The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Wisconsin man who blew himself up might have been white supremacist making ISIS-style bombs


Last month, 28-year-old Benjamin Morrow was found dead in his Beaver Dam, Wis., kitchen.

Investigators have said Morrow was making explosives on March 5 when he accidentally detonated them, which at the time was confusing to those who knew him as the home-schooled, religious man described in an obituary.

“I’d love to defend Ben because he has been described as a bombmaker and he’s not a bombmaker,” the Rev. Jerry Marsden, who presided over Morrow’s funeral, told the Associated Press on March 15. “He wasn’t a recluse as some have said he is. He was far from that.”

But evidence has emerged suggesting Morrow was a white supremacist whose apartment doubled as a “homemade explosives laboratory,” and that he may have had plans for those explosives, according to an unsealed warrant application by the state’s Department of Justice, which was obtained by the Daily Beast. Investigators said a “one-gallon metal container of acetone” was found at the scene — an easy-to-procure substance that, when cooked, becomes highly volatile and potent.

The fatal explosion occurred around the same time that a weeks-long string of exploding packages terrorized Austin.

Acetone is typically found in the “Mother of Satan” bombs used by terrorists in Islamic State attacks. It was a primary ingredient, for example, in the bombs Islamic State operatives used in coordinated attacks in Paris in 2015 that killed 130 people and suicide bombings in Brussels in 2016 that killed 32.

There were 40 gallons of acetone in the apartment of one of the suspected Brussels bombers. The attackers in Brussels could have purchased the ingredients without raising suspicion, especially if each member were responsible for buying just one element.

In Wisconsin, investigators submitted the warrant application to search the contents of a storage unit Morrow was renting, as well as his computers, flash drives and phone, according to the Daily Beast.

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On the day Morrow died, two white cardboard boxes labeled with the words “mix it, shake it, shoot it” sat in his apartment, along with three more packages labeled “sonic boom,” according to state investigator Kevin Heimerl, who stated in the warrant application that he suspected the boxes contained materials that, when combined, were destructive. In addition to the bombmaking materials, Morrow also possessed guns and accessories, such as a rifle scope, masks, vests and thousands of rounds of ammunition, the Daily Beast reported.

In his bedroom, investigators found “white supremacist material,” according to the warrant. But Beaver Dam police — who could not be immediately reached by The Post — told CBS 58 that the literature did not necessarily mean Morrow was a white supremacist.

“It does cause me some concern, but I want to make very clear just because Mr. Morrow was in the possession of this material does not categorize him in any particular light,” said Lt. Terrence Gebhardt. “He could have been an individual that was doing research.”

While the FBI’s initial investigation at the time of Morrow’s death found he was acting alone and ruled out the possibility of terrorism, Heimerl in the warrant application suggested Morrow had worked with or had been inspired by others. When a judge asked him for “propaganda that raises concern for this kind of collaborative work,” Heimerl pointed to the white supremacist materials, the Daily Beast reported.

The explosives in Morrow’s apartment were so alarming that authorities banned the rest of the apartment building’s residents from reentering their homes and burned the entire building to the ground in a 1,600-degree controlled fire overseen by about 100 firefighters, according to the Daily Beast. Residents had to leave their valuables inside, and one neighbor told the Wisconsin State Journal that he planned to dig through the rubble to find the dog tags of a relative who served in World War II.

Morrow’s obituary says he studied pre-pharmacy, math and chemistry at Pensacola Christian College in Florida. He worked as a quality-control technician at Richelieu Foods, according to his LinkedIn profile.

On the morning of his death, Morrow visited a storage company from which he was renting a unit to notify the company that he would be moving his personal property out of the unit by the end of March, Heimerl said in the warrant application, according to the Daily Beast. Heimerl believes Morrow may have been renting the unit to keep odorous chemicals from his apartment.

“I am aware that a person could work solely to connect this type of manufacturing homemade explosives themselves,” Heimerl said in the warrant application, according to the Daily Beast. “But I am also equally aware that individuals oftentimes communicate, inspire and engage with other persons to manufacture homemade explosives.”

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