cult’” tells us nothing more than that his family did not like it. Period.


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