Terror suspect no racist, supremacist, father says

Boston Globe/July 4, 2001
By Farah Stockman

The black father of Leo Felton, the suspected terrorist who is accused of plotting to blow up a Jewish or African-American landmark in Boston, said yesterday that he had heard no news of his son since March of last year, and expressed disbelief over allegations that his son had turned into a white supremacist.

''He knows exactly who he is,'' Calvin Felton said. ''He's half and half, and whatever he wants to call himself, he's black as far as I'm concerned and he's never said anything differently.''

Calvin Felton, who is divorced from Felton's mother, said his son played equally with black children and white when growing up in Maryland, and wrote frequently to his black relatives during his 11 years in prison. ''He was a total liberal,'' Calvin Felton, 71, told the Globe last night in a telephone interview from his home in Canada, where he is a retired architect. ''He's not a racist, that's for sure. That part I am 100 percent sure about.''

The comments only add to the air of mystery surrounding Leo Felton, whose mother is white and whose father is biracial but considers himself black. Leo Felton stands accused of stockpiling the same kind of chemicals that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh used and planning to ignite a ''racial war'' in Boston by blowing up a monument.

His indictment in federal court charges that Felton ''was a member of a self-described Aryan order known as the White Order of Thule and advocated violent action as a way of advancing a white power agenda to rid the United States of a multiracial society and its perceived Jewish influence.'' But Felton's father, who says he saw his son every weekend during his childhood and heard from him often during Felton's years in prison, said his son never had problems with his identity and had grown up in an extraordinarily open-minded household.

Felton's mother, Corinne Vincelette, a former Episcopal nun who threw herself into the civil rights movement in the 1960s, met Calvin Felton at a party and the two married a few years later. Even after they divorced before Leo Felton was 2, Calvin Felton was a regular presence in his son's life, he said. But Leo Felton spent too many years in ''confining institutions'' during his childhood, Calvin Felton said, referring to a series of places for troubled children that Felton's mother enrolled him in.

''She had him incarcerated at age 9,'' Calvin Felton said. ''He learned about drugs in the institution.'' Felton dropped out of school at age 17, according to Montgomery County, Md., records, and by the time he was 19 he had been arrested several times for alleged theft - once stealing a bag of groceries from a woman's truck - and for allegedly possessing syringes.

Felton started hanging out with skinheads around that time, but did not have racist tendencies, his father said. ''That was some fad or group that he was associated with,'' his father said. Despite the fact that Leo had a Nazi tattoo, ''he didn't know the real meaning of what he was getting involved in. He took it as something that a group a teenagers would be fooling around with.''

Felton's father shed a different light on his son's past scrapes with the law: His arrest in 1989 for beating up a New York taxi driver from Cuba was more like a road-rage incident, his father said. Court records show another black man was in the car at the time. And when Leo Felton slashed two inmates during his time in prison - an attack that lengthened his sentence - it was because he was defending himself from their sexual advances, Calvin Felton said. ''They wanted to have him bend their way, sexually, and he defended himself,'' Calvin Felton said.

Leo Felton was released from prison in January, and went to live in Ipswich with his wife, Lisa, a nurse who married him in prison. But he was arrested April 19 for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at an East Boston Dunkin' Donuts. A police search of an apartment he shared with Erica Chase, a 21-year-old alleged white supremacist, turned up evidence of a plot to bomb a monument, possibly the New England Holocaust Memorial, authorities have said. But Calvin Felton said he had no idea that his son had ever been released from prison.

''The last time I talked to him, he talked about getting involved with computers and making a life for himself when he came out,'' Calvin Felton said. ''He was in good spirits and I was impressed that everything was going to go well.''

Calvin Felton said Leo was the youngest of his six sons, and the only one who had ever been in trouble with the law. He wrote to his son frequently and spoke to him about every month, he said, but around March of last year, the letters started coming back unopened. ''The last letter I sent to him was sent back,'' he said. ''I had no idea why.''

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