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Sentencing Delayed for Napa Man Who Plotted to Destroy Democratic Headquarters

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A building that says "We are California Democrats" with the message "John L. Burton Democratic Headquarters" below.
Ian Rogers and Jarrod Copeland planned to burn down the California Democratic Party headquarters building in Sacramento in text messages from November 2020. (Juan Pablo Vazquez-Enriquez/Google Maps)

A federal judge on Wednesday declined to sign off on a plea deal for a Napa man who plotted to firebomb the Democratic Party’s California headquarters in the wake of former President Donald Trump's electoral defeat.

Ian Benjamin Rogers pleaded guilty in May to conspiring to use explosives or fire to destroy the John L. Burton Democratic Headquarters in Sacramento, and to possessing an explosive device and a machine gun. Under his plea deal, Rogers faced seven to nine years in prison, followed by a three-year term of supervised release and $250,000 in fines.

But U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said he was concerned by a statement Rogers made during the presentencing investigation, in which the defendant told the probation department he felt badly for putting himself in a situation "that allowed the government to destroy my life."

“I have to say in ... 23 years I’ve never seen that type of statement. I’ve never seen a defendant come in and simply say I regret I was caught,” Breyer said.

The judge asked federal prosecutors to justify why they thought a sentence of seven to nine years in prison would be appropriate, "especially in light of the defendant’s statements, which to the court suggests that he continues to be a substantial danger to the community,” Breyer said.

During the hearing, Breyer highlighted the detailed planning and steps Rogers had taken to destroy the building.

"He had five fully operational firebombs. He had an arsenal that would be the envy of the Ukrainian people," Breyer said. "He had a map that he disseminated showing the exact location of the John Burton building. He had scoped it out and determined that the CHP and the fire department were in close proximity to that building."

Breyer scheduled an October 27 court hearing to sentence Rogers and his co-defendant, Jarrod Copeland.

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Rogers' attorney, Colin Cooper, urged the judge to accept the current plea agreement, stressing that his client “regrets terribly” participating in the plot and had never before been in trouble with the law.

"I remain optimistic that when [the judge] hears from Mr. Rogers, hears further from me and hears further from the government that he will agree that the plea agreement reached and agreed upon between the government and Mr. Rogers was well-thought-out, was intensively discussed and negotiated and considered appropriate by both parties," Cooper said.

Prior to his 2021 arrest, Rogers owned British Auto Repair of the Napa Valley and was known as a larger-than-life figure in the nearby business community. He was often seen exercising at a local gym with his friend and former employee Jarrod Copeland. According to people who knew him, Rogers posted pictures of himself on social media dressed in fatigues, and showing off his cars and guns.

In late November 2020, weeks after the presidential election, the FBI and local law enforcement were alerted by an anonymous tipster that Rogers, an outspoken supporter of then-President Trump was heavily armed and had threatened to kill people if Trump lost the election.

Prosecutors say Rogers used an encrypted messaging application to tell Copeland he would “hit the enemy in the mouth” by using Molotov cocktails and gasoline to attack targets including the Democratic Party headquarters, the governor’s mansion and the headquarters of social media giants Facebook and Twitter.

"I want to blow up a democrat building bad,” Rogers wrote in one of the messaging apps he used to communicate with Copeland, according to the indictment. In a different message, he declared his intent to "go to war" after President Biden was inaugurated.

The pair "hoped their attacks would prompt a movement," prosecutors said when they announced the charges last July.

Napa County sheriff's deputies secured search warrants after receiving an anonymous tip that Rogers possessed illegal guns. After searching his home and auto repair shop in January 2021, they seized nearly 50 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and five pipe bombs, prosecutors said.

Agents also seized a "white privilege card," which looks like a credit card and states "Trumps Everything" beneath the label, with the number 0045 repeated as a credit card number, signaling the 45th U.S. president. “Scott Free” is named as the cardholder, with a membership term listed as from "birth" through "death."

Investigators also pointed to the “Three Percenters” bumper sticker on Rogers’ vehicle, signaling support for an anti-government movement named after the false belief that just 3% of American colonists defeated the British during the American Revolution.

Prosecutors say that in late December 2020, Copeland told Rogers he contacted an anti-government militia group to gather support for their movement.

Copeland previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy and destruction of records. The judge scheduled his sentencing for the same day as Rogers.

Rogers also faces charges of possession of illegal firearms and bomb charges in Napa County, with that next court hearing scheduled for October 4, his attorney said.

This story includes reporting from The Associated Press and KQED's Julie Small.

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