10 Utterly Bizarre Modern Terror Plots
When we think of terrorism, we tend to imagine stuff like airline hijackings, terrifying bombings, and targeted mass-shootings. But while such incidents may make up the majority of terrorist attacks, there’s a significant minority that are even more unhinged. For every terrorist who sits down and meticulously plots his war against innocent bystanders, there are probably a dozen more who just throw some stuff together from late-night TV and see what happens.
10 The Anti-Muslim Death Ray
A working death ray is the stuff of every kid’s dreams. In other words, it’s totally impossible. But that didn’t stop New York resident Glendon Scott Crawford from trying to develop one for the sole purpose of killing Muslims.
Crawford and an associate intended to create a sort of mobile X-ray machine they could drive around and use to zap mega levels of radiation into “enemies of Israel.” At the time of their arrest, the two lacked any of the skills or money necessary to assemble such a fantastical sci-fi weapon, and they were busy trying to cadge money off Jewish groups to fund the project.
Sadly for their cartoonish scheme, it turned out that those groups were simply horrified by the idea. As were the KKK, who found the plan so insane they turned Crawford over to the FBI rather than give him money. That’s an anti-government extremist organization, filled with genuine fruit-loops, shopping a guy to the Feds because they thought he was nuts. In its own strange way, that’s quite an achievement.
9 The UFO Toothpaste Affair
Way back in the halcyon days of 1996, when the biggest drama show on TV was something called The X-Files, a small group of Long Island UFO fanatics decided they’d had enough. If the government wasn’t going to come out and admit that they were covering up the existence of aliens, then it was time to take the law into their own hands. So starting with the Suffolk County District Attorney and a local Republican bigwig, they hatched a plan to kill as many representatives as possible—by smearing their toothpaste with radioactive dust.
The group had managed to get hold of a small sample of radium and were busy plotting to distribute it when they were busted by the FBI. Although toothpaste and food were meant to be their primary targets, they also planned to dust car seats and soft furnishings with the stuff to increase the chance of poisoning. Their chosen method of delivery was to simply ask employees of their targets if they’d like to help poison their boss—a move which quickly got them thrown in jail. Still, things could’ve gone worse. At least Cancer Man didn’t get them first.
8 The Indian Paraglider Plot
Unlike the previous terrorists on our list, the guys behind the Indian Paraglider Plot are some seriously bad dudes. Under the name Lashkar-E-Taiba, they’ve carried out up to seven catastrophic attacks on Indian soil, including the 2008 Mumbai attacks that left 166 people dead. So they’re a real threat and capable of some scarily effective violence. But they’re also capable of dreaming up some seriously odd plans, like the time they tried to suicide attack the country using paragliders.
Just to be clear, paragliders aren’t like magical jetpacks you can use to unleash carnage from on high before making a quick getaway. They’re extremely slow, very difficult to control. and prone to being blown wildly off course by unexpected gusts of wind. They’re also very easy to spot, very easy to shoot down. and have to be launched from somewhere very high up—all of which adds up to them being more trouble than they’re worth. Yet it was revealed in 2010 that these expert terrorists had ordered 50 of them with the idea of carrying out aerial suicide attacks, attacks they eventually abandoned for all the reasons listed above.
7 Project Mayhem
At one time or another, most of us have probably wished we could live out our favorite movie or TV show. The reason we don’t is because it’s surprisingly difficult to build an Iron Man suit, or a time-traveling DeLorean. But things just might be a little easier if your favorite movie is, say, Fight Club and you’re a socially-maladjusted 17-year-old with the knowledge to make minor explosives.
In 2009, Kyle Shaw decided to unleash his inner Tyler Durden by conducting a bombing spree in New York that would specifically target corporations. As the first strike in what he assumed would be a long campaign, the teenager combined a large quantity of fireworks explosives in a plastic bottle and detonated the resulting concoction outside a Starbucks, smashing a few windows and blowing up a bench. He then went and boasted about the incident to a friend and was immediately apprehended.
In the aftermath, a complex network of teenage fantasy unraveled around Shaw, who had started an underground fight club a few months earlier and seemed to be trying to recreate the plot from David Fincher’s classic film. As motivations for committing a terrorist act go, that’s pretty weird—but it’s far from the strangest on our list . . .
6 The Pervert’s Plot
You may have heard of the Alphabet Bomber. This disturbed Yugoslavian bombed Los Angeles International Airport, attempted to bomb a bus station, and cooked up Sarin nerve gas in his apartment. He was one of the first of a breed of modern terrorists—a man devoted to wiping out ordinary Americans with homemade weaponry. His plan, such as it was, was to detonate 15 bombs marked with individual letters to spell out “Aliens of America,” the name of a group he wanted to write “on the face of this nation in blood.” Everything about the man was utterly terrifying—with the sole exception of his bizarre motivation.
After he was arrested in 1974, it came to light that the Alphabet Bomber had a very specific reason for terrorizing Los Angeles. According to NBC, his murderous campaign was the direct result of the city quashing his dreams to open an affordable strip club.
Seriously. A few years earlier he’d been caught in a “compromising position” with a stripper, with the consequence that he was barred from ever opening his own venue. His attacks were intended to force the US government to strike down all and any laws relating to sex, thereby negating his ban and allowing him to fulfill his dream. Instead, they netted him a life sentence in prison.
