TOLEDO - Was he simply a survivalist, or a man plotting a race war?
|FILE - This undated photo released by the Department of Justice shows Richard Schmidt, 47. (AP Photo/Department of Justice)
This was the much-debated question Thursday at the sentencing of Richard Schmidt.
Schmidt, 47, Toledo, was sentenced to 71 months - just under six years - on federal counterfeiting and firearms charges in the court of U.S. District Court Judge Jack Zouhary Thursday afternoon. He had owned the Spindletop Sports Zone store at the Woodland Mall in Bowling Green.
"You say you're a collector. The government says you're a soldier," said Zouhary prior to pronouncing sentence.
Schmidt pleaded guilty in July to two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm, being a felon in possession of body armor, and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
Schmidt was arrested on Dec. 21, 2012, after FBI search warrants were executed at his Toledo residence and the Bowling Green store. In addition to counterfeit goods, including sports merchandise, Schmidt was found to be in possession of 20 firearms, including pistols, assault rifles and shotguns, and nearly 40,500 rounds of ammunition.
Schmidt, who has a previous manslaughter conviction stemming from a 1989 incident and served 13 years in prison, cannot legally possess firearms as a result.
The case took a sensational turn after searches by authorities turned up items associated with the white supremacist movement in Schmidt's possession, including a videotape of a gathering, and a list of email addresses. Also, according to the Associated Press, the FBI warned black and Jewish leaders in both Ohio and Michigan that their names appeared on a list kept by Schmidt. The heads of two nearby NAACP branches - including Rev. Wendell Anthony of Detroit, who was present in the courtroom - were reportedly named in a document, complete with directions to their homes, personal information, and the phrase "Hit SOP" - reportedly short for "standard operating procedure".
Additionally, according to court documents, Schmidt had stockpiled thousands of items, including army blankets, bottles of water, sand bags, firewood, containers of food, vitamins, and other goods.
In a sentencing memorandum filed in the case, prosecutors stated Schmidt was "quite simply... a well-funded, well-armed, and focused one-man army of racial and religious hate."
Schmidt's attorney, Edward Bryan, took issue with the government's estimation of Schmidt's activities, stating in his own sentencing memorandum that nearly all of the documents found were "dated and none of it had been acted upon." He also said that Schmidt was simply planning for potential calamities and possessed literature related to the topic.
Schmidt's motives formed the crux of the more than two-hour sentencing proceeding, as prosecutor Duncan Brown argued that they should be taken into account in rendering a higher sentence.
According to the defense, Schmidt's collection of information related to the NAACP heads reportedly stemmed from his interest in a 2008 incident in Lima involving a shooting during a drug raid. Under questioning from Zouhary, Schmidt said that "it's not something that I should have written" and "all I can say is I had no intent of doing that."
"I'm not that typical mass killer that you'd read about," he told Zouhary. "I'm not a violent person. I don't act out in violence."
He said that he was interested in the firearms due to his military experience - he served and was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in the 1980s - and that he became interested in survivalism after the U.S. War on Terror "got into full swing."
In court, he mentioned several disaster scenarios, including the possibility of a quake along a fault line in Missouri that could spark a Fukushima-style nuclear crisis.
"The Cheney Doctrine said, if there was a 1-percent chance of that happening, you should treat it as an absolute certitude," he said of disaster preparedness.
Brown noted that the prosecution was "not looking to punish thought", but the guns, ammunition and writings in Schmidt's possession could qualify for an upward variance in sentencing.
To punctuate his point, Brown held up items including a 20-round shotgun drum, a 150-round double drum magazine, and a hollow-point bullet.
"Those are not used for hunting squirrel. They have quite another purpose," he said, arguing that the sentencing guidelines did not take into account the seriousness of Schmidt's actions.
Zouhary, prior to rendering sentence, noted his "strong disagreement" with some of the literature in Schmidt's possession and that he was "troubled" by his writings "that suggest you might do something violent."
However, he said that there was no evidence that Schmidt was acting in concert with others, or that his collection of firearms and other items was gathered for some violent action.
"I struggle, frankly, with what to do with all of that," Zouhary said.
On the weapons and counterfeiting counts, Schmidt was sentenced to 71 months each, to be served concurrently. On the body armor count, he was sentenced to 36 months, also to be served concurrently. All told, Schmidt was sentenced to an aggregate of just under 6 years in prison. With credit for time served, he will serve just under five years.
Schmidt requested that he be incarcerated at the Milan correctional facility, where he had been in custody before.
"I'll use the time for wisdom," he told Zouhary, when asked what he would do while in prison. He also expressed interest in potentially taking classes and tutoring.