SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - A Rowan County man who is believed to be a sympathizer of the terrorist group ISIS pleaded not guilty today in federal court in Greensboro to weapons charges.
Donald Ray Morgan, 44, was arrested on August 2 after arriving at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport from Frankfurt, Germany, according to CNN and federal court documents.
Sources told WBTV that Morgan is from Rowan County.
"This is just a total surprise and unlike the Don Morgan I ever knew," said Salisbury resident Glenn Taylor. "Totally surprised, couldn't believe it, still can't believe it."
Taylor has known the Morgan family for many years, and coached Don and his brother Lonnie in Little League baseball.
"Always a very contagious smile, happy go lucky kid, he did lose his dad at a very young age, which was very tragic in his and Lonnie's life," Taylor added.
Morgan was charged in NC with illegal weapons possession. Prosecutors said he was involved in weapons trafficking, which was in violation of his probation for a previous felony conviction, the court documents state.
On May 27, a grand jury with the Middle District of North Carolina returned a one-count indictment charging Morgan with possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony.
Morgan was charged for allegedly selling an AK-47 in 2012 on the online site Carolina Shooters Club.
In court on Thursday Morgan pleaded not guilty to the charge of possession of a firearm by a felon. He is expected back in court in October.
According to CNN, U.S. officials said that Morgan's online activities, including Twitter postings in support of ISIS, drew their attention. Court documents make no mention of the terrorist group.
CNN reports that Morgan is not believed to be involved in any active plots inside the U.S. or elsewhere. They say he may be more of an "aspirational" supporter of ISIS.
The New York Daily News reported that at Morgan's first appearance in court on August 4, prosecutors opposed bail, citing fears that he was possibly involved with ISIS.
According to the Daily News, a public defender assigned to represent Morgan said there was no evidence Morgan tried to support ISIS.
A report that aired on NBC News said Morgan was trying to join the Islamic State. NBC reporters said Morgan met with a freelancer in Beirut and said he tried to enter Syria through Turkey.
According to the NBC report, Morgan said he supported the Islamic State Group because they "put Islamic law as the priority and the establishment of an Islamic state as the goal."
Morgan is a former Rowan County Sheriff's special deputy ,and also worked in the jail and in the courts in Rowan. Morgan also worked as a reserve East Spencer police officer. He was fired from those positions.
As recently as 2010 Morgan was working in a Salisbury car dealership as a sales representative.
Morgan was arrested four times between 1991 and 1996, including twice for disorderly conduct.
In one case the report says "he became abusive" in his language, in the other he's quoted as saying he would "kick and kill police officers."
In 1996 Morgan was charged with shooting into a busy Las Palmas restaurant on E. Fisher Street in Salisbury after employees refused to serve more alcohol to Morgan and his brother.
"After he was refused a drink, he backed up a couple steps and then he went at my throat, he wanted to choke me," then Las Palmas owner John Gray told WBTV.
According to the report, the Morgans left the restaurant when the bartender cut them off from drinking any more alcohol. They went outside, got guns from their car and started shooting. Donald Morgan fired three shots through the door, his brother fired shots in the air.
He was convicted in the case in 1997 of carrying a concealed weapon and shooting into an occupied dwelling.
After he was convicted in court Morgan had to be restrained and threatened the District Attorney.
He served two years in prison and was not supposed to have firearms of any kind.
Acquaintances of Morgan say he converted to Islam after his first marriage ended in divorce, and founded the Islamic Center of Salisbury that is located in a former convenience store across the street from Salisbury High School.