They were members of the Army’s 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 3rd Infantry Division sworn to protect the United States, but instead they decided to take up arms against the government they served. They called their new secret militia FEAR — Forever Enduring Always Ready — and planned to seize the weapons stored at the base where they were stationed, Fort Stewart, and use them to bomb politicians and Homeland Security officials. When they suspected one of their cohort of having second thoughts, they killed him and his young girlfriend in cold blood. Now they’re in court.
Yesterday, four members of FEAR — Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, Sgt. Anthony Peden, Pvt. Christopher Salmon and Pfc. Michael Burnett — were in court in connection with the murders and the conspiracy plot. Prosecutors cut a deal with Pfc. Burnett, 26, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, illegal gang activity and other counts in exchange for testifying against his former co-conspirators, who face the more serious charges of malice murder, criminal murder, criminal gang activity and more. Aguigui, Peden and Salmon face the death penalty if convicted of the top charge.
Dressed in his army fatigues, Burnett shocked Ludowici, Ga., courtwatchers by detailing how the group began plotting a government overthrow and how that plan culminated in the killings of Michael Roark, 19, and Tiffany York, 17. Roark served in the U.S. Army at Fort Stewart where he joined FEAR. When Roark left the army, Pvt. Aguigui the group’s leader, believed he had taken FEAR funds and planned to leave the group. Calling Roark “a loose end,” Aguigui allegedly planned to lure Roark and York to a wooded area for some target shooting. When the young couple arrived, Aguigui allegedly ordered Pvt. Salmon and Sgt. Peden to shoot them at point-blank range.
Burnett explained how Aguigui recruited members for his organization. “It started with shooting guns, guy stuff,” Burnett recalled. “From there, Isaac showed me The Manuscript, which is a book about true patriots.” Long County Prosecutor Isabel Pauley told the court that she didn’t know how many FEAR members are still walking free, but said “Defendant Aguigui actively recruited new members at Fort Stewart and targeted soldiers who were in trouble or disillusioned.”
Pauley said Aguigui financed the group with a $500,000 insurance payout from the death of his wife. Investigators found that FEAR had bought $87,000 worth of firearms and bomb components. Aguigui also bought land in rural Washington State for the group. In an interview with military investigators, Aguigui called himself “the nicest cold-blooded killer you will ever meet.”
Officials from Fort Stewart deny the possibility of any FEAR members remaining on base. Spokesperson Kevin Larson said in a statement: “Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield does not have a gang or militia problem…. we don’t believe there are any unknown subjects.”