WICHITA — Two Kansans and an Oklahoma man affiliated with a militia faction opposed to Muslims were convicted Wednesday after a four-week trial of conspiring to bomb a Garden City apartment complex in an attempt to kill Somali immigrants.
A federal jury in Wichita returned verdicts against Patrick Stein, 49, of Wright; Curtis Allen, 50, of Liberal; and Gavin Wright, 49, of Beaver County, Okla. They face life in prison at sentencing June 27 on convictions of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to violate civil rights of their intended victims. Wright also was convicted of lying to the FBI.
Evidence presented at trial indicated the three white men were intent on attacking a Garden City apartment complex that contained a mosque. The men tested explosives and discussed acquiring four vehicles, filling each with explosives and positioning them in an attempt to level the structure and kill the occupants.
"We are fortunate that law enforcement agents thwarted the defendants' plan to bomb and shoot innocent, peaceful Muslim immigrants," said Stephen McAllister, the U.S. Attorney for Kansas. "The jury's verdicts are a vindication of outstanding investigative work and prosecution."
Attorneys for the defense said the Federal Bureau of Investigation unfairly targeted the men and manipulated a paid informant. Defense lawyers asserted the defendants had a right to free speech under the U.S. Constitution. No bombing occurred and no one was physically injured.
During the trial, federal attorneys argued the three men comprised the Crusaders, a splinter group of a militia group known as the Kansas Security Force.
A militia member tipped off federal authorities after becoming alarmed by talk of violence among Wright, Allen and Stein. The informant wore a wire for the FBI to document conversations by the defendants. The government's case featured profanity-dotted recordings in which militia members discussed strategies for an assault and referred to Somalis as "cockroaches."
Wright said on one recording the mission was to attack Garden City immigrants where they lived and worshiped to inspire other people to take up arms against Muslims.
Evidence at trial also revealed Stein's attempt to obtain a bomb during a meeting with an undercover FBI agent. Stein also took the FBI agent to view the apartment building the men planned to destroy, prosecutors said.
In a statement, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the Justice Department was dedicated to fighting domestic and foreign threats. The case was a victory against hate crime and domestic terrorism, he said.
"The defendants in this case acted with clear premeditation in an attempt to kill people on the basis of their religion and national origin. That's not just illegal. It's immoral and unacceptable, " the attorney general said.
A representative of the Kansas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the conviction of right-wing militiamen who plotted to massacre Muslim refugees was fitting.
"We welcome the guilty verdicts in this disturbing case and hope that anyone considering turning bigoted views into violent actions will see what their fate will be when apprehended and prosecuted by law enforcement authorities," said Moussa Elbayoumy, chairman of the CAIR board in Kansas.
Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for Muslim Advocates, said justice had been served for intended victims of the militiamen in Kansas.
"We are thankful for all those who fought to bring justice in the courts," Ahussain said. "Nevertheless, we must not ignore the dangerous plans these men intended to carry out or the greater context in which this occurred. We cannot dismiss the disgusting rhetoric of these militiamen as mere 'locker room talk' as the defendants' counsel argued. The stakes are simply too high.
The three defendants were indicted by federal prosecutors in October 2016 for involvement in a plot that was to have resulted in detonation of the bombs one day after the presidential election.
Stein was arrested when he delivered 300 pounds of fertilizer to undercover FBI agents to make explosives in a manner consistent with the fertilizer bomb used in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people.