‘Patriot’ groups have long seen the government as their primary enemy. But now, the movement is adopting Anti-Muslim Hate
As Election Day approached last fall, three members of an antigovernment “Patriot” group called the Kansas Security Force were arrested as they allegedly finalized plans to blow up an apartment complex housing more than 100 mostly Somali-born Muslim immigrants and a small mosque. Had they succeeded, the mass murder might have rivaled Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 slaughter of 168 people in Oklahoma City, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in American history.
The three Kansans— alleged ringleader Patrick Stein, 47, of Dodge City, and Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, both 49-year-olds from Liberal — had formed a subgroup called the Crusaders, which the FBI infiltrated with a confidential source who taped conversations and attended secret planning meetings. The three men were charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction.
“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” Stein allegedly told his comrades. “If you’re a Muslim, I’m going to enjoy shooting you in the head. When we go on operations there’s no leaving anyone behind, even if it’s a 1-year-old. … I guarantee if I go on a mission those little f------ are going bye-bye.”
The case was a harrowing reminder of the dramatic uptick of anti-Muslim hatred in the United States in the last few years, including a Klan-linked plot to mass murder Muslims with an X-ray weapon. But it also highlighted how the so-called Patriot movement — composed of people who believe that the federal government is involved in a massive conspiracy against American liberties — has increasingly adopted the hatred of Muslims as a core ideological belief.
The Patriot movement, also often called the militia movement, has always had strains of white supremacy and anti-Semitism. But they were not its dominant features. Now, fueled by a rapidly expanding world of anti-Muslim propagandists and the very real psychological impact of terrorism and the “War on Terror,” violent animus toward Muslims is becoming a key part of Patriot thought.
The story of the Crusaders is a case in point.
According to government documents, the three Crusaders conducted several surveillance operations to identify and select potential targets — among them, a shopping mall frequented by Somali immigrants, vehicles belonging to people of Somali descent or other Muslims, certain local officials, landlords who rented to Muslims, and local churches that have supported Muslim refugees. They marked potential targets on Google Maps using pins that were labeled “cockroaches.”
Ultimately, the apartment complex in Garden City, Kan., was chosen as the target because it contains an apartment used as a mosque and houses nearly 120 people, most of them Somali immigrants. The area immediately surrounding the residential complex is home to another 300 to 500 Somali-born people.
According to the FBI’s criminal complaint, “[t]he group brainstormed various methods of attack, including murder, kidnapping, rape, and arson.” Stein spoke of using a silenced .22-caliber weapon to execute residents one by one. Using the wireless communications app Zello, he proposed using a bow and arrow to kill, instructing his followers that the arrows be dipped in pig’s blood first. And he discussed the Oklahoma City bombing, saying he had at his farm supplies of the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil components that McVeigh used. Officials said they seized an array of weapons, ammunition and also explosives components.
The men had decided to pack four vehicles with explosives, park them at the four corners of the West Mary Street complex, and detonate them remotely using cell phones, officials said. And this was allegedly only the beginning, with the men reportedly hoping to “wake up” other radicals and start a war against Muslims.
“The only f------ way this country’s ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath and it will be a nasty, messy motherf-----,” Stein said. “Unless a lot more people in this country wake up and smell the f------ coffee and decide they want this country back … we might be too late, if they do wake up … I think we can get it done. But it isn’t going to be nothing nice about it.”
The Virus Spreads
The Kansas Security Force to which the three accused plotters belonged shares part of its name with a much larger antigovernment coalition called the Three Percent Security Force, also written as the III% Security Force. The leader of that coalition is Chris Hill, a former Marine who lives in Georgia. (Hill claimed to the Intelligence Report that there are several groups called the Kansas Security Force, and that the one he is associated with did not include the alleged plotters.)
Hill is another example of the injection of anti-Muslim hatred into the Patriot movement, of which the “Three Percent” movement is a part. (That phrase refers to the claim, which most historians of the period dispute, that only 3% of American gun owners, the real patriots, actually fought British colonial troops.)
Last year, Hill led the Georgia chapter of his coalition in an armed demonstration against the construction of a mosque near Atlanta, with one protester wearing a T-shirt marked with “Islam is of the Devil.” In September, he said of the proposed mosque, “Right over there this is going to be a future ISIS training group. This is where you’re going to see terrorism taking hold in Newton County.” County commissioners cancelled a meeting on the mosque the same month, after viewing “uncivil threats” on a video made by Hill.
The Three Percent movement has been cited before as a prime example of the Islamophobia now seen in Patriot groups. But another important case is that of the much more organized Oath Keepers, another antigovernment Patriot group that claims to have some 30,000 members, mostly former and present members of law enforcement, the military or first responder organizations. The group and its leader, Stewart Rhodes, have endorsed a 22-page essay called “Tet, Take Two,” that says Islam and international socialism have teamed up against Western nationalism.
For author Matthew Bracken, Muslim refugees in Europe represent a second Tet offensive, a reference to the 1968 infiltration of South Vietnam by Vietcong guerrilla fighters who then launched a surprise offensive. In his essay, Bracken blames “Eurocrat elites” for open European Union borders, saying they purposely have created “a wide path for the onrushing Muslim hijra immigration invasion.”
Bracken, an antigovernment novelist and former Navy SEAL, also describes Islam as a “ringworm infection [that] is dead and barren within the ring, but flares up when it parasitically feeds off the healthy, non-Islamic societies around it.”
