Federal authorities said Monday that a Houston man was charged with attempting to bomb a statue in that city honoring a Confederate military figure.
The charges, filed Sunday and made public Monday, come as officials across the country have grappled with how to handle their Confederate monuments, an issue that has taken on a newfound urgency since violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month.
Authorities said Andrew Schneck, 25, was found by a Houston Park Ranger late Saturday night with materials capable of creating “a viable explosive device.” An attorney for Schneck said the same man had also been convicted in an earlier explosives case.
According to an FBI affidavit, Schneck was spotted just after 11 p.m. Saturday kneeling in front of the General Dowling Monument, a marble statue honoring Richard Dowling, who served as a military leader and then a recruiter for the Confederacy.
Schneck was holding two small boxes when approached, including a timer and wires, an FBI special agent wrote in the affidavit, which prompted the park ranger to contact the Houston Police Department, which notified its bomb squad. The park ranger said that Schneck admitted to wanting to do harm to the Dowling statue because he did not “like that guy.”
At one point, Schneck “took a clear plastic bottle appearing to be full of a clear liquid from one of the boxes,” FBI Special Agent Patrick Hutchinson wrote. Schneck “then proceeded to drink from the bottle, then immediately spit the liquid on the ground next him. then proceeded to pour the contents of the bottle on the ground next to him.”
The Houston police bomb squad eventually determined that the clear liquid was nitroglycerin, an explosive. They also said the box contained HMTD, or hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, another explosive.
Inside the box, Houston police officials said, were other things able to “produce a viable explosive device,” including a timer, battery and wires connected to a homemade detonator.
The affidavit also says Schneck told them he had other chemicals at the home where he lives with his mother, who is quoted as saying he uses the house to conduct “chemistry experiments.”
An attorney for Schneck declined to comment Monday afternoon.
Since the chaos in Charlottesville, which saw white supremacists and neo-Nazis marching in the city clash with counterprotesters, authorities nationwide have in some cases hurried to take down monuments to avoid firestorms in their cities.
That occurred early Monday morning in Texas, where the state’s flagship university took down four Confederate statues at its Austin campus.
“The University of Texas at Austin has a duty to preserve and study history,” Gregory L. Fenves, president of the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement. “But our duty also compels us to acknowledge that those parts of our history that run counter to the university’s core values, the values of our state and the enduring values of our nation do not belong on pedestals in the heart of the Forty Acres.”
Last week, Duke University removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its campus, not long after Baltimore officials had Confederate statutes in that city removed overnight, and Maryland officials took a statue of Supreme Court justice and segregationist Roger B. Taney down from the Maryland State House grounds.
In some other cases, people have taken it upon themselves to remove or damage statues, with a group toppling a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina, during a protest there two days after the Charlottesville violence. Eight people have been charged in that case. The Lee statue at Duke was vandalized before it was removed, and other statues and monuments in North Carolina and Tennessee have been spray painted or splattered with paint.
Schneck made his initial appearance before a judge Monday morning and has been ordered into government custody until a detention hearing Thursday afternoon, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the southern district of Texas.
If convicted on the charge of “attempting to maliciously damage or destroy property receiving federal financial assistance,” Schneck could face five to 40 years in prison as well as a potential fine of as much as, 000.
In 2014, the same U.S. attorney’s office that announced charges against Schneck also filed charges against him in another case centering on explosives. During that case, the U.S. attorney’s office charged Schneck with improperly storing explosives, and according to court records, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years’ probation.
Schneck’s attorney filed a motion in November 2016 seeking an early termination of the supervised release, arguing that it was warranted due to his “exemplary post-conviction adjustment and conduct.” The filing, which said that Schneck had matured and was “no longer concentrated on high-risk activities,” also stated that federal authorities were “not opposed” to ending his supervised release early.
“Schneck is not a risk to public safety nor is there a history of violence,” the filing stated.
This motion was granted the next week, about nine months before Schneck was charged in the Houston case.
While a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Houston said she could not confirm or deny that the Schneck charged this week is the same man from the 2014 case, Schneck”s attorney in both cases confirmed that s the same individual.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Mark Berman