Last week, an American court ruled against three members of a militia in the state of Kansas.
The jury found the three men – Curtis Allen, Patrick Stein and Gavin Wright -- guilty of two charges: plotting to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy against civil rights. They face up to life in prison.
Officials say the three planned to bomb a building where Somali refugees live. They said the bombing was supposed to lead to more violence, what one of the men called “Crusades 2.0.”
But their plan was stopped after their arrest, just weeks before the 2016 elections in the United States.
Officials say the plot shows the changing enemy of a movement that was launched a generation ago. It began at a time of anti-government activism.
But with the election of Donald Trump as president, the desire to fight the government appears to have lost some of its urgency. Many militia members support Trump and his policies. Instead of denouncing the government, militias have instead turned their hatred against new enemies: Muslims, immigrants, and the anti-fascist group Antifa.
Some militias have been directing their attention to “secondary enemies for the movement," notes Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League civil rights group.
Often grouped with other extremist organizations, the anti-government movement comes in different forms.
There are "preppers,” a term used to describe how they “prepare” for civil unrest by keeping large amounts of water and food.
There are "survivalists," people who learn skills to “live off the land” after a disaster.
And then there are the militiamen who take part in military-style training exercises. Their aim is to resist a government they see as secretly planning to take away their guns and constitutional rights.
Start of Modern Militia
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) says the modern U.S. militia movement dates back to a series of events in the early 1990s.
Among them was the election of Bill Clinton as president in 1992 and an attack the following year on the Branch Davidian camp in Waco, Texas. The center says militias believe that attack, by federal agents, was “evidence of an out of control government willing to attack citizens.”
During Clinton’s presidency, the number of anti-government groups rose sharply. But it fell during George W. Bush's two terms as president before rising again to 1,360 under President Barack Obama.
In 2016, there were 689 anti-government groups nationwide, including 273 militias, according to the SPLC.
The militia movement’s hatred for Muslims was influenced in part by the 2008 election of Obama, the country’s first African-American president. Some Americans believe that Obama was a Muslim born in Kenya. They accuse him of being a liberal who would take away citizens’ guns.
Adding fuel to anti-Muslim hatred were a series of terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. They included shootings, carried out by Muslim extremists, in Chattanooga, Tennessee; San Bernardino, California; and Orlando, Florida.
Law Enforcement Takes Notice
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was concerned. As early as May 2015, the FBI warned that militia extremists were "expanding their targets to include Muslims and Islamic religious institutions in the United States."
Because of its anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant language, the 2016 election campaign influenced some militiamen to take action. It was around this time that the three men began plotting to blow up the Somali housing complex in Kansas. The men belonged to the Kansas Security Force, which was part of a larger group called the “Three Percenters.”
Along with a few other militiamen, they began meeting on Saturdays and Sundays to discuss ways to remove Muslims from the country. They formed a group to communicate and shared anti-Obama, anti-Clinton, and anti-Muslim memes on Facebook.
Using Google Earth, the Kansas militiamen identified Muslim targets in the state. They then decided to attack the Somali apartment building and a religious center.
To show just how extreme the three were, government lawyers questioned other members of the Kansas Security Force. One said that he left the militia after hearing about the plot. He said he had concerns that it was “turning into something more serious.” Another member said that although she hated Muslims, she objected to the plan.
Defense lawyers tried to prove the men were just talking. And they asked Amy Cooter, an expert on militias, to give evidence. She is with Vanderbilt University’s Department of Sociology in Tennessee.
After reading statements and social media records and talking to one of the three men, Cooter said that Wright was more of a “prepper” than a militiaman. She noted there was little evidence that he trained with weapons.
Cooter said Wright told her that things got “out of control” without him understanding what was happening. But the jury failed to accept the argument that all the men were doing was talking. Now the three may spend their lives in prison.
I'm Susan Shand.
Masood Farivar reported this story for VOA News. Susan Shand adpated the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
conspiracy – n. the act of plotting together; an agreement o carry out a plan or plot
defamation – n. the act of saying false things in order to make people have a bad opinion of someone or something
league – n. a group or part of a larger organization
fascist – adj. a political movement that praises the nation or race above the individual
style – n. a custom or way of doing things
institution – n. an established organization; a place where a group takes care of people
meme - n. an interesting object, such as a picture or video, that spreads through social media