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The American way of bioterror - an A-Z of ricin crackpots

Homebrew poison of choice to the hard of thinking

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Bergendorff had "researched" the Internet for his ricin recipe, downloading the Anarchist's Cookbook. He babbled his method to the FBI, which duly reported he had conducted "a series of 'mashings' of the castor seeds with acetone and drying out the mash to remove the oil." While Bergendorff admitted to doing this, he professed to not always remember precisely where he'd done the work or if he'd performed it on castor seeds bought from a garden shop, the receipt for which the FBI recovered in its searches. "Bergendorff admitted [that there had been people] who made him mad over the years and he had thoughts about causing them harm to the point of making some plans but he maintained he had never acted on those thoughts or plans," reads the indictment.

Readers may notice a trend.

Not your average psychotic killer

The ricin perps of the past few years are not the Hollywood picture of evil. There is no Anton Chigurh - the psychopathic assassin who storms through Texas in the movie "No Country for Old Men" armed with a sniper rifle and a pneumatic hand-held piston for smashing skulls - among them. They're a gallery of weirdoes, some of them dangerous in an inept manner, but generally more hazardous to themselves. Not to put too fine a point on it, they're damaged goods, and one can say from experience that, contrary to Bergendorff's hazy assertion, making ricin from castor seeds is not an "exotic idea" but a tiresome one. It's common and banal, attractive only to lonely nuts, obsessed self-styled outdoorsmen, stupid as well as crazy gun collectors and incompetent criminals. Since 9/11, every complaint involving ricin has received national recognition, averaging a couple incidents a year. No fatalities have resulted.

If one reviews recent cases, the American perp list backs up the low-rent, often unintentionally comical, character of what can be dubbed a bona fide collection of distinctly American ricin crackpots.

Crackpot bean-pounders

Since 2004, US criminals implicated in ricin cases:

Robert Alberg, from Kirkland, Washington, a man suffering from Asperger's and in need of institutional care. Alberg allegedly produced ricin in his apartment after purchasing five pounds of castor seeds from a nursery, which reported him to the FBI.

Michael Crooker, a Massachusetts man now serving time as a convicted felon, was arrested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 2004 for sale of an air rifle equipped with a silencer. Castor seeds and rosary peas - which contain ricin's cousin, abrin, were found in his apartment. He is famously known for suing Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, the latter for furnishing a cryptological program which apparently did not properly work for him, exposing him to embarrassment. As of January, Crooker faces a host of charges stemming from evidence collected in 2004. The charges include possession of toxins for use as weapons, threatening to transfer the toxins to another in order to launch an attack on a federal building, threatening to use a WMD, possession of a toxin by a restricted person and possession of toxin of a type not justified by research or any other peaceful purpose. If convicted, Crooker faces various outcomes which include life imprisonment if convicted on threatening to use a WMD and ten years for possession of biological toxins.

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