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Saturday, February 14, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Accused Guardsman 's online posts show zeal for guns, military
"For God's sake," Ryan Anderson wrote in frustration in a 1996 Internet posting to a pro-militia chat room. "I am not an ATF agent or some Government (official) trying to arrest someone anyone ... I am a die-hard Christian, and I do believe in America, I believe a great deal of what I have been told the Militias are defending against, even if only ideologically."
Military and federal law-enforcement authorities believe that Spc. Anderson's desire to be part of a group may have led him from the lure of one political fringe the right-wing patriot movement of rural America to exploring Islamic extremism in Internet chat rooms and offering to help in the cause.
Anderson, a 26-year-old tank crewman in the 81st Armored Brigade, is in a military jail at Fort Lewis awaiting formal charges, which are expected to be handed down sometime next week. Military officials said he could face charges of attempting to aid the enemy, which carries a maximum penalty of death under military law.
He has been appointed a military lawyer, his family said.
The Lynnwood resident was arrested Thursday in a sting operation just days before his unit was scheduled to ship out to California for a final few weeks of training before deployment in Iraq.
A federal source said Anderson logged on to extremist Islamic chat rooms in recent months and tried to get in touch with al-Qaida. Another source said national security was never breached and that information Anderson allegedly offered an undercover officer was unclassified, "common knowledge" material.
Anderson's father, Bruce Anderson, stepmother, Jaclyn, and wife, Erin, declined interviews yesterday but issued a statement to The Associated Press saying the family "is stunned" by the arrest.
"As American citizens we will place our faith and trust in the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice to provide Ryan a fair trial before rendering any decision," they wrote. They also thanked friends for their support.
Pat Quast, his mother-in-law, said she saw Anderson last weekend when she attended a deployment ceremony for the 81st at the Tacoma Dome with her daughter. Anderson voiced fears about being killed in the war and sadness about leaving his 23-year-old wife behind, Quast said, but he "was proud of what he was doing."
Converted to Islam
"My suggestion to anyone who thinks Islam is some kind of evil is to go spend some time with Muslims," he wrote in a November 2002 letter to the Everett Herald. "In my three years as an observant Muslim, I've encountered nothing but kindness, patience, courtesy and understanding from them. On the other hand, I have experienced bigotry, hatred, and mindless rage from so-called 'educated thinkers' here in the U.S."
Though the letter suggests that he converted to Islam in 1999, he called himself a Muslim convert as early as 1997 in an Internet posting, in which he asked for help searching for programs to study Islam in Egypt or Turkey.
At the Masjid Omar Al-Farooq mosque in Mountlake Terrace, some worshippers arriving for Friday afternoon prayers yesterday remembered Anderson attending services briefly about two years ago. They said the young man stood out among the largely Pakistani and Indian members.
"He looked American. I thought maybe he was a recent convert," said Khaled Zaki, 15, who recognized Anderson's picture on the news.
Zaki's father, Mohab, described mosque members as particularly peaceful and quiet. Gesturing to the two-story wooden building where men in crocheted skullcaps and prayer shawls entered, he said, "This is God's home. Anybody who comes here stands before God."
Responding to reports that Anderson had visited a Tukwila mosque and tried to interest worshippers in learning to shoot rifles and guns, Zaki said, "This isn't a place to talk about guns. We wouldn't have listened to that."
'Quiet, polite' student
Anderson grew up in Everett and entered Washington State University in 1995, graduating with a history degree in 2002. He joined the National Guard later that summer, according to military sources.
WSU professor Marina Tolmacheva, who had Anderson in her course on Middle East history in 1996, recalled him as "indifferent ... not active in class discussions." He showed no taste for radical politics, she said, while noting the classes weren't overtly political.
"He took more than one class in the subject matter so must have had an interest in it, but I presume he would have done better had he been really interested," she said.
Steve Lincoln, a friend of Anderson's, told the campus newspaper, the Daily Evergreen, that "For him, military stuff was more than a hobby, but less than a fetish."
Another history professor, Fritz Blackwell, said Anderson had a "student's demeanor, quiet, polite and very interested in Introduction to South Asia."
"I would never have guessed," Blackwell said of the arrest.
Anderson had at least one run-in with police.
In May 1998, Anderson raised concerns when he carried a rifle with a bayonet past a grade school near his Everett home a day after a notorious school shooting in Springfield, Ore. Seeing a gun-toting man walking past the school, neighbors called police, who locked down the school.
He was arrested at gunpoint by Snohomish County sheriff's deputies but never charged. He told police he was simply walking to a friend's house to show off his rifle, which was unloaded.
Quast, Anderson's mother-in-law, said she hadn't known Anderson very long, but called him a "very caring person."
Quast said Anderson and her daughter met while they were students at WSU and married during a quick ceremony in April 2003 in Kentucky, where Anderson was undergoing military training.
"He treated Erin very special," she said by telephone from her home in Grant County. "He was just a good kid."
Quast said Anderson joined the military to earn money to return to college for graduate studies. He dreamed of being a pilot or a high-school history teacher, she said.
She didn't recall him ever speaking to her about politics or religion. His passion was guns. He liked to visit her rural home to go target shooting with her older son, she said.
She said she heard the news of his arrest Thursday afternoon, when Erin called her sobbing.
Quast said she doesn't know what to think about the allegations against Anderson. Even if his name is cleared, she fears he will never be able to stay in the military or even get a decent job.
"All of his dreams are gone now because his career in the service is over," she said.
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