When two Bay Area Democratic supporters of former President Donald Trump were indicted last year on charges of plotting to blow up the headquarters building in Sacramento, federal officials described the plans as “despicable conduct” with no place in American society.
“Firebombing your perceived political opponents is illegal and does not nurture the sort of open and vigorous debate that created and supports our constitutional democracy,” US Attorney Stephanie M. Hinds said in a statement in July 2021, after the indictment of Ian Rogers and Jarrod Copeland was unsealed in San Francisco federal court.
Wednesday morning, in advance of Rogers’ sentencing next week following a plea deal in May, the former Napa mechanic’s lawyer sought to explain Rogers’ behavior.
“Good people make mistakes,” attorney Colin Cooper wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed in court. “Mr. Rogers will be the first one to tell you he made a huge mistake.
“What matters more is what good people do after making a mistake. Mr. Rogers has made amends and has done all he could to rectify his colossal mistake.”
Rogers, 46, whose plea deal recommends a sentence of between seven and nine years, now blames his actions on beer drinking — lots of it — that began with a divorce several years ago, court papers say.
“His drinking increased following the 2020 election when he then began bloviating, via text, with his co-defendant, about blowing up or shooting up government buildings,” his lawyer wrote. “Notably, no actual, physical steps were taken by Mr. Rogers to do any such thing.
“Mr. Rogers, prior to this case, had not ever been convicted of any offense. To the contrary, he had led a law abiding, productive life running an auto repair business, being a family man and raising his son and step-son.”
But, Cooper wrote, Rogers was tripped up by a drinking problem “that contributed to his involvement” in the case.
“He was drinking in excess of 12 beers a day and bloviating on text messages with his co-defendant,” Cooper wrote in asking for a seven-year sentence from the judge. “He did not seek out any other individuals in an attempt to participate in any wrongdoing.
“Since his arrest, Mr. Rogers acknowledged wrongdoing and expressed contrition. He cooperated with law enforcement at the time of his arrest by voluntarily answering their questions and allowing them to search his phones and computer devices. He admitted his wrongdoing at an early stage of the process and plead guilty.”
Prosecutors had not filed their own sentencing memorandum as of Wednesday morning — but, in a court filing, the FBI described finding a huge cache of weapons and explosives in January 2021 when his home and business in Napa were searched, including five functional pipe bombs, 49 firearms and two dozen boxes of ammunition holding thousands of rounds.
The FBI says it also found a “Three Percenter” sticker on his vehicle, indicating support for “people who ascribe to extreme anti-government, pro-gun beliefs,” as well as text messages indicating he believed Trump had won the 2020 election and listing potential targets to attack.
“I want to blow up a democrat building bad,” he wrote in one text message to Copeland, according to court documents.
The plan eventually settled on the John L. Burton Democratic Headquarters in Sacramento after Rogers considered other potential targets, including the Governor’s Mansion, offices for Twitter and Facebook and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office, court papers and the Justice Department say.
No attack ever took place. Rogers was initially arrested on state weapons violations, while Copeland was arrested in Sacramento after learning of Rogers’ arrest and allegedly deleting messages from Copeland on the advice of a militia group from whom he sought advice, documents say.
The Justice Department says Copeland also has accepted a plea deal but no sentencing date has yet been set.
Rogers’ sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 28, and his attorneys filed letters of support for Rogers from his parents, his wife, his ex-wife and others who wrote to US District Judge Charles R. Breyer asking for leniency in sentencing.
Some blamed media coverage of the case for exaggerating Rogers’ passion for collecting firearms into evidence that he was a terrorist.
“During our marriage, Ian acquired many guns, which became one of his favorite hobbies,” his ex-wife wrote. “He collected guns in the same way that I collect earrings or shoes.
“They were like art to him, and it gave him confidence knowing he could protect many people from harm if there were some disaster to befall us. He was extremely intense and I never felt unsafe in my home knowing he stored them properly in his extravagant gun safe.”
His current wife, who came from Ukraine with her son and married him in February 2020, described him “like a fairy tale,” but wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic increased his tension because of fears about the future of his business.
He began to drink more, and as the 2020 presidential election approached the drinking continued.
“Ian has always been a Republican and Trump supporter,” she wrote. “With all (those) recent events, stress, his alcohol addiction, he let his emotions run and had silly drunken conversations with friends.”
She added, “I can definitely tell that my husband is not capable of terror, he will not harm anyone.”