Crime & Courts

Fearing martial law, Gaston man planned bombs, exploding tennis balls

Walter Litteral of Gastonia will be sentenced Tuesday for firearms violations that prosecutors say were part of a plot to fight off a federal takeover using pipe bombs, booby-trapped homes and exploding tennis balls.
Walter Litteral of Gastonia will be sentenced Tuesday for firearms violations that prosecutors say were part of a plot to fight off a federal takeover using pipe bombs, booby-trapped homes and exploding tennis balls. Mecklenburg sheriff

Fueled by an apocalyptic vision of impending martial law, three Gaston County men conspired to mount a violent defense against an expected federal takeover – from booby-trapped homes to stashes of high-powered weapons and exploding tennis balls, federal documents say.

Two of the three already are in prison. On Tuesday, their partner could join them.

Walter Eugene Litteral, 51, of Gastonia, has pleaded guilty to charges ranging from conspiracy to commit offense against the United States and aiding and abetting the making of a firearm, to illegal distribution and possession of highly addictive prescription drugs. He also tried to buy an assault rifle for a known felon, co-conspirator Christopher James Barker, 43, also of Gastonia.

Barker was sentenced in January on conspiracy and firearms charges to concurrent 21-month prison sentences and two years’ probation.

Christopher Todd Campbell, 31, of Mount Holly, the owner of a Belmont tattoo parlor who authorities say was working with Litteral to build bombs, received the same sentence.

Litteral’s punishment will be decided Tuesday morning by U.S. District Judge Frank Whitney.

The defendants, who were arrested last August, are believed to a part a growing community of potentially violent anti-government zealots whose numbers are increasing across the country. In its 2016 report on “Hate and Terrorism,” the Southern Poverty Law Center says “conspiracy-minded, anti-government ‘Patriot’ groups” increased more than 14 percent from 2014-15 and stood at just under 1,000 nationwide.

Just how big a threat they posed is unclear. But the defendants believed that the federal government, using July 2015 military training exercises in the Southwest as a guise, intended to lock down the country under martial law, previously unreported court documents show.

According to an FBI affidavit, Litteral began preparing for a government takeover in March 2015. By June, he had begun amassing his materiel, using a Gaston County gun dealer for his orders of gunpowder, sniper-grade ammunition, gas masks, Kevlar helmets and body armor vests, and a long list of other military and survivalist items, the affidavit states. He called his homemade bombs “game changers.”

Unnerved by Litteral’s rhetoric and potential firepower, the gun dealer alerted the FBI, the affidavit states.

Powerful prescription drugs were also involved. Litteral was receiving 240 hydrocodone and 90 oxycodone pills a month for post-traumatic stress, back pain and other disabilities, documents state. For two years, he sold a significant amount of the medication to Barker, whom prosecutors describe as a hydrocodone addict.

Tipped off by the gun dealer, the FBI used wiretaps and other means to track Litteral. In court documents, Litteral bragged that his plans included:

▪  Making pipe bombs out of gunpowder, pipe fittings and M-80 firecrackers. He boasted that he was compressing so much powder in the devices that “Them (expletives) are going to be like throwing two grenades.”

▪  Constructing other bombs out of coffee cans with gunpowder and ball bearings that could be detonated at long range by a rifle shot.

▪  Packing tennis balls with gunpowder and the explosive Tannerite, then taping nails to the felt.

▪ Arming his Gaston County home with explosives. “Lemme tell you something, I gunna have my f------ house rigged up these (expletives) try to come in my house it’s going off ... look here, we partying,” Litteral said during a phone conversation with the gun dealer that the FBI says was recorded.

Litteral, as do other members of the Patriot movement, believed the annual training exercises known as Operation Jade Helm were a ruse to hide a military takeover, documents indicate. Those exercises took place last July, and the FBI said Litteral wanted his defenses in place by then. He hoped to mount his stand from a base camp near Clover, S.C., which he and Campbell also planned to booby-trap.

Litteral also wanted to buy an AR-15 assault rifle for Barker, who as a convicted felon could not legally purchase one. Litteral went to the Gander Mountain store on Franklin Boulevard in Gastonia to order a Smith & Wesson M&P15, documents state. The FBI blocked the sale.

An angry Litteral later said in a subsequent phone conversation that he would drink a bottle of tequila and open fire at FBI agents.

He said he had “no problem shooting the suits.”

Researcher Maria David contributed.

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS