Slowly, ricin cases are changing

Posted in Bioterrorism, Ricin Kooks at 9:11 pm by George Smith

In the last fifteen years the trajectory of ricin cases in America has been constant.

Someone, almost always a white male, is arrested with castor powder after a joint anti-terrorism task force descends on his neighborhood. The powder is sent off to Frederick, MD, for assay at the multi-million dollar national facility built during the war on terror for just that purpose.

The arrested man either pleads guilty or goes to trial and is convicted.

But this year, and last, there has been a slow up-tick in people caught turning castor seeds into powder. While they may be nuisances and a danger to themselves, they are not obviously criminals or terrorists.

This year four young white man have been arrested. One used castor powder in a scratch-and-sniff card, part of hare-brained plot that went nowhere, one to allegedly retaliate against the new boyfriend of a former love. And another, in Oklahoma, by a young man who allegedly wanted to enlist someone in the poisoning of a pregnant girlfriend.

Two other cases, however, appear to be by two college students, mentally upset young men who exhibited extremely poor judgment.

Today, in Oshkosh, WI, a judge sent he question of whether or not University of Wisconsin student Kyle Smith would be indicted, and what he might be charged with, on a ricin complaint to a grand jury.

This just doesn’t happen in ricin cases and it is, perhaps, an indication that the senselessness of these alleged crimes and resulting history of convictions is beginning to sink in, if only in a minor way. Updated: There is, of course, the ham sandwich comparison which could mean, in this instance, the result will be as usual.

Or perhaps it means nothing at all, being too early to tell.

From the Oshkosh newspaper:

FBI special agent David Ratajczak testified in court Monday that the FBI submitted 1.624 grams of white powder in a vial for testing at the Homeland Security lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland. The substance tested positive for ricin and it was determined it contained 0.5 percent ricin.

It is evidence of another first: An actual laboratory characterization of the amount of poison in a small amount of castor powder.

In this case, 8 milligrams in the entire powder.

For reference purposes, the scientific literature indicates that anywhere between 350-700 micrograms of pure ricin constitutes a lethal dose in a 150 pound man — by injection.

In the historic literature there is only one case of death by lethal injection of ricin: the assassination of Georgi Markov. And ricin was never isolated in that case.

This year, there has been one case of death from ricin, an apparent suicide. And it is reported here.

A failed suicide was also reported earlier this year in southern California, on this blog.

In the United States, no one has died in any of the ricin cases reported during the last fifteen years. In one case, that of Roger von Bergendorff in 2008, the man accused of making the material was hospitalized for an emergency condition that was never specified.

As always, read the Ricin Kooks tab on this blog for a historically complete and comprehensive view of the topic.

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