Alabama man arrested in Swaggart Ministries bomb threat

Robert Clemmons
Robert Clemmons

Authorities in Alabama have arrested a man wanted in Baton Rouge on accusations that he called in a fake bomb threat in November to the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries campus on Bluebonnet Boulevard, putting hundreds of people on lockdown for several hours.

It wasn’t the first time someone had threatened to detonate a bomb at the campus. In fact, it happened in May, too, said Casey Rayborn Hicks, an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

But Wednesday marked the first time a suspect was arrested in any of the threats, said Wyndi Guillory, an attorney for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.

Authorities in Alabama arrested Robert Todd Clemmons, 36, of Russellville, Ala., on accusations he called in to the ministry’s live broadcast two bomb threats within 20 minutes shortly after 10 a.m. on Nov. 21, according to a warrant issued for his arrest in January.

Hicks, the Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman, said U.S. Marshals picked up Clemmons and booked him into the Franklin County, Ala., jail on counts of terrorizing, communicating false information of a planned arson and improper telephone communication.

He waived his right to extradition and is awaiting a trip to Baton Rouge, where he’ll be booked into East Baton Rouge Parish Prison, she said.

A family member of Clemmons’ told investigators the man has a history of making prank calls, according to the warrant for his arrest. There was no indication he had any past association with the ministries or its campus.

“We have had a bomb threat before,” Guillory said. “In this day and age that is something that I think some people take very lightheartedly” and consider just a prank.

During the Nov. 21 threat, the Sheriff’s Office sent its bomb squad to the Jimmy Swaggart Ministries to investigate. It took hours to clear the threat, said Guillory, during which time the broadcast studio was mostly evacuated, while the schools, which have students ranging from 6 weeks old to high schoolers, and other campus buildings were put on lockdown.

The only people who brushed off the threat and chose to stay inside the broadcast studio during the bomb search were, ironically, the same on-air hosts who heard the threats first.

“They continued through the program,” called “Frances and Friends,” until 11 a.m., when the program was scheduled to end and programming shifted to pre-recorded footage, Guillory said.

Besides the inconvenience the threat caused for everyone on campus, Guillory said, bomb threats end up costing the parish’s taxpayers money.

“When someone does something like this, it impacts the entire community,” Guillory said, wasting time, money and resources.

The Sheriff’s Office responded to four bomb threats in 2013, including the two at Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. Another happened at Abercrombie & Fitch in the Mall of Louisiana, while the fourth occurred at the Renaissance Baton Rouge Hotel across the street from the ministry campus, Hicks said.

The EBRSO bomb squad, which responds to any bomb threat in its jurisdiction, also investigated a suspicious package at the 19th Judicial District Courthouse and an old grenade found by a worker in a dirt pile off Highland Road.

Hicks said she couldn’t recall the bomb squad finding any real bombs during the six years she has worked at the Sheriff’s Office. She said the number of threats vary annually. In 2012, she said, the unit responded to 11.

The Baton Rouge Police Department also has a bomb squad that responds to threats inside the city limits. Guillory said she hopes Clemmons’ arrest sends a message to potential pranksters, warning them of the potential consequences associated with making bomb threats.

“We want to make sure that people understand that this is not appropriate behavior in any circumstance,” Guillory said.

The consequences for pranksters can be stiff. Last year, a district judge sentenced William Bouvay to 24 years in prison for calling in a bomb threat that shut down LSU for more than 12 hours on Sept. 17, 2012.