Whipping Up Terror

January 30, 2002


Steven Preisler says his books
are not meant to help
terrorists. (CBS)

  (CBS) In many ways, Steve Preisler of Green Bay, Wisc., is an average guy.

He lives in the middle of downtown Green Bay in a middle-class, residential neighborhood. By day, he’s an industrial chemist. After work, the single dad takes charge of his two children.

All of this makes it hard to believe that Preisler has been called the most dangerous man in America.

Under the name of Uncle Fester, Preisler writes books like “Home Workshop Explosvies” and “Silent Death,” which Preisler describes as “a how-to manual of chemical warfare.”

Preisler denies wanting to kill people; he say she just likes “the thrill of writing a book that skirts the edge and then maybe beyond, a book that offends.”

He claims his books are of little use to real-life terrorists. “Maniacs generally do not have too much between the ears,” he says. “They can pick up a book and they don’t get past the table of contents.”

At least one terrorist group did get past the table of contents. In 1995, members of a Japanese cult used sarin gas to kill 12 people in the Tokyo subway. In the investigation that followed, Uncle Fester’s book, with its chapter on sarin gas, was found amid the cult’s research materials.

“I’m rather sad that that happened,” says Preisler, who gets email from all over the world, “but I don’t feel responsibility for what they did. They’re the ones who did it.”

In California, Timothy Tobiason is proud that his manuals pose a threat to society and boasts that they are so dangerous that government agents are out to get him. He claims these agents have committed acts of property damage, harrassment, threats and burglary against him.

Tobiason lives out of his car and sells his materials at gun shows throughout the country.

He also brags about the way he once handled someone he believed to be a federal agent. “I said, ‘Look, I know you guys can kill me, you can kill my kids, there’s nothing I can do about it. But two weeks after you kill me and bury me and my kids, somebody can take communicable weapons to every grade school within 50 miles of CIA headquarters - because that’s who I presume I was talking to - infect all of them. They go home, infect mom and dad, mom and dad goes back to the CIA and two weeks later, the CIA is gone.’ I said I can do that after you kill me. So there.”

Raymond Zilinskas, a biiological weapons expert, says there is good reason to worry about Tobiason’s manuals. “We should take them very seriously,” he says. “They are cookbooks for death, very simple, for mass death”

Meanwhile, Preisler shows 48 Hours how easy it is to make your own nitroglycerin, using the recipe from his updated book. Everything he needed is on the shelf of his local hardware store.

For $11.54, he bought the ingredients for half a pint of nitroglcerin, enough explosive to blow up a building. And he were able to mix it all up – except for one crucial ingredient – in the kitchen.

It’s all part of what Preisler calls “good, clean chemist fun.”

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