DHS Tells Firefighters, Paramedics Medical Treatment Provides an Opportunity to Identify Extremists

A report from WJLA on the arrest of Todd Dwight Wheeler in January 2014.

A joint bulletin released in March by the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and National Counterterrorism Center instructs firefighters and paramedics to use emergency medical treatment as an opportunity to identify violent extremists.  The March 2014 bulletin obtained by Public Intelligence titled “Emergency Medical Treatment Presents Opportunity for Discovery of Violent Extremist Activities” is part of the Fire Line series distributed to firefighters, emergency medical service personnel and other first responders around the country.

The bulletin states that efforts to “gain expertise with explosive, incendiary, and chemical/biological devices may lead to injuries and emergency treatment, which may provide potential indicators of violent extremist activities to responding emergency medical service (EMS) personnel.”  An initial “size-up” of the scene and “patient assessment” provide first responders with the ability to “evaluate whether an injury is a genuine accident or related to violent extremist activity.”  For example, “hastily or expediently treated injuries” observed by first responders “may be an indicator of illicit activity as actors injured in nefarious activity are often not inclined to seek legitimate medical attention, or use efforts that are designed to mislead or obscure the genuine nature of the injury.”  Other indicators include “shock or infection accompanying healing wounds, or corrective treatment for healed wounds” often without plausable explanation “may be signs of suspicious activity.”

To support its claims, the bulletin cites the January 2014 arrest of a Maryland man named Todd Dwight Wheeler Jr. for making and possessing explosive materials.  According to the Baltimore Sun, Wheeler was arrested after one of his relatives called 911 and reported that he may be suicidal.  Paramedics reportedly found Wheeler “suffering from injuries caused by ‘chemical or mechanical reactions'” including “burns to one of his limbs that paramedics determined could have come from a blast.”  After speaking with Wheeler, first responders “became suspicious of his story, suspicious of his injuries and suspicious of his distinct chemical odor.”  Police later searched the home with help from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents finding several “completed bombs”, “more than 100 pounds of chemicals, including acids, fuels, oxidizers and explosives precursors”, “components of destructive devices, including igniters and detonators”, “an automatic Ruger Mini-14 rifle, other guns and knives” as well as “manuals and books detailing explosive manufacturing and booby traps, with titles like The Poor Man’s James Bond, Booby Traps, Deadly Brew and Highly Explosive Pyrotechnic Compositions.”  Under a plea agreement entered in May, Wheeler pled guilty to one count of “being a prohibited person in possession of firearms.”  He faces up to ten years in prison.

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