It was the early morning of November 21 when Brandon Orlando Baldwin and Olajuwon Davis, two members of the St. Louis chapter of the New Black Panther Party, allegedly bought what they believed were three pipe bombs.
Unbeknownst to the Baldwin and Davis, both 22-years-old, the contact who arranged the sale was an undercover agent. The two men were arrested later that same day on weapons charges stemming from a different plot -- buying three pistols from a Cabela's store in Hazelwood and giving them to an unnamed felon.
Yet, citing anonymous sources, local and national media still trumpeted headlines about the attempted pipe bomb purchases. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Baldwin and Davis planned to blow up the Arch and to assassinate St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch and then-Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson. At the time, law enforcement officials refused to confirm or comment on the alleged bomb or assassination plans.
We now know that the multiple federal and local law enforcement agencies did in fact engineer a sting operation on Baldwin and Davis. A federal indictment filed April 1 formally accused the men of trying to buy the explosives and use them to "damage and destroy, by means of explosives, a building, vehicle and other property."
While the indictment doesn't list specific targets, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri Richard Callahan tells Daily RFT that Baldwin and Davis posed a clear danger to public safety.
"I have not commented on, or will even discuss the many different targets that these individuals considered or voiced at one time or another. A lot of their ideas were totally unrealistic and impractical, and we didn't include [in the indictment] all the things they rambled on about, to not sensationalize the case or make it more than it is," he says. "That being said, the disruption of this plot...without a doubt, this saved some lives. Probably some protester lives and some law enforcement lives."
The investigation against Davis and Baldwin pulled resources from the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, and St. Louis County and Metropolitan police departments.
According to the indictment, during the first week of November both Davis and Baldwin told an undercover agent that they wanted to buy explosives.
Several days later, on November 12, Callahan says the agent showed Davis a video of what appeared to be a bomb detonation, a demonstration of what kind of explosives were available for purchase. Baldwin allegedly told the agent, "We need 'em, we need 'em."
Baldwin, Davis and the undercover agent allegedly made contact again, and the two would-be bombers repeatedly stated they were interested in buying the explosives, court documents say.
On November 18, the indictment continues, Davis paid a deposit on the supposed pipe bombs and told the agent "I need it ASAP, brother. I need that motherfucker ASAP."
The timing of the November 21 arrests was significant, says Callahan. It was the same day many officials expected a grand jury to finally announce its decision on whether to file charges against then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. At the time, Callahan says, the the possibility of violence breaking out in Ferguson made it all the more vital to quickly get Baldwin and Davis into custody.
"No matter what happened, we were going to take them off the street just for public safety," he says. Baldwin and Davis have been jailed since their arrest.
We've reached out to the St. Louis and national chapters of the New Black Panther Party, and we'll update the story if we hear back. After the initial arrest, Chawn Kweli, the NBPP's national chief of staff, posted to Facebook that the weapons charges were a "BOLD FACED LIE and FRAME UP," though he added that if the allegations against Baldwin and Davis proved true they "would be expelled from our ranks and membership terminated into perpetuity."
You can read more about the earlier indictment here, including an interview Daily RFT conducted with Davis back in August.