Supporters call arson suspect ‘peaceful’
FLAGSTAFF – Prosecutors in the case against a Prescott bookstore owner accused of eco-terrorism said Friday that his peaceful public persona conceals a history of arson costing millions of dollars to government facilities.An FBI agent also testified at the detention hearing for William C. Rodgers – who has been called a suspect in the 1998 Vail Mountain arson – that his criminal activities also include possession of child pornography and assault-style weapons.
Magistrate Judge Mark E. Aspey declined to release Rodgers from custody pending proceedings that will continue in western Washington. He called him a danger to society who is likely to flee based on charges that have already been filed against him, and others the government is likely to file based on new evidence of arson leading to damages totaling more than $20 million.Most of the spectators at the hearing were Rodgers’ supporters, who have formed a group called “Friends of the Catalyst,” based on the name of Rodgers’ bookstore, the Catalyst Infoshop. Fifty-plus members held signs outside the federal courthouse for several hours during the proceedings, in temperatures hovering around zero.They touted the defendant’s warm heart and skill at promoting nonviolence in his community. Rodgers’ court-appointed lawyer, David Barrow of Flagstaff, called three character witnesses including Prescott resident and mayoral candidate Paul Katan, who said Rodgers has been his confidante and adviser on personal matters since 2001.
“He’s a rock of a person,” Katan said.Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Lodge, the prosecutor in the case, called a single witness: Doug Linter, a Flagstaff-based special agent for the FBI. Officials only charged Rodgers with arson in connection with one 1998 incident, a blaze at the National Wildlife Research Facility in Olympia, Wash.But Linter testified that within the past 10 days, the federal government has also become aware that Rodgers helped or led arson attacks against additional government facilities in Olympia as well as in Burn, Ore., and Wyoming, along with University of Washington buildings in Seattle, and Vail Mountain. During a six-hour search of his live-in bookstore building on Dec. 7, agents logged evidence including boxes of suspected bomb-making materials like timers and re-lighting birthday candles, three assault-style guns – one was a World War II issue semi-automatic weapon – and at least two digital photos of nude, prepubescent girls stored on a compact disc.
Linter also reported a recorded conversation where Rodgers told an unknown acquaintance that he was “planning something big” involving some kind of arson after the end of his romantic relationship with his girlfriend, Katie Nelson.Nelson was in the courtroom Friday and declined to speak with reporters, but she told fellow supporters afterwards that “I still love him and I’m going to support him all the way.”Other friends of Rodgers made similar statements, although they acknowledged being surprised by the information presented in court.”It’s hard to process this,” said Randall Amster, a supporter and professor of peace studies at Prescott College, “because it doesn’t completely fit with the person we know in Prescott.”
No one has been arrested or charged in the Vail Mountain arson. But Rodgers and Chelsea Gerlach, a Portland, Ore. woman, have both been called suspects. Authorities arrested Rodgers and Gerlach last week along with four other suspects in connection with a federal investigation into arson attacks and other crimes in the Pacific Northwest from 1998 through 2001.Vail, Colorado