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Men Accused In Kansas Bomb Plot Saw Refugees As Threat, Wanted To 'Wake America Up'

This Friday, Feb, 3, 2017 photograph shows the apartment complex targeted in Garden City, Kan. Prosecutors allege a plot to detonate truck bombs the day after the election at an apartment complex where 120 Somali immigrants live in western Kansas. (Orlin Wagner/AP)
This Friday, Feb, 3, 2017 photograph shows the apartment complex targeted in Garden City, Kan. Prosecutors allege a plot to detonate truck bombs the day after the election at an apartment complex where 120 Somali immigrants live in western Kansas. (Orlin Wagner/AP)

A trial begins in March in Wichita, Kansas, for three men accused of plotting to bomb an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, where Somali refugees live and maintain a mosque.

Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson talks with Jessica Pressler (@jpressler), contributing editor for New York Magazine, who’s written about the plot, the FBI investigation and the upcoming trial.

Interview Highlights

On Garden City, Kansas

“Garden City is almost a very typical small town. It is literally in the middle of the country, almost equidistant from both sides. It’s a cattle town right now. There are a lot of meatpacking plants in the area, and farms and things like that, and then of course there’s a town center and a Walmart and all that good stuff. … And a lot of Somali refugees. They have come because there’s jobs, there’s jobs at the meatpacking plants, kind of like hard labor — you don’t have to speak English — cutting sides of meat, packaging meat, just they need a lot of hands out there because they produce a lot of meat from that area.”

On how Somali refugees are seen in Garden City

“It’s interesting. I mean there is in Garden City a kind of history of having a lot of different ethnicities, and a very diverse population. And there are people who have moved to Garden City specifically to work with the refugee population, because they want to help people. And then there is, especially kind of in the lead-up to the [2016 presidential] election, people who feel suspicious of them, because they are Muslim, they tend to keep to themselves. So there are people who are suspicious and nervous about … that it’s changed the community.”

On Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen, who were arrested and charged with conspiring to detonate bombs and harm the Muslim population there

“These three men were from outside of Garden City. They were from different towns outside of Garden City. But basically, they were members of a militia which, as you know, the militia movement has grown really rapidly over the past 15 years. And the goal of this militia is ostensibly to protect America against enemies foreign and domestic. And there’s a lot of people with, you know, right-wing and racist beliefs in militias. There’s also a lot of people who are just kind of survivalists. But these guys were part of a militia. They felt very strongly that ISIS was a very big threat, and they sort of wanted to do something to wake America up to the fact that we were letting a lot of Muslim refugees into the country, and it was very dangerous. They were really worked up by especially a lot of the rhetoric in the lead-up to the election about Muslim refugees coming into the country.”

On whether the men thought Somali refugees in Kansas were ISIS members, or if they sought to make a point against Muslims

“Both actually. I mean there was a whole thing where they sort of believed that there were ISIS fliers found in the county library, ISIS recruitment flyers. I mean, they believed a lot of things. They believed that there are tunnels under Walmarts, linking all the different Walmarts together, that the government was going to use to declare martial law at some point, and U.N. troops were gonna come out … they believed a lot of different conspiracy theories. So they definitely believed that, at least among some of the population of Somali refugees in Garden City, that some of them were potentially dangerous, the way that our president, our current president, was in fact telling people that, I believe he said kind of in the lead-up to the election, like, ‘There are a lot of dangerous people in this group, and it’s like a breeding ground for ISIS.’ ”

On the men not being able to carry out their attack plan

“There was an informant that infiltrated their group at a certain point and alerted authorities to what was going on, and they watched them for quite a while, and when it started to seem like they were really going to take action, then they were arrested.”

On questions about whether the FBI went too far in allowing the men to advance the plot

“It was definitely a situation where the FBI did set them up with an undercover agent, who allowed them to fire weapons, who was like, ‘Yeah I can get you that dynamite,’ and stuff like that. But I do think that it’s kind of … that is the defense, is that they were they were talked into it by the feds. These are very anti-government guys, they don’t like the federal government. And so their defense is, like, ‘The Feds set us up.’ In reality though, if you look at the transcripts, the things that they said were really appalling. They are kind of unforgivable in every possible way. They called Muslims ‘cockroaches.’ They indicated their desire to commit a violent act very frequently.”

On how news of the plot has reverberated in Garden City

“It’s really interesting. I think that Garden City, like I said, it’s always been a very diverse, very tolerant place to a large extent. People in Garden City are very clear, like, ‘Those guys aren’t from here. Those aren’t our people. They’re outsiders, they don’t understand that Garden City … this is not who we are.’ And I think in a lot of ways, it’s kind of brought the community closer together. There’s some kind of beautiful things that have come out of it. Like one of the doctors at the local hospital started a dinner series where Somali refugees and other types of people would invite each other into each other’s homes for dinner, which was really very sweet. There’s been a lot more conversation between the various groups that live there, which is kind of a nice outcome.”

On attorneys for the three men asking a federal judge to include prospective jurors from western Kansas

“It’s really interesting because, the reason that they asked is that one of the attorneys said there’s a different belief system in this part of southwest Kansas. I don’t know that the people of Garden City would agree with that necessarily, but I think what they’re striving for there is the kind of people, the kind of groups that these guys came from, where you’re in a militia, you’re deeply immersed and kind of getting your news from Infowars and online sources that are not the most reputable, and you distrust the federal government, and you think that there’s a possibility that the federal government does set up innocent civilians to this extent, for their own purposes or enrichment. So they’re hoping that they can get people who really distrust the government and their role in this to exonerate these guys.”

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