Question: Can you go to jail for a plot involving imaginary weapons?Answer: Yes, but it's not clear if the charges will stick.In 2005, Ronald Grecula, a would-be inventor, hatched a harebrained plan to build a fusion bomb that violated the laws of physics. He was arrested in Texas after he pitched the idea to undercover FBI agents. The bomb, Grecula said, used light to activate a hydrogen-chlorine solution, which somehow produced fusion. Hmmm.Dutiful journalists ran the idea by scientists, who were dubious that the scheme could destroy city blocks, as Grecula claimed. (The fact that Grecula was nutty doesn't mean he was original, by the way. The idea of a light-activated hydrogen-chlorine engine appears to be first imagined by Robert Scragg of West Virginia.)Result: Grecula, who pleaded innocent, has been in jail since May of 2005. New charges have recently been added to his indictment.Now, over in the United Kingdom, three suspects were recently let go after a British court rejected claims that they broke the law when they allegedly attempted to buy something called red mercury, a nasty substance rumored to be, among other things, fuel for a dirty bomb. The best thing about red mercury, however, is it doesn't exist. And the whole plot was set up by a tabloid hoping to score an expose of terrorism.Result: The trio was set free.More recently, you have the bumbling boobs in Miami who dreamed about blowing up the Sears Tower. They never even quite got around to the imaginary weapons part, according to the Washington Post.Result: Indicted.Now, it's easy say that even if these were fools, they were dangerous fools. But in all these cases, it wasn't even that the ideas were half-baked, but that the law enforcement efforts required to even make their plots look credible were amusing.For Grecula, the FBI flew him down to Texas to hear him babble about needing to buy fusion bomb materials from the local hardware store. The FBI kicked in money for office space for the Miami gang. As for the red mercury guys, it's not even clear the would-be purchasers even thought they were buying something that was dangerous.I suppose what's troubling in these cases is the concern that law enforcement agencies can't or won't differentiate between real weapons that can be relatively simple, but lethal (box-cutters, bombs using fertilizer) and attention-grabbing imaginary weapons that pose little threat to anyone.P.S. While Wikipedia has its problems, I have to say, if you want any evidence of how hysterically bad About.com is, check out their explanation by the "expert" on red mercury.-- Sharon Weinberger (cross-posted at Imaginary Weapons)
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