What the lit fuse looks like

(Cartoon: Dom Nelson)
(Cartoon: Dom Nelson)

 

The three members of a Kansas terrorist cell convicted of a 2016 plot to detonate simultaneous car bombs at an apartment complex housing Somali immigrants are now facing sentencing. The lawyers for one of the convicted terrorists, Patrick Stein, are making a plea for a more lenient sentence.

By citing President Donald Trump’s rhetoric.

That’s right: Stein’s lawyers are arguing that the judge should consider how Trump’s words fanned the flames of Stein’s fear and hatred of Muslims, which he learned from and had reinforced by the internet and conservative talk shows, when deciding their client’s sentence.

You can read their sentencing memorandum by following this link. As attorneys James Pratt and Michael Schultz argue:

Patrick Stein was afraid of the Muslim refugees that had come to live in the western Kansas towns of Liberal, Dodge City, and particularly Garden City, Kansas.

Patrick was afraid of Muslims because of what he read about them on the internet and the videos he watched on YouTube. …  Patrick’s knowledge of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, came directly from the internet and conservative talk-show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. Patrick himself had never read the Quran, nor had he participated in a comparative study of any religion.

All of Patrick’s exposure to the Muslim religion has been negative – by choice, through the media to which he exposed himself …

And by the poisonous and paranoid political swamp in which Stein, described by his lawyers as “an early and avid supporter for Donald Trump,” wallowed. That swamp echoed with the anti-Muslim bile vomited up by Fox News hosts like Sean Hannity and talk-radio bigots like Michael Savage.

The fear that it inspired was stoked and amplified by the opportunism of the Kansas Republican Party, which produced campaign mailers like the one below. Gary Barker, executive director of the Kansas State Republican Party, explained that this mailer, and others like it, were distributed across the state because polling showed it was “a positive issue for Republicans.”

Campaign mailer for Kansas GOP candidate
Campaign mailer for Kansas GOP candidate

 

As Stein’s lawyers put it:

2016 was “lit.” The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president.

They go on to argue that Trump’s appeal for people like Stein, was as “the voice of a lost and ignored white, working-class set of voters,” and that the eventual president’s words had a particularly powerful effect on their client:

Trump’s brand of rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling heightened the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions. A personal normally at a 3 on a scale of political talk might have found themselves at a 7 during the election. A person, like Patrick, who would often be at a 7 during a normal day, might “go to 11.” See SPINAL TAP.

In their effort to secure a lighter sentence for their client, Stein’s attorneys make one last pitch. Acknowledging that the FBI disrupted the plot before it was carried out, his lawyers argue that, thanks to Trump’s victory, Stein and his fellow conspirators would have shelved their planned terrorist attack.

Trump’s win changed everything, and it is reasonable to speculate that it would have changed things among the defendants as well. The urgency for action would be gone. The feeling of a losing battle would be gone.

In short, Stein’s lawyers argue that their client wouldn’t have become a full-fledged terrorist. He wouldn’t have gone through with the plan to slaughter innocent Somalis after all.

Because Trump was the terrorist’s candidate. And Trump won.

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.

This week in terrorism history: Oct. 16-22

Kansas terrorism suspects, from left: Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright.
Kansas terrorism suspects, from left: Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright.

 

Over the weekend news broke of a thwarted terrorism plot in Kansas in which three members of a far-right militia group were charged with conspiring to destroy an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and maintained a mosque. They intended to detonate four simultaneous car bombs similar to the one which Timothy McVeigh used to destroy the US federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

The attack was scheduled for Nov. 9, the day after the presidential election.

The three suspects appeared in court today. Each was charged with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. They face life in prison if convicted. According to the report at The Wichita Eagle:

Officials said Friday that Allen, Stein and Wright hoped to create a “bloodbath” by detonating vehicles laden with bombs around the parking lot of Garden City’s Garden Spot apartments, the day after the Nov. 8 election. They spent months considering sites for the attack before finally settling on the complex, conducted surveillance and gathered bomb-making materials.

On Saturday, The Washington Post published details of the federal investigation into the development of the plot and the suspects’ motivation and ideology:

Their plans began to solidify over the summer as they narrowed down their targets. In August, they settled on the apartment complex in Garden City, a Somali-Muslim enclave, the complaint says. They planned to use cars to set off explosions at the exits to the complex. The explosions would boom around prayer time, when most people would be gathering.

At some point, Allen began watching YouTube videos to learn how to make explosives.He also got to work on a manifesto. But federal investigators, monitoring recordings of their meetings, already knew the group’s guiding philosophies:

“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 in June.

“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 ain’t going to be nothing nice about it.”

The full text of the federal complaint against the men can be read here.
Given the details of the Kansas plot, it is fitting somehow that three of the entries in this week’s look back at terrorism history involve car bomb attacks.
  •  Oct. 16, 1997 — Sri Lanka: An LTTE truck bomb at a hotel next to the Trade Center in Colombo kills 18 and wounds more than 100, including seven US citizens.
  • Oct. 17, 1995 — France: Bombing at the Paris Metro wounds 30; the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) of Algeria is suspected.
  • Oct. 18, 2003 — Indonesia: Imam Samudra is sentenced to death for his role in the Oct. 12, 2000 bombing in Bali.
  • Oct. 19, 2000 — Sri Lanka: LTTE suicide bomber wounds 23, including three American tourists, in an attack on a town hall near Colombo.
  • Oct. 20, 1981 — Belgium: An Antwerp synagogue is bombed, killing two and wounding 99.
  • Oct. 21, 2002 — Israel: A car bomb explodes next to a bus in Karkur, killing 19; Palestinian Islamic Jihad is suspected.
  • Oct. 22, 2000 — Spain: ETA car bomb kills a prison officer in the Basque town of Vitoria.