HOUSTON (CN) – A Houston man was arrested Monday on charges he tried to blow up a Confederate statue in a city park, after a park ranger caught him Saturday night hiding in bushes near the monument with nitroglycerine.
Andrew Cecil Earhart Schneck, 25, made his initial appearance Monday before a magistrate judge in Houston federal court.
He was charged with attempting to maliciously damage or destroy property receiving federal financial assistance, which carries a penalty of five to 40 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine.
Federal agents arrested him at the hearing Monday. A detention hearing is set for Thursday, where a magistrate judge will decide if he is eligible for bond.
Schneck’s arrest comes as Confederate statues across the United States are being targeted by vandals.
Last week, vandals chipped off the face on a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Duke University in North Carolina, threw red paint on a Confederate memorial in Tampa, Florida and tarred and feathered a plaque in Arizona honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Schneck had more than vandalism in mind Saturday night, according to FBI agent Patrick Hutchison.
Houston Park Ranger Tamara Curtis saw Schneck kneeling in the bushes in front of a statue of Confederate Maj. Richard William “Dick” Dowling while patrolling Hermann Park in her service vehicle on Saturday around 11 p.m., Hutchison said in an affidavit.
Houston gets funds from the federal government to maintain the park, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Dowling immigrated to New Orleans from his native Ireland in 1846, before moving to Houston in 1857 and opening a popular downtown saloon.
In September 1863, he led a group of 47 Confederate soldiers that fought off 22 Union Navy gunboats carrying 5,000 Union soldiers, who tried to invade Texas through the Sabine Pass, a waterway that empties an estuary on the Texas-Louisiana border into the Gulf of Mexico, according to public records.
The FBI says Curtis told Schneck to come out of the bushes near Dowling’s statue, and he emerged holding two boxes with duct tape and wires inside.
“Curtis asked Schneck to put the boxes on the ground while they were speaking,” the affidavit states. “While placing the boxes on the ground, Schneck took a clear plastic bottle appearing to be full of a clear liquid from one of the boxes.”
“Scheck then proceeded to drink from the bottle, then immediately spit the liquid on the ground next to him. Schneck then proceeded to pour the contents of the bottle on the ground next to him,” the charging document continues.
Curtis also saw a timer in one of the boxes and she called Houston police, who called out their bomb squad, Hutchison says in the affidavit.
“When asked by Curtis if he wanted to harm the statue, Schneck responded that he did, and that he (Schneck) did not ‘like that guy,’” the affidavit states. (Parentheses in original.)
Tests the bomb squad ran on the clear liquid indicate it was nitroglycerin. “Nitroglycerin is highly dangerous to transport or use. In its undiluted form, it is one of the world’s most powerful explosives,” the FBI says.
The bomb squad also tested a white powder Schneck had in a small tube. The powder is likely hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, or HMTD, the FBI says, which is commonly used in suicide bombings.
“HPD Bomb Squad assessed the following contents of the box were capable to produce a viable explosive device: timer, wires connected to a homemade detonator, battery and HMTD,” Agent Hutchison wrote in the affidavit.
Schneck allegedly told police he had other chemicals at his home that he shares with his mother, who told investigators on Sunday that Schneck uses a property next to her home for his “chemistry experiments.”
This is the second time Schneck’s hobby has resulted in criminal charges.
He pleaded guilty in August 2014 to federal charges of storing picric acid, an explosive also used in medicine and dyes, at a Houston home. He was sentenced to five years probation and ordered to pay $187,000 restitution.
Cities across the country are taking down statues and monuments celebrating the Confederacy with an urgency inspired by the pandemonium in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, when white nationalists rallied in the college town to protest the possible removal of a statue of Gen. Lee.
James Alex Fields, a 20-year-old Ohio resident, is jailed without bail in Virginia, accused of second-degree murder and five other charges, for allegedly ramming a group of rival protesters at the Virginia rally with his car and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
More than 400 protesters gathered in downtown Houston on Saturday to demand removal of a pro-Confederate statue near City Hall.