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Militia leader sent to prison

His proposal to incite civil war by bombing power lines to St. Petersburg and Tampa earns a 5-year sentence.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 29, 2000


TAMPA -- The videotape shows the men gathered around a table, talking as easily as if they were planning a fishing trip. But their topic, federal prosecutors said, was terrorism.

"Something's got to be done. ... They don't listen to our yells, our cries; we tried the ballot box," said Donald Beauregard, the leader of a St. Petersburg militia. "Maybe, some of the sheep in this country will wake up and see what's really going on."

Beauregard's proposal -- to incite civil war by bombing power lines to St. Petersburg and Tampa -- on Friday got him a five-year federal prison sentence.

Congress' tough laws against terrorism -- and recent case law stemming from the Oklahoma City bombing case -- meant that Beauregard, the 32-year-old manager of a Hickory Farms store, could have faced a sentence of 30 years to life.

His sentence Friday, however, was limited to the five-year maximum for the single conspiracy count, to which he pleaded guilty in March.

The plea agreement precluded trial testimony from the Haines City police officer who, according to FBI transcripts, apparently did not hide his employment from Beauregard. While pretending to be a collaborator, the officer secretly gathered evidence against Beauregard for two years, court records state.

In an plea for leniency Friday, Beauregard's attorneys described him as a fanciful play actor engaged in a "silly childlike ruse."

"He had a vision of being some sort of Che Guevara," attorney Nancy Lord Johnson said. "It never went anywhere, until the undercover (officer) came along and said, "You're the man.' "

But federal prosecutors viewed Beauregard's words and actions in a sinister light. They said Beauregard's plans to burglarize National Guard armories in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Haines City for explosives, blasting caps and other weapons were all too real. They said he provided others with weapons for his plans.

They cited Beauregard's former leadership of the Southeastern States Alliance, a militia federation stretching from Alabama to Virginia. In the mid-1990s, Beauregard openly discussed his role with the 77th Regiment Militia of Pinellas County.

U.S. District Judge Richard A. Lazzara agreed with the prosecutors, saying Beauregard "was clearly contemplating crimes of terrorism. . . . There is no other way around that."

"We're not talking about political speech here," Lazzara said. "Dealing with sawed-off shotguns? Silencers? It's very troubling."

Lazzara gave Beauregard the five-year maximum without delay, saying that no amount of mitigating testimony from Beauregard's wife or other family members in the audience would change the outcome. Beauregard's wife sobbed as her husband was led away, mouthing words to her. She declined comment afterward.

Federal prosecutor Steve Kunz said afterward that the investigation was continuing.

No FBI surveillance tapes were played in court Friday. Transcripts and tapes released afterward showed long, rambling conversations involving Beauregard. In the conversation at the table, Beauregard says, "If anybody in this room isn't who they say they are, we all can go to jail. I mean me personally, I ain't going to jail."

Although he says he doesn't want any civilians hurt, Beauregard discusses making an explosive compound from iodine and ammonia: ". . . paint it on the toilet seat; when someone puts the toilet seat down, it (goes) pop!"

At one point, an unidentified man suggests involving the St. Petersburg-based National People's Democratic Uhuru Movement in the militia's efforts. Beauregard demurs, saying, "You don't even want to do that."

Reached Friday, Uhuru chairman Omali Yeshitela called the mention "bizarre" and said any suggested Uhuru connection with a militia "is absolutely news to me. I don't know anything about it."

- Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or dougherty@sptimes.com

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