Last Updated Oct 15, 2016 6:43 AM EDT
WICHITA, Kan. Three members of a Kansas militia group were charged Friday with plotting to bomb an apartment complex that’s home to Somali immigrants in the western Kansas meatpacking town of Garden City, a thwarted attack prosecutors say was planned for the day after the November election.
The arrests were the culmination of an eight-month FBI investigation that took agents “deep into a hidden culture of hatred and violence,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall said.
A complaint unsealed Friday charges Curtis Wayne Allen, 49; Patrick Eugene Stein, 47; and Gavin Wayne Wright, 49, with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. Their first court appearance is Monday.
All three men are currently in the Sedgwick County jail on one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction, reports CBS affiliate KWCH.
If convicted, all three could face life in prison.
Prosecutors said the men don’t yet have attorneys. Publicly listed phone numbers for the men couldn’t immediately be found.
The men are members of a small militia group that calls itself “the Crusaders,” and whose members espouse sovereign citizen, anti-government, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant extremist beliefs, according to the complaint.
The complaint alleges group members chose the target based on their hatred for Muslims, people of Somali descent and immigrants - and out of a desire to inspire other militia groups and “wake people up.”
The FBI began a domestic terrorism investigation of the group in February, and a confidential source attended its meetings in southwestern Kansas.
In a June meeting, Stein brought up the Orlando nightclub shooting, and proposed carrying out a similar attack against Muslim refugees in Garden City, according to the complaint.
They ultimately decided to target the apartment complex because of the number of Somalis who lived there and the fact that one of the apartments was used as a mosque. The complex houses about 120 Somali residents, Beall said.
The complaint said that Stein discussed the explosives used in the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh.
The men, who were arrested in Liberal on Friday morning, performed surveillance of the apartment building and prepared a manifesto, Beall said.
In a profanity-laced conference call that law enforcement monitored, Stein said the only way “this country’s ever going to get turned around is it will be a bloodbath,” according to the complaint.
If convicted, the men could be sentenced to up to life in federal prison without parole.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, called the details of the plot disturbing, saying it “should serve as a warning to those who traffic in the politics of fear and bigotry.”
Garden City is home to a Tyson Foods beef slaughterhouse that has drawn a diverse immigrant population to the area.
Dr. John Birky, a physician who’s helping to create a clinic and working with refugees on a language program, said some local residents fear the refugees, mistakenly associating them with militants in Somalia.
“People do express more of a general sentiment of, ‘Why are we letting these refugees in here? Why are we? They’re taking our jobs, plus they’re Muslim,’” he said.
Birky said between 300 and 500 Somali refugees live in the area. The state Department for Children and Families said that of the 906 refugees who arrived in Kansas from October 2014 through January 2016, 68 were from Somalia, or 7.5 percent.
Garden City Mayor Chris Law said in a statement that he was shocked by the planned attack, and Birky called it “crazy.”
Birky said most are fleeing militants in Somalia and want to assimilate once they reach Kansas.
“They’re trying to make a better life for their families here,” he said. “They want to pursue the American dream.”
Friday’s arrests and charges prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to call on state and federal law enforcement agencies across the nation to increase protection for mosques and other Islamic institutions. The group also cited reports of threats against a Michigan center and anti-Muslim graffiti at a New Jersey mosque.
“We ask our nation’s political leaders, and particularly political candidates, to reject the growing Islamophobia in our nation,” Nihad Awad, the group’s national executive director, said in a statement.
The case is the latest involving militia groups in the state. Earlier this year, a planned armed protest outside a Wichita mosque prompted the Islamic Society of Wichita to cancel an appearance by a speaker whom protesters believed supported terrorism.
The Justice Department’s National Security Division created a new position a year ago to help coordinate investigations into violent homegrown extremism, like the one that resulted in the three arrests.