The essay also alleges that native Europeans are being thrown out of their homes to provide shelter for Muslim refugees — a complete falsehood.
“These men are going to enter local houses, demanding to be taken in as boarders — or else,” Bracken claims. “Where it is useful, small migrant children will be held up in front as human shields for their emotional blackmail value, elsewise they will be discarded. One way or another, Muslim migrants will be attempting to move inside of German homes and apartments seeking heat and food, and the young Muslim men will be seeking undefended infidel or kafir women to slake their lust (which is their right, under Islamic Sharia law).”
Rhodes, who has publicly claimed to be no conspiracy theorist, thinks Bracken is exactly right, as he told Texas radio host Alex Jones, arguably the most prolific and unhinged conspiracy theorist operating in America today.
“We understand they’re [the government] doing a full spectrum, fourth generation warfare, assault on this country, just as they’re doing on Europe,” Rhodes said. “It’s an assault on Western civilization. The wide open borders in Europe, the obvious ‘Tet Two,’ as Matt Bracken calls it, I think he’s right. They’re intentionally leaving the borders open in Europe, bringing in mass refugees, among them are going to be jihadists, who are setting up a future Tet offensive, Tet style offensive, in Europe and the same thing is being done in this country.”
As far out as these ideas are, they dovetail in substantial ways with the conspiracist orientation of the larger Patriot movement. After all, the Patriot movement has swelled dramatically since the 2008 election of Barack Obama, who is seen as ignoring, enabling or even actively aiding a hostile Muslim invasion. The federal government, like European officials, is seen as an enemy of the people.
‘Patriots’ vs. Muslims
These cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
In Texas, for instance, Three Percenter David Wright, who leads a Muslim-bashing group called the Bureau of American Islamic Relations (BAIR), organized an armed protest outside an Islamic worship center near Dallas in February 2016. He called his rally “Veterans Before Refugees,” but his real purpose was to savage Islam — a fact that becomes obvious from a glance at Wright’s Facebook page.
“That’s what my group does,” he wrote last year, after then-presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) proposed that authorities “patrol and secure” Muslim neighborhoods. “We monitor them and their activity, we show up in their neighborhoods armed and let them know they’re being watched and if they f--- up my guys will take em [sic] out. That’s exactly what needs to happen.”
In the Pacific Northwest, a local chapter of ACT for America — a hardline anti-Muslim group led by a propagandist named Brigitte Gabriel — organized a late 2015 rally against refugees (that is, Muslim refugees) at the Capitol building in Olympia, Wash. The Liberty for All III% militia out of Yakima, Wash., came in to provide security. Videos of the event show the Three Percenters patrolling the area with guns.
Also in Washington, State Rep. Matt Shea — a right-wing politician and antigovernment champion who formed a local chapter of ACT in Spokane in June 2016 — honored Anthony Bosworth, the leader of the Liberty for All III% militia, with his “Patriot of the Year” award. It was just one more example of the overlap and crossover of antigovernment radicals and anti-Muslim activists. Bosworth is known for having been involved in the January 2016 standoff in Burns, Ore.
In nearby Idaho, the state’s Three Percenter chapter held two anti-refugee rallies in late 2015. “Now, refugees coming from Islamic hotbeds of terrorism, don’t you think that poses a threat to Idaho communities?” shouted III% of Idaho spokesman Chris McIntire into a bullhorn at one of the rallies.
In the same state, the arrest last summer of several juveniles for the alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl set off an anti-Muslim firestorm that was exploited ruthlessly by the right-wing media, the local ACT for America chapter, and Liberty Defense Team, another Three Percenter group. When ACT leader Brigitte Gabriel came to Twin Falls to speak in August 2016, the III% of Idaho group provided security for her at a number of different events. The fact that the details of the assault had been grossly exaggerated seemed to have no impact.
The same kind of convergence of anti-Muslim and antigovernment groups has been visible in Montana as well. In one March 2016 nativist rally in Missoula, Gina Satterfield of the American Security Rally of Montana — another Patriot-like group — said that she was there to “protect our constitutional republic that is under attack by our government siding with the U.N. and the OIC, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, to infiltrate the U.S. with refugees.”
A Deadly Stew
The date the Crusaders from Kansas allegedly chose for their proposed massacre was Nov. 9, one day after Election Day. That fact seemed to underline the role that the election — featuring vituperative attacks on Muslims by Cruz and Donald Trump, among others — played in feeding Islamophobia.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has seen repeatedly over the years how rhetoric from figures like presidential candidates and others in the public eye can fuel that kind of hatred and violence. Several years ago, the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding came up with similar findings in a study. It found that spikes in anti-Muslim sentiment typically occur during election cycles — not so much in the aftermath of Islamist terror attacks, as many had assumed.
There’s little doubt that certain politicians and activists like Brigitte Gabriel are feeding the fires of hatred and religious violence. And President-elect Trump’s appointments of anti-Muslim ideologues suggest that that will continue.
But the convergence of the Patriot movement, which has been marked by political violence since first emerging in the 1990s, and the anti-Muslim movement that has surged more recently, is creating serious dangers of its own. While Patriots may see a White House ally in Trump — and therefore lose some of their animus toward the federal government — they are finding new enemies in Islam.
And that, as the case of the Crusaders and their alleged bomb plot reflects, shows just how deadly the consequences for American Muslims could be.