IN THE END, the would-be bombers of Wise County went out not in a blast of Oklahoma City infamy, not in a surreal Republic of Texas—style standoff, but quietly, in a series of plea bargains. On the morning of October 8, just five and a half months after their arrest, two Klansmen and a Klanswoman stood in a Fort Worth courtroom before federal judge John McBryde and cratered, just as a fourth Klan member had done earlier. Yes, they’d planned to rob two drug dealers to bankroll the bombing, cover up an armored car heist, finance the race war, and who knows, maybe buy a new Chevy truck or two. But given their politeness in not putting the government to its proof, would His Honor be so good as to shave a few months off the thirty-year sentences they faced?
The feds, always on the lookout for positive PR, rejoiced in their triumph. “It was a crackerjack job,” says Paul Coggins, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas. Indeed, Operation Sour Gas, the FBI’s four-week investigation of a plot by the True Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to blow up a chemical plant where a lethal substance known as “sour gas” was stored, was impressive in a military-parade sort of way. The operation—upon which the FBI bestowed “major case” status—deployed more than one hundred agents, many of them borrowed from elsewhere in Texas and Oklahoma. They employed bomb-disposal units and airplanes equipped with forward-looking infrared technology, body mikes and tiny cameras, and 24-hour listening posts that produced more than two hundred conversations. “I’ve never seen so much stuff, not even when I was a Texas Ranger,” marvels Wise County sheriff Phil Ryan, who was a member of the North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force. “The equipment. The people. The planes. We’re used to po’boying it around here.”
Yet the tale of Sour Gas is much less of a law enforcement coup than the feds were eager to let on—and it is infinitely more comic than the straight-faced media coverage led one to believe: The operation netted the goofiest gang of terrorists this side of a Carl Hiaasen novel. “They weren’t the brightest bulbs,” concedes Bob Garrity, an assistant special agent in the FBI’s Dallas field office, though he and other G-men maintain that the four who pleaded—Carl Waskom, Jr., Edward Taylor, Jr., and husband-and-wife anarchists Shawn and Catherine Adams—were still dangerous. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explode a bomb,” says special agent John Fraga, who supervises the North Texas task force.
Regardless, Sour Gas was a success in that it produced something the task force desperately needed: the only criminal case it has brought in which charges have been filed. Comprising twelve local and federal agencies and overseen by the FBI, the task force was created in April 1995, the month that Timothy McVeigh dropped his deadly load of fertilizer and diesel fuel, though it was in the works long before. Like the fifteen other terrorism task forces around the country, the North Texas task force has received a massive boost of money and manpower in the past thirty months, during which time Congress has increased the FBI’s anti-terrorism budget by half a billion dollars since 1995. Unlike its South Texas counterpart based out of Houston, the North Texas group primarily targets domestic terrorists, though for almost two years it couldn’t find any—or