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In the early evening of Tuesday, November 11, 2003, Stephen Jordi parked his 1988 Ford Aerostar van in a lot south of the Sunset Harbor Marina in Miami Beach. With him was a friend he'd made in August, Stewart Welch.
The two looked almost identical: middle-aged white men with flabby chests, soft abdomens, and shaved scalps intended to hide receding hairlines. Yet they seemingly had more in common than appearance. Jordi and Welch were God-fearing men who despised gays and believed that abortion was murder. In fact, two months earlier, the pair had traveled more than 300 miles north to the tiny Central Florida town of Starke. They had stood outside prison gates to protest the case of Paul Hill, the first man to be executed in the United States for anti-abortion-related violence.
Like Hill, Jordi considered himself a soldier of God whose violent acts would inspire followers. Stored in the rear of the 36-year-old Coconut Creek man's van was proof: two five-gallon cans of gasoline, several tanks of propane, flares, and cylinders of aerosol ether. Jordi had enough flammable material and accelerant to turn a Planned Parenthood clinic into a crater.
The two men took the bomb-making materials and walked casually along the palm tree-lined docks that extend behind the posh Sunset Harbour Condominiums. They opened the fourth gate, at Dock D, and sauntered past moored yachts before coming to the vessel that Welch called home. Here, in the shadows of Miami Beach's soaring condominium towers, they planned to store the explosive materials.
Inside the boat, Welch told Jordi that he had something for him, then pointed to a Springfield .45-caliber pistol with a silencer and two empty magazines on the bed. Jordi gave his friend $200.
Not long after, it happened. FBI and ATF agents, guns drawn and loaded, stormed in. A Coast Guard boat patrolled the surrounding waters. Jordi was standing on the dock as the lights, noise, and voices of approaching law-enforcement officers grew brighter and louder.
He raised his hands into the air. But that was merely a ploy. Jordi was a desperate man, betrayed and confused. He jumped into the cool azure as agents closed in for the arrest.
"Give it up, Jordi. You have nowhere to go," yelled FBI Special Agent Anthony C. Montgomery. Jordi didn't respond. He swam south through the dark water, nearly reaching Dock B, roughly 150 yards away, near the south end of the marina.
Standing on Dock B, an agent addressed him: "Are you a Satanist, Jordi?"
"Not anymore," he yelled from the water. "I'm a Christian. I love my God. I love my children. What have I done but obey my Lord thy God?"
"Are you a child molester?" another agent asked.
"I love my children!"
Jordi pushed away from the dock, swimming quietly into the waterway.
From land, Welch pleaded with his friend to cooperate.
"How can I trust you?" Jordi responded. "You lied to me."
As Jordi continued away from the docks, a Coast Guard boat motored toward him. Federal agents grabbed Jordi's 220-pound body by his royal-blue oxford and pulled him onto the vessel like a prize catch.
Jordi would be charged with attempted arson, distribution of an explosive device, and possession of an unlicensed firearm and silencer. Four months after his capture, he would plead guilty to attempted arson. On July 8, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
He'd likely still be living in his rundown trailer in Coconut Creek were it not for a professional snitch with a financial interest in his prosecution. While Stephen Jordi is an odious character by almost any measure, he had no criminal record and never tried to hurt anyone or destroy anything. His case illustrates the government's increasingly aggressive attempt to shut down a shadowy terrorist organization known as the Army of God.
The seventh of eight children, Stephen Jordi grew up in Ham Lake, Minnesota, about 25 miles north of Minneapolis. Raised a Catholic, he attended Blaine High School and, as a teenager, considered himself a Satanist. In 1985, Jordi entered the Army, where he became a Ranger trained in outdoor survival skills. Sometime after entering the military, Jordi cut off contact with his family. "He tried to keep them in the dark," recalls his father-in-law, who asked that his name not be used.
The Minnesotan was drawn to the Bible following his stint in the military and had the tattoos to prove it. On his right arm were the words SALVATION and REPENT. On his left, HOLY BIBLE, KING JAMES, and HELL. Jordi found solace in the fire-and-brimstone teachings of the Baptist church. In January 1998, he moved to Pensacola, Florida, and met his wife, Charlotte, then an impressionable young woman looking for answers from a strict God, according to her stepfather. Jordi's religious beliefs were impure at best. After his arrest, Jordi mixed biblical metaphors with popular science fiction during a psychiatric evaluation, describing angels as "The Borg," cyborg villains from Star Trek.
Soon after Jordi and Charlotte married in May 1998, she became pregnant and withdrew from her family. Jordi was concerned that Charlotte's relatives would be a bad influence on the child. "He didn't think we were good Christians because we don't go to church every week," his father-in-law says.