Madeline Ackley Arizona Republic (CNT) City News And Talk #arizona
A Page man who was arrested on suspicion of planning to set fire to a local courthouse had his detention hearing on Monday as a small crowd of supporters stood outside the federal courthouse in Flagstaff protesting his charges.
Loren Reed, 26, was arrested in June and charged with one count of threats to damage and destroy a building by means of fire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both.
Reed has pled not guilty, and advocacy groups have questioned the legitimacy of the charge, considering it a move by the government to silence free speech.
In a private Facebook messenger group chat, Reed repeatedly stated that he wanted to get a group together to burn down the Page Magistrate Court, according to court documents.
Reed also asked others in the group chat to show up with gas, fireworks and other flammables and discussed the use of Molotov cocktails.
“Arson, Assault, Conspiracy, here we come,” he wrote, according to the FBI’s complaint filed in court.
Someone reported his comments to the police in late May. Using an undercover Facebook page, undercover officers joined the group chat and collected almost 100 screenshots of messages between Reed and others.
Reed stated in the chat, “I still wanna burn the courthouse down,” according to court records, and planned it for 9 p.m. June 2, the same day thousands of people protested in downtown Phoenix against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Reed also discussed a plan to go to a bar in Page and yell anti-police slogans until someone tried to fight him. A short time later, he wrote in the chat that he had been kicked out of the bar. Police responded to the incident at State 48, a bar in Page, but Reed had left before they arrived.
Officers found Reed’s number through his Facebook profile and called the number. Unaware undercover officers were on the other line, Reed confirmed his identity to the caller, investigators said.
Reed appeared in his detention hearing on Monday by video. The court’s decision on whether he will be released was pending.
The Tucson Anti-Repression Crew was among the organizations supporting Reed, and said in a statement to The Arizona Republic that his charges are “trumped up” and an example of a wider pattern of government repression of activists.
“The felony charge that the government has brought against Loren Reed, a young Diné (Navajo) activist, is an extension of the government’s attacks on movements for social justice across the nation in the wake of this summer’s protests,” the organization said in a statement.
The group shared a photo of about seven protesters outside the U.S. District Court building. They also objected to the four-month pretrial proceedings, which had been delayed due to the new coronavirus pandemic.
Reed is scheduled to appear in front of a jury on Dec. 1. A lawyer representing Reed did not respond to The Republic’s request for comment.