World

Trial begins for alleged bomb plotters who wanted more Trump voters on jury

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.

Prosecutors must prove trio weren't just making idle threats to harm Somali immigrants

This Oct. 14, 2016 photo provided by the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office in Wichita, Kan., shows, from left, Gavin Wright, Curtis Allen and Patrick Eugene Stein, alleged members of of a Kansas militia group accused of plotting to bomb an