Lost amid the Russia investigations, revelations about massive Facebook data leaks, and the president’s alleged affairs with adult entertainment stars is a Kansas trial with major national implications.
A trio of domestic terrorists, two of whom were Donald Trump supporters, allegedly planned a series of car bombings for immediately after the 2016 election, targeting a Somali-American community in Garden City, Kansas. The three men — Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein, and Curtis Allen — are now facing multiple charges, including conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.
According to prosecutors, the trio plotted out a full-scale assault on the community, specifically targeting a mosque and an apartment complex. The men were all members of a militia splinter group called “The Crusaders.” If they’d been successful, it “could have been the deadliest domestic terror attack since the Oklahoma bombing in 1995,” The Guardian noted.
Fortunately, authorities arrested the men before they unleashed their plan. All three have pleaded not guilty.
Even though they were stopped before they could start their bombing campaign, the trial shines a light not only on how the suspects looked to Trump and others in the far-right media sphere, but also on how the lack of a successful plot can still have reverberations far beyond the “bloodbath” the three hoped to bring.
In surveying their statements and social media accounts, it’s clear where Wright, Stein, and Allen fell on the political spectrum.
Two of the three men, before their arrest, had posted pro-Trump material on their Facebook pages. Stein, for instance, posted pro-Trump memes on his page — and considered Trump “the Man,” according to New York Magazine. Allen, meanwhile, admitted outright that he was a Trump supporter.
The men also made a string of strongly anti-Muslim comments, ranging from describing their Somali-American neighbors as “cockroaches” to Stein’s belief that the “only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.”
“It’s pretty obvious that the rise in anti-Muslim bigotry coincides with the rise of Donald Trump,” Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for CAIR, told ThinkProgress. “We’ve seen it time and time again… We often see those promoting anti-Muslim bigotry, carrying out acts of hate targeting Muslims and other minorities, we often see in their background some kind of support for Trump. And that says a lot, and is something that should be addressed by the president himself.”
But it wasn’t simply pro-Trump material the would-be bombers posted before their arrest. If anything, their pages provide a snapshot not only of the fake news that saturated Facebook in the lead-up to the election, but also how prominent Republican and Fox News talking heads melded with the fake far-right sites that populated social media platforms.
Stein, for instance, shared material from Russian propaganda and “Anonymous News” sites, claiming the September 11 attacks were “[d]efinitely an inside job.” He likewise posted material from any number of other popular fake news sites, including “Veterans Today” and “The Political Insider.”
Stein — the alleged ringleader, and someone who wanted to use his attack to convince Americans that “they want this country back” — was a clear conspiracy theorist, claiming Barack Obama was the “leader” of the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Stein’s attorney presented a novel defense in October, claiming that his client had fallen prey to fake news on social media.
But Stein also appears to have been a huge fan of Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren, according to his Facebook page. In 2016, Stein shared a number of videos from Lahren, including one where she complained about being “lectur[ed]” about “tolerance.”
Nor have the three dropped their affiliation with the far-right since their arrests. In December, an attorney for the men complained that the jury selection had deliberately excluded “conservative jurors,” and that they were requesting, as the AP reported, the specific inclusion of “Trump voters.”
As the lawyer wrote, “This case is uniquely political because much of the anticipated evidence will center around, and was in reaction to, the 2016 presidential election.” The presiding judge, however, denied the motion.
The plot and the trial both coincide with a nationwide spike in anti-Muslim crimes, concurrent with Trump’s rise. But even while authorities foiled their plot, the planned attack nonetheless left the Somali-American community significantly shaken.
As NPR reported this week, almost the entire Somali-American community of Allen’s and Wright’s home of Liberal, Kansas, has since left the town, relocating wholesale to Garden City.
As one of the few Somali-Americans still in Liberal told NPR, “This is the place, or it used to be the place, but now it’s a ghost town. There’s no one here.”
The mass evacuation is a stark contrast to the national response to the planned bombings. Given that the domestic terrorists, only a few weeks from following through on their plot, could have generated hundreds of casualties in Kansas, the case has seen remarkably little media coverage even as the trial ramps up.
“First of all, If you ask anybody on street, ‘Have you heard about this plot to massacre Muslims in Kansas?’ they’d go, ‘What are you talking about?'” Hooper said. “Nobody would even hear about it. But again we go back to that double standard, that if it had been flipped, a Muslim had been accused of it, you’d hear no end of it, and every American could recite the details of the case.”