In 2015, Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security released an intelligence assessment on alleged right-wing terrorism.
Said CNN about the report, “Some federal and local law-enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to – and in some cases greater than – the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, that garner more public attention.”
When President Trump shifted the DHS focus away from domestic terror, the media were quick to turn to the professional race-baiters at the Southern Poverty Law Center for an instant denunciation.
“It’s a disgrace that Trump is cutting out Countering Violent Extremism funds for white supremacists and neo-Nazis,” said a SPLC spokesperson. “We know that the domestic terror threat from them is as great as it from Islamic radicals. It’s a very serious situation.”
For the SPLC, the trial that began this past week in Wichita for three Kansans accused of planning to blow up a Garden City apartment complex would seem to be vindication.
Time magazine led its story on the alleged plot with the standard media boilerplate.
“The plot to bomb an apartment complex housing Somali immigrants in western Kansas was just the beginning of a plan by three militia members to ‘exterminate cockroaches,’ a prosecutor told jurors Thursday.”
In the Time version of the story, the hero is a reluctant would-be terrorist named Dan Day. “Dan Day knew the plan would go forward and innocent people would die,” reports Time.
According to prosecutor Risa Berkower, Day “struggled with what to do, prayed about what to do. And then he contacted the FBI, and later agreed to wear a wire.”
An in-depth article by Jessica Pressler in New York Magazine points to a more troubling inspiration for the plot.
To please her New York audience, Pressler begins with a few de rigueur snipes at President Donald Trump. She then veers into the unexpected.
In her conversations with one of the accused, a troubled soul named Patrick Stein, Pressler sheds some useful light on the way too many of these plots unfold.
As Pressler tells it, Stein only became aware of Day’s role during his arraignment at a Wichita courthouse.
“He’s the one who fed us all the information, showed us how bad they were, doing this and that and the other,” he told Pressler. “He was working for the feds the entire time. It was all a setup.”
Pressler backs up Stein’s account. “This time, Stein’s paranoid fantasy had turned out to be at least partially true,” she writes.
Day was, in fact, a paid informant for the FBI. He apparently had been reporting on Stein since Stein introduced him to the two other conspirators, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, at a gun show in February 2016.
Among the things that roused Stein’s ire were ISIS recruitment fliers reportedly found in a local public library. According to Stein, it was Day who told him he saw the fliers there.
Stein lived in Liberal, Kansas. Day lived in Garden City. Again according to Stein, it was Day who turned his attention to the heavily Somali apartment complex in Garden City that also housed an impromptu mosque.
“If we don’t do it, who’s gonna do it?” Day reportedly told Stein of blowing up the building.
Unquestionably, it was Day who introduced the crew to the “Bad Motherf—–,” or BMF as he came to be known. The BMF could provide the weapons and the expertise the men lacked.
Stein admitted to limited experience in building bombs. On their own, writes Pressler, the three conspirators “mostly succeeded in burning the hair off [Curtis Allen’s] finger.”
The BMF said he could solve that problem. All Stein, who owned a farm, had to do was deliver six 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate, and the BMF could build a small-scale version of the bomb Tim McVeigh used in Oklahoma City.
The plot might have matured had Allen not beaten up his girlfriend, and had she not reported the beating and Allen’s growing weapons stash to the Liberal Police.
Upon learning of Allen’s exposure in Liberal, the feds arranged the delivery of ammonium nitrate to the conspirators and arrested the conspirators promptly after the handoff.
The BMF, it turned out, was an undercover FBI agent. The weapons he provided to the men had been shipped from Quantico, Virginia.
Stein, writes Pressler, had “become the thing he feared most: a casualty of the Obama administration, specifically, its attempt to aggressively infiltrate right-wing militias the same way that Islamic groups had been targeted after 9/11.”
Ed Robinson, the court-appointed public defender, agreed that Stein had a point “about the feds overdoing it.”
Said Robinson, “I think it’s unfortunate that, if the FBI thought these gentlemen were so dangerous, why would they let this investigation go on for 10 months, with people they think are possibly murderers, with all these guns, all this ammunition?”
A week before this story broke, I had lunch with an old friend, Laird Wilcox, America’s leading authority on extremist groups.
The Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas is home to the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements.
Wilcox believes that many of the would-be terrorist groups on the right, if not most, are propped up by FBI informants and undercover agents. The Garden City plot would seem to be a case in point.
As the plot reveals, it is hard to tell whether the FBI’s agent provocateurs are more dangerous than the losers they encourage.