Three Kansas men were convicted Wednesday of plotting to bomb an apartment complex where Somali immigrants lived and worshiped in Garden City, following a four-week trial in Wichita.
Just a day after beginning deliberations, a federal jury found Curtis Allen, 50; Gavin Wright, 49; and Patrick Eugene Stein, 49, each guilty of one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction as well as one count of violating the housing rights of their would-be victims.
Wright was also convicted of lying to the FBI.
All three men face life in prison.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the verdict “a significant victory against domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
The men were arrested in 2016 just weeks before prosecutors say they had hoped to carry out mass murder at the apartment complex the day after U.S. voters elected the next president.
Prosecutors say the men, part of a militia group called the Kansas Security Force, prepared a manifesto saying their attack “would wake people up.”
Prosecutor Risa Berkower said at the trial, “They wanted to send the message that Muslims are not welcome here – not in Garden City, not in Kansas, not in America,” reports KCUR.
The men were charged following a months-long FBI investigation and sting operation.
They called themselves “the Crusaders” and had scoped out several potential targets, stockpiling firearms and bomb-making parts, say prosecutors.
Court documents say they then settled on 312 West Mary Street in Garden City, a cluster of eight buildings housing more than 100 people — mainly East African immigrants, KCUR’s Frank Morris reported for NPR.
One of the apartments served as a mosque.
But before the men could potentially act, a source tipped off the FBI.
Stein then met with an undercover agent seeking to obtain a bomb, and bringing the agent to see the apartment complex, say prosecutors.
The cooperating witness also made secret recordings revealing the men “discussed and refined their plan,” which consisted of parking four explosive-filled vehicles at each corner of the complex, ensuring that it would “level the building and kill its occupants,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas.
Some of the recordings were played for the jurors.
“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” Stein allegedly said in one conversation, Morris reports.
But defense attorneys argued that the men’s words were constitutionally protected free speech and did not amount to a conspiracy.
“It is not morally right to hold such hate, but it is not legally wrong,” said Stein’s attorney James Pratt, reports KCUR.
The New York Times reports the men also talked about attacking then-President Barack Obama as well as members of Congress, words the defense characterized as idle chatter.
Sessions — and the federal jury — saw it differently.
“The defendants in this case acted with clear premeditation in an attempt to kill people on the basis of their religion and national origin,” Sessions said in a statement. “That’s not just illegal—it’s immoral and unacceptable, and we’re not going to stand for it.
Sentencing is scheduled June 27.