Three members of the Kansas militia - Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen - who were convicted of planning to massacre Somali Muslim refugees by bombing a mosque and apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, should be granted leniency in their sentence because they were inspired by President Donald Trump's rhetoric that encouraged the violence, lawyers for the men said in court documents.
The defense lawyers, in documents filed in Kansas federal court, said the court had to acknowledge President Trump's "verbal beating" in the 2016 election campaign that "increased the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions."
One of the lawyers said Trump continued to fan Islamophobia.
In the sentencing memo, Patrick Stein's attorneys wrote that their client feared Muslims "because of what he learned about them on the internet and the videos he watched on YouTube." His knowledge of the Koran, they say, "came directly from the internet and conservative talk-show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage."
A federal jury convicted Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiracy against civil rights in April. Wright was also found guilty of lying to the FBI.
The attack, planned for the day after the 2016 general election, was thwarted by another member of the group who tipped off authorities about escalating threats of violence.
US District Judge Eric Melgren will consider at their sentencing on November 19 and 20 how much time each man will spend in prison. Conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction carries a possible maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while the sentence for the civil rights violation carries no more than 10 years.
Prosecutors are seeking life terms for all three, while defense attorneys are variously pleading for shorter terms of 15, 10 or even time served.
The prosecutors pointed to the seriousness of the offense, which they say continues to have "a deep, lasting impact on the victims' sense of security in their homes and at their mosque. They also wanted to ensure the accused can never threaten the safety of the public again. The prosecutors also argued for the need to send a strong deterrent message that violence against the government or any person will not be tolerated.
Patrick Eugene Stein
Patrick Eugene Stein, one of the three convicted Kansas militia member, faces life in prison for conspiring with two other men to carry out the attack, which was supposed to take place on the day after the 2016 presidential election.
On Oct 29, his attorneys filed a memo in U.S. District Court in the District of Kansas, requesting that Stein receive a sentence of no more than 15 years.
They note that Stein was an "early and avid supporter" of Trump, and argue that the climate in the months leading up to the 2016 election should be taken in account when evaluating the comments prosecutors used to build their case.
During the trial in the spring, prosecutors played back recordings in which Stein described Muslim immigrants as "cockroaches" that needed to be exterminated, and talked about killing Muslims with weapons dipped in pigs' blood. Two months before the conversation took place, The Washington Post's Abigail Hauslohner noted, Trump had referenced a questionable tale about Gen. John J. Pershing killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs' blood.
"The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president," James Pratt and Michael Shultz, Stein's defense attorneys, wrote in their sentencing memo.
Stein was arrested by the FBI in October 2016, along with Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright. In April 2018, the three men, who had called themselves "the Crusaders," were found guilty of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiring to violate the civil housing rights of others. All three are scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.