5 The Smiley Face Bomber
Lucas Helder is a terrorist who managed to combine an insane motive with an equally insane plot to create one of the strangest news stories of the decade. Helder was a polite college student into politics, pot, and new age theories. He also planted 18 pipe bombs seemingly at random across the Midwest in the spring of 2002, badly injuring six people.
His exact motives remain unclear, though letters he left at the crime scenes suggest they included bringing down the government, proving ghosts exist, and teaching people about astral projection. But before any of goals lay a more direct aim for his plot. According to the Helder himself, his intention was to coordinate the bombings so that when plotted on a map they would resemble a gigantic smiley face.
That was his master plan—to scorch a smile across the Midwest in fire. Some reports state he did this so people would know not to be frightened of him, others to show he had the best intentions, and yet others because he’s just plain nuts. Since he was declared mentally ill and unfit to stand trial, it’s likely that we’ll never really understand his reasoning.
4 The Pentagon “Mini Drone”
A couple of years ago, wannabe-jihadist Rezwan Ferdaus got it into his head to try and blow up the Pentagon and US Capitol with C-4 plastic explosives. But rather than take the route of wiring up a car and parking it nearby or simply strapping a suicide belt on and exploding himself, Ferdaus decided on a unique approach. Despite having little knowledge of the technology in question, he concocted a plan to attack the buildings using remote-controlled toy planes.
This was probably the least-effective method available to him. For starters, model planes are fairly difficult to fly with that sort of kamikaze accuracy, and they’re too small to carry a useful quantity of explosives. Had Ferdaus been planning to dive them at random into a large crowd his plan might have worked, but the buildings he was targeting would have shrugged off the blast like it was nothing. Secondly, he wasn’t known to have much interest in model planes or any experience at flying them, so there was no way he could be sure of hitting even something as big as the Pentagon.
At his trial, counter-terrorism experts agreed his plan was utterly bizarre, even going so far as to call it “impossible.”
3 The Terrorist Marketer
We’ve covered a lot of weird motives so far in this list, but perhaps none can compare to those of the Coalition to Save the Preserves. Initially thought to be a loose-affiliation of eco-terrorists operating out of Phoenix, they turned out to be the creation of a single middle-aged unemployed marketing consultant named Mark Warren Sands. And, according to the New York Times, his motive for the string of arson attacks carried out in 2000 and 2001 was to prove he could still conduct an effective marketing campaign.
It started when Sands, a respectable father of three, indulged in some recreational arson near his upscale Phoenix home. He left behind a letter to throw people off the scent, suggesting it was the work of eco-terrorists angry at new housing developments. But when the press picked up the story, he suddenly realized he had a viable PR campaign on his hands.
What followed was madness. Sands dreamt up a terror group out of thin air and went on an arson spree, all the while working the press to get the best coverage possible. As the Times put it, he “came to view his arson as a risky, criminal substitute for his derailed marketing career,” in effect turning terrorism into his new day job. Eventually, his crimes outgrew his marketing skills, and the press turned against him. Sands ended his PR campaign by going to prison for over a decade.
2 The Bizarre Motive Of The Unabomber
Like the Alphabet Bomber above, the Unabomber is one of the more-effective terrorists on our list. For 17 years he quietly mailed letter bombs to Universities, airlines, computer stores, and advertising executives, killing three people and injuring a further 23. Between 1979 and 1995, the FBI spent millions trying unsuccessfully to track him down; he was only caught when his brother finally turned him in. Prior to the Oklahoma City Bombing, he was probably the most notorious terrorist in US history. And the event that pushed him over the edge, triggering his murder-spree? Someone built a road through his favorite hiking spot.
In an interview with an obscure journal after his arrest, the Unabomber specifically highlighted the incident as the moment he decided to go into terrorism overdrive. At that point he’d already sent a couple of bombs that had caused minor injuries, but the building of a new road across his favorite view triggered the posting of more and better explosives, resulting in the first deaths of his campaign. He even went so far as to say, “If nobody had started cutting roads through there . . . I would still just be living there and the rest of the world could just take care of itself.”
Now there’s a weird thought.
1 The FEAR Group
The story of the FEAR Group is like something from a Saturday morning cartoon. Though this collection of soldier-anarchists operated from a military base in Georgia, they were probably never a serious threat. And yet their complex plot and organization were so outlandish, that they likely qualify as real-life supervillains.
Investigators who uncovered their plot in 2012 found a detailed plan for overthrowing the government by doing stuff as diverse as poisoning Washington’s apple supply, attacking an ornate fountain in Savannah Park, bombing a dam, seizing control of the Canadian drugs trade, and assassinating Barack Obama. Their plot was literally lifted straight from a video game, and members used the same game to recruit new fighters—reading them articles about its anti-government overtones and asking if they’d like to “play” it. Even their chosen name was like something from a kid’s show: the acronym F.E.A.R., standing for “Forever Enduring, Always Ready.”
Luckily, they never even got close to pulling off their bizarre plot. All four members were arrested after they murdered two of their associates for reasons best described as “petty.” Still, it’s a stark reminder that truth really is sometimes stranger than fiction.