With full slate of terrorism, would-be far-right infiltrator of federal agency busted by polygraphs

With full slate of terrorism, would-be far-right infiltrator of federal agency busted by polygraphs

Ethan Collins had it all figured out. Like a lot of far-right extremists, he fantasized a lot about committing various acts of terrorism—bringing down the power grid, bombing police stations, that sort of thing—and thought about ways to make them happen. The Colorado man decided his best shot was to try to infiltrate a federal law enforcement agency and pull off his crimes from within its ranks.

Fortunately, Collins is a terrible liar. In order to join that unnamed federal agency, he had to take a polygraph test. He failed it. Three times. And his answers to agents the third time around became grounds for a search warrant that produced a store of illegal silencers Collins says he made himself. He’s now under arrest.

Collins’ story was revealed this week in a Daily Beast article by Pilar Melendez and Seamus Hughes. He is currently being transported to Colorado to face multiple weapons charges—all of them related to the silencers. Investigators reportedly also found a substantial cache of legal weapons in his home, including a high-powered sniper-type rifle and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

According to the affidavit filed by the FBI this week, Collins—who makes his living as a pilot—had applied to the federal agency in May 2020 for work, and was required to take a polygraph exam. Collins failed three times—likely because of his reactions during the portion of questions devoted to terrorism, because after the third blown exam, on Jan. 11, the polygraph examiner questioned him further about his responses to those portions of the exam.

His answers were hair-raising. Among the many things the Collins confessed:

  • He had carefully plotted out an attack on the Colorado energy grid that would leave the Denver metropolitan area without power for an extended period. He thought the best time to carry out such an attack was in the winter.
  • His plan would have entailed recruiting over 70 people to participate in the scheme, carefully coordinated by him but with minimal contact with each other.
  • The high numbers of recruits eventually sidelined his plan, because he realized he lacked the manpower to pull it off.
  • Among his other potential targets for attack were the Federal Reserve—which he blamed for his economic woes—and Data Centers for the state of Colorado, as well as local police stations.
  • He approved vigorously of the plot by 14 Michigan militiamen to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer that was disrupted last fall by the FBI. Collins told the examiner that “those plotting to kidnap the Governor would be justified in doing so if they arrested her and put her on trial for violating their rights as American citizens.”
     

“Collins considers himself as a patriot, not a terrorist, but at one point during the interview did state he felt he was a terrorist. Collins said he has spent a lot of time thinking about how easy it would be,” the affidavit explained.

Based on his replies, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on Collins’ home in Centennial, a Denver suburb, nearly three weeks later. In addition to the silencers and guns, investigators also found ballistic gear.

While the Collins arrest is a reassuring reminder that federal law enforcement’s processes intended to catch such would-be infiltrators are working, it also leaves the ominous sense that there likely are men who are better liars capable of eluding detection by polygraph who have gained access to the ranks of federal agencies.

After all, the FBI itself recently warned that law enforcement generally was being targeted for infiltration by right-wing extremists of a variety of ideological stripes, including white supremacists and “Patriot” conspiracists. And very few such agencies outside of the federal government even create an emphasis to screen for such extremists, let alone require polygraph tests to detect them.

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