Those Kansas terrorists? Convicted

Somali immigrants, like these women at community center in Garden City, Kan., were the intended targets. (Photo: Adam Reynolds)
Somali immigrants, like these women at a community center in Garden City, Kan., were the intended targets. (Photo: Adam Reynolds)

 

Three members of a Kansas terrorist cell have been convicted of plotting to carry out a car bomb attack on an apartment complex in the small town of Garden City.

You remember these guys — angry, middle-aged, white, Christian, men — and the Somali immigrants who were their intended targets:

The Kansas men called themselves “Crusaders: who planned to create a “bloodbath” by detonating vehicles laden with bombs the day after the November 2016 election. Day [an FBI informant] testified that [defendant] Stein called the Somalis “cockroaches.”

It’s the rare circumstance when I would utter praise for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but in his comments on this case he actually gets it right:

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, and we’re not going to stand for it. Today’s verdict is a significant victory against domestic terrorism and hate crimes.

The Kansas plotters followed an all-too-familiar trajectory of radicalization in these divisive times:

Evidence presented in the trial painted a picture of an all-American brand of homegrown terrorism: angry white men radicalized by Islamophobic memes and fake online news articles whose path to violent extremism was accelerated by a divisive election cycle and a candidate who sounded like them.

The jury’s verdict was unanimous. And now these three terrorists, who described Somalis as insects that had to be exterminated because “they keep coming back,” face life imprisonment. Here’s hoping they get it.

San Francisco bound #ISA2018

What the hot air of thousands of political scientists will do ...
What the hot air of thousands of political scientists will do …

 

That time of year is upon us again, the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, which will bring together thousands of political scientists to present their research to near-empty rooms, pay far too much for cocktails while standing-shoulder-to-shoulder in the bar at the Hilton, and cruise the receptions in search of the best cheese plates.

This year we’re in San Francisco. And this post is brought to you by a delicious but overpriced airport terminal mimosa as I wait for my flight.

Despite that opening paragraph, I always look forward to this as an opportunity to catch up with friends, make some new ones, see what interesting things other people are working on, and generally get away from the day-to-day of teaching, advising, grading, and so on. (Though I did, as usual, bring papers with me to grade.)

My pal Steve has already posted his advice for how to conference. Since most of you who read this aren’t academics (unlike a lot of Steve’s readers), I’ll just link to what he had to say and leave it at that. I wrote a little about the conference last year, so here’s a link to that if you’re interested.

This year I’ll be presenting the results of two different projects, one Brexit and political narratives in Northern Ireland, the other exploring rational vs. emotional triggers for the initiation of violence in nationalist conflicts. In both cases I give my co-authors (Andy Owsiak at the University of Georgia for the Brexit-NI paper and Bill Ayres for the other) all the credit for the smart parts.

This post isn’t really about the conference though. It’s just an excuse to bring you the following. Enjoy.

The terrorism trial you’re not following

On trial for terrorism (from left): Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein.
On trial for terrorism: Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein.

 

One of the biggest terrorism trials that I can remember is now unfolding in a Kansas courtroom. It started two weeks ago. I suspect you know nothing about it.

Three men, members of an anti-government militia group called the Kansas Security Force, are accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali immigrants and their mosque in the small town of Garden City, KS, where many of those targeted work as laborers in the meat packing industry.

Their intention was to launch a “Crusades 2.0,” holy war to exterminate local Muslims and to motivate others to carry out attacks on Muslim targets across the United States. Many of their conversations were recorded by an FBI informant. Last week those recordings were played in court:

In one recording played for the court Thursday, they can all be heard mapping out Muslim targets on Google Earth, dropping “pins” on a map of Garden City, each pin labeled “cockroaches.”

“The fucking cockroaches in this country have to go, period,” Stein said in one recording. “They are the fucking problem in this country right now. They are the threat in this country right now.”

“When we go on operations, there’s no leaving anyone behind, even if it’s a 1-year-old. I’m serious,” Stein said in another. “I guarantee if I go on a mission, those little fuckers are going bye-bye.”

According to the informant, the three would-be terrorists decided to hit back after the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, by a gunman who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, and began trying to recruit other militia members to join them.

A Kansas militia member started trying to recruit other members to kill Muslim immigrants after the 2016 attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, an FBI informant testified Thursday.

Dan Day told jurors that Patrick Stein called him a couple of days after the Florida attack in which a man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group killed 49 people. He said Stein told him he was “ready to take action” against Muslims and wanted to see who else in the militia group was with him and who wasn’t.

“They were outraged that a Muslim was killing all these Americans,” Day said. “I was outraged too.”

Their plan also came together in a climate in which the Kansas State Republican Party was actively stoking fear of Muslims in order to make political points ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Read what I posted about that here. Or just take a look at one of the party’s campaign mailers, circulated to households across Kansas.

Campaign mailer produced by the Kansas State Republican Party
Campaign mailer produced by the Kansas State Republican Party

 

If you’ve read this far you probably know what’s coming next. That’s right, your regular reminder that these three Kansas men, all white, all middle-aged, all angry, all claiming to be Christians, represent the typical face of terrorism in America.

Are the Austin bombings terrorism?

FBI agents at the scene of last night's bombing. (AP)
FBI agents at the scene of last night’s bombing. (AP)

 

Four bombs have now gone off in Austin, Tx, over the last 17 days. The most recent was last night, a bomb triggered by a tripwire that left two men injured.

According to the FBI, this “changes things,” representing a significant step up in the sophistication of the device compared to the earlier bombs which left two African-American men dead and a hispanic woman critically injured. All four devices share similarities which suggest they are the work of the same bomb maker.

The first three bombs were all left at residences, disguised as delivered packages. All detonated as the victims were opening or handling them. The fourth bomb was left on a roadside in a different area of the city.

Because the first two victims were black, a 39-year-old construction worker and a 17-year-old high school student, both related to prominent members of Austin’s African-American community, the attacks have raised suspicion that they are racially motivated. The area where the first three bombs went off were neighborhoods east of I-35, the six-lane highway which divides the affluent and predominantly white west side of the city from where black and hispanic residents have historically lived on the east side.

The fourth bomb, however, breaks from that pattern. It was planted in the city’s southwest. The two men injured in the blast are both white.

So where does that leave us? Can we describe these as acts of terrorism?

Four bombs have now gone off, all apparently the work of the same individual or group of individuals. The attacks have left the city on edge, with police urging the public to be alert for suspicious packages. The neighborhood where the fourth bomb went off was placed on lockdown until this afternoon, with residents kept in their homes and school buses ordered to stay away. The identities of the first three victims suggest a possible motivation.

That last is the key to understanding whether or not what is happening in Austin constitutes terrorism or something else. Definitions of terrorism typically focus on several key elements: threat or use of violence; intention to create fear in an audience beyond the immediate victims of an attack; all in the service or pursuit of some political/social/religious motivation or objective.

So that’s what we still need to know about the Austin attacks. Until we find some further evidence of common ideological motivation connecting the bombings, we will have to reserve judgment.