Nicholas Teausant had grand plans back in 2013.
He saw himself one day sitting atop the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists, envisioned a future where he was the Syrian-based star of bloody Islamic State terror videos and studied television programs on the Military Channel to learn how to make the C-4 explosive.
But first, he wanted to visit Disneyland.
This is the complex and naive would-be terrorist from San Joaquin County presented in federal court documents filed Tuesday, more than two years after FBI agents arrested him as he tried to ride a bus into Canada on his way to Syria to join up with the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS.
Teausant, 22, has since pleaded guilty to attempting to provide support to a foreign terror organization, and his lawyers and prosecutors are now arguing over how much time he must spend in prison.
A sentencing memorandum filed by prosecutors asks U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez to sentence Teausant next month to nine years in prison and 16 years of supervised release when he gets out, time enough for him to seek occupational and educational training and someday make something of himself.
“While much about Teausant is a mystery, two things are very clear,” prosecutors argue in their sentencing memorandum. “First, mental health treatment in a correctional setting has benefited him. Second, at the time of his crime, he had few skills enabling him to engage in productive behavior and little to do with his time.”
Teausant’s defense lawyers agree that their client was living aimlessly before he was jailed pending resolution of the charges against him; that he was unemployed and broke and was so isolated from others that his mother encouraged him to hang out with a man who turned out to be a government informant.
“Nick is an extremely damaged young man who got sucked into what he saw as a noble cause as a means of belonging to something bigger than himself and becoming a hero,” his lawyers wrote. They argued that he should serve only two years and nine months in prison and 20 years of supervision afterward.
Neither side believes Teausant had much of a chance at becoming a terrorist even if he had made it to Syria.
“It is the government’s assessment that had Teausant successfully traveled to Syria, he would more likely have become a victim of ISIS, as a hostage or as fodder for more horrific ISIS propaganda,” prosecutors wrote.
The documents present the clearest picture yet of Teausant, who was one of the earliest of U.S. citizens trying to join the Islamic State, an organization that at the time had not yet become well known for its slaughter of civilians and gruesome video executions of journalists and hostages.
He is described as a community college dropout who was booted from the National Guard before he could even begin basic training, a heavy marijuana user with a troubled childhood and “mild cognitive and moderate social impairments.”
Teausant’s antipathy toward the U.S. government as reflected in online postings grew steadily, prosecution documents say, and included Instagram messages that consisted of a “hit list” of people wanted “for crimes against Islam,” the religion he converted to in an attempt to impress a young woman he met.
“YES WE CAN,” he wrote in one posting. “A bullet a day keeps the infidel away.”
Teausant, whose postings eventually led the FBI to send undercover employees to talk to him, chattered openly of plans for attacks in the United States, the government says, including targets in Chicago, Wisconsin, Seattle and at the New York Stock Exchange.
In December 2013, he talked of bombing the Los Angeles subway on New Year’s Eve, court documents say.
“He discussed his plan to disguise his identity, hide at an unidentified mosque for 48 hours after the attack, drop a bomb in a backpack onto the track itself, and schedule the attack for approximately a half hour before midnight on New Year’s Eve,” the documents say he told an FBI informant.
He boasted that he didn’t worry about prison because “the most they could send me is 15 years, I’d be out when I was 35,” a calculation the government notes is correct.
He also plotted his train and bus ride from California to Vancouver, British Columbia, his jumping-off spot for his journey to Syria, but told one informant that he first was “leaving for a trip to Disneyland,” court documents say.
He made it to the Magic Kingdom, judging from photos on his Facebook page, but he never made it over the border. Federal agents intercepted and arrested him in Blaine, Wash., in March 2014, and he has been in custody ever since.
Teausant’s incarceration has been punctuated with psychiatric examinations, as well as some difficulty with other inmates.
The government says he ended up in a special housing unit after trying to communicate with other inmates arrested on terror-related charges.
“Another inmate assaulted Teausant and reported that he had done so because Teausant’s ‘repeated’ statements regarding ISIS ‘taking down America’ were offensive to him as a Vietnam veteran,” prosecutors wrote.
Teausant’s lawyers contend that sending him into the prison system as a terrorist “will be devastating for Nick,” because he likely will be kept in isolation.
“This means that Nick likely will serve his sentence in isolation, without a single chance to hug his parents, without a single phone call lasting more than 15 minutes at a time and interrupted by days of silence,” they wrote.
Teausant faces sentencing June 7.