A New York man hoping to draw attention to an ancient political system called “sortition” plotted an election day bombing on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., according to federal prosecutors.
Paul Rosenfeld, 56, has been charged with manufacturing an explosive device at his home in Tappan, New York. Rosenfeld appeared in a U.S. District Court on Wednesday afternoon, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said in a press release.
Berman called Rosenfeld’s alleged bomb plot a “twisted plan to draw attention to his political ideology.”
But federal and local investigators caught onto Rosenfeld’s plan and took him into custody, prosecutors said.
“Had he been successful, Rosenfeld’s alleged plot could have claimed the lives of innocent bystanders and caused untold destruction,” William F. Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York field office, said in a statement. “Fortunately, his plans were thwarted by the quick action of a concerned citizen.”
Rosenfeld told a person in Pennsylvania, through letters and texts in August and September, that he was planning to build a bomb and use it on the mall on Nov. 6 “to draw attention to his political belief in ‘sortition,’ a political theory that advocates the random selection of government officials,” prosecutors said.
On Oct. 9, Rosenfeld was stopped while driving and admitted to law enforcement that he bought large quantities of explosive powder online, prosecutors said. He said he was using that powder to build a bomb in his basement and planned to make the bombing a suicide mission, according to prosecutors.
In his basement, agents executing a search warrant said they discovered a 200-pound explosive device that “appeared to be functional.”
FBI bomb technicians removed the explosive on Wednesday, according to a criminal complaint.
The charges Rosenfeld faces — one count of unlawfully manufacturing a destructive device and one count of interstate transportation and receipt of an explosive — each carry up to 10 years in prison, prosecutors said.
But what is sortition?
City-states in ancient Greece, and particularly Athens, employed sortition to select magistrates, council members and juries, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In recent years, the abandoned political system has gotten more and more attention, including pieces in the Washington Post and TED talks.
“Our politics is broken, our politicians aren’t trusted and the political system is distorted by powerful vested interests,“ Brett Hennig, co-founder of the Sortition Foundation, said in a TED talk last year.
Hennig said that randomly-selected leaders in a sortition system “would be a microcosm of society — and this microcosm would simulate how we would all think if we had the time, the information and a good process to come to the moral crux of political decisions.”