Three Kansas militia members who called themselves the “Crusaders” were convicted Wednesday in a plot to detonate a bomb and kill Muslim immigrants a day after the 2016 presidential election.
The trio, Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright, both 50, and Patrick Stein, 48, were found guilty by a U.S. District Court jury of plotting to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to violate the civil rights of residents of an apartment complex in Garden City west of Wichita, Kansas.
Trial testimony revealed the three planned to explode explosive-laden vehicles at the complex and cause a “bloodbath to take the country back” and show that Muslim “cockroaches” aren’t welcome in the United States.
The group’s plan was disrupted about three weeks before the election after the FBI decided that conversations secretly recorded by an FBI informant provided the probable cause to arrest the militia group.
Those recordings and testimony from the informant were the backbone of the prosecution’s case during the four-week trial in Wichita.
The jury decided the defendants engaged in an actual criminal plot to kill Muslims, not merely protected free speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric stirred up during the candidacy of Donald Trump, as defense attorneys argued.
The defendants, who remain in custody, each face possible life in prison terms when they are sentenced in June.
“Terrorists, whether foreign or domestic must be stopped and punished according to the law,” Stephen McAllister, the U.S. Attorney for Kansas, said after the jury verdict. “Today’s verdicts are a victory for the rule of law and national security.”
The defendants affiliated with militia and the so-called III% antigovernment movement had stockpiled weapons and explosives and surveilled various targets before selecting the apartment complex, the jury was told.
Defense attorneys argued that FBI agents and their informant sucked the defendants into the plot, that the men were merely exercising their constitutional rights of gun ownership and free speech.
Allen’s attorney, Melody Brannon, argued to the jury that her client “was a member of a militia. He loved his guns. This was a lifestyle.”
“The government tried to criminalize that lifestyle,” Brannon told the mostly white jury, The New York Times reported.
But prosecutors countered, providing evidence that the militia group stockpiled weapons, surveilled potential targets and planned the bombing to deliver a message the day after the November 8, 2016 presidential election.
“They wanted to send a message to the people living there that they’re not welcome in Garden City, they’re not welcome in southwest Kansas, they’re not welcome in the United States,” Tony Mattivi, a federal prosecutor, said during closing arguments.
The Kansas chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) applauded the jury verdict.
"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," CAIR spokesman Moussa Elbayoumy said in a statement.