Federal investigators said they had them under surveillance for at least seven months before finally arresting them Tuesday, just days after allegedly discovering evidence that the four were trying to extract ricin from castor beans.
The four gray-haired men - Frederick Thomas, 73; Dan Roberts, 67; Ray Adams, 65; and Samuel Crump, 68 - appeared in federal court yesterday and were jailed for a bail hearing next week. They apparently had trouble hearing the judge, some of them cupping their ears.
Thomas and Roberts were charged with conspiring to buy an explosive device and an illegal silencer. Prosecutors would not say whether the men actually obtained the items. Adams and Crump were charged with conspiring to make a biological toxin.
Relatives of two of the men said the charges were baseless.
Prosecutors said that Thomas was the ringleader and that he talked of carrying out the sort of actions described in Absolved, an online novel written by former Alabama militia leader Mike Vanderboegh.
In an interview, Vanderboegh said he didn't know the four men and bore no responsibility for the alleged plot.
Last year, Vanderboegh was denounced for calling on citizens to throw bricks through the windows of local Democratic headquarters across the country to protest President Obama's health-care plan. Several such incidents occurred. Vanderboegh has also appeared as a commentator on Fox News Channel.
He wrote on his blog yesterday that his book was fiction and that he was skeptical a "pretty geriatric" militia could carry out the attacks the men were accused of planning.