A Rockland County man constructed a 200-pound bomb in his basement and planned to detonate it on the National Mall on Election Day to draw attention to a fringe ideology called “sortition,” Manhattan federal prosecutors charged on Wednesday.
Paul Rosenfeld, 56, of Tappan, New York, told police he intended to kill himself in the effort to promote his political philosophy, which calls for the random selection of government officials, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in White Plains.
Authorities said they were tipped off by a Pennsylvania man who didn’t know Rosenfeld, but received letters and text messages from him, and a search of Rosenfeld’s residence Tuesday turned up a “functional explosive device” made of plywood and filled with black powder.
Rosenfeld was detained without bail after a hearing in federal court in White Plains on Wednesday. His lawyer declined to comment on the charges.
The device could have killed innocent bystanders and caused “untold destruction,” officials said.
“Paul Rosenfeld concocted a twisted plan to draw attention to his political ideology by killing himself on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. “Rosenfeld’s alleged plan for an Election Day detonation cut against our democratic principles.”
According to the criminal complaint, Rosenfeld said during questioning on Tuesday that he had purchased black powder over the internet, and had conducted test detonations with small explosive devices at his home.
He said he had put about eight pounds of black powder in the larger device, and admitted that he planned to transport it to Washington and detonate it on the mall, but insisted he was acting alone, the government said.
FBI explosives experts who X-rayed the bomb concluded that by engaging a firing switch it would “generate an electrical charge, which would in turn spark an ‘e-match’ inside the explosive device, thereby igniting the black powder.”
Rosenfeld is charged with unlawfully manufacturing a destructive device, and interstate transportation and receipt of an explosive. He could face up to 20 years in prison.