The federal trial for accused Molotov cocktail-maker David Guy McKay is scheduled to begin this morning, and from almost any angle, it promises enough plot twists to keep a screenwriter busy. An independent filmmaker from California even plans to attend the trial.

McKay, 22, from Austin, Tex., has been indicted for aiding and abetting the manufacture and possession of the eight handmade explosive devices that prosecutors say he and Bradley Crowder intended to use during last summer's Republican National Convention in St. Paul.

Crowder, also of Austin, pleaded guilty Jan. 8, leaving McKay, who friends say is a non-violent -- albeit naive -- young man, left facing charges. The intrigue comes from the fact that a good chunk of the government's case against McKay comes from Brandon Darby, a longtime activist-turned-FBI informant who allegedly collected audio and video evidence to be used at trial. Darby also is expected to testify.

Using information from Darby, law enforcement officers found the explosives in a St. Paul house not far from the Xcel Energy Center, site of the convention.

Darby's move into the role of government mole has elicited much debate. Was he, as he claims, an honest activist who evolved over the years to see that violence against the government is wrong? Or is he, as many protesters now say, a fake -- a provocateur who instigated actions while he was in the pocket of federal officials for years.

Complicating the case is Crowder's plea. It is not known if he will testify against McKay. When he entered his guilty plea, Crowder told U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis that one man helped him make the explosives -- David McKay.

Officials had characterized Crowder, a member of the Austin Affinity Group, as the leader of the group's plans to protest and disrupt the convention. He, McKay, Darby and others drove to Minnesota before the start of the convention in a rented van hauling a trailer carrying homemade shields made from stolen traffic barrels. On Aug. 31, police searched the trailer without a warrant and seized the shields.

The next day, according to an affidavit, Crowder and McKay made the explosives.

The plan, according to the FBI, was to throw the bombs at police cars parked not far from the Xcel in revenge for the seizure of the shields. Days later, while Crowder sat in jail on disorderly conduct charges, McKay allegedly told Darby that it would be "worth it if a cop gets burned or maimed," according to an affidavit by an FBI agent. The explosives were never used.

McKay's attorney, Jeff DeGree, and several other activists say they suspect that Darby helped plant the seed for making the Molotov cocktails.

The trial will be held before U.S. Chief Judge Michael J. Davis in his courtroom at the top of the federal courts building in downtown Minneapolis. Both McKay and Crowder have been in jail since they were arrested during the convention.

A sentencing date for Darby has not yet been set.

James Walsh • 612-673-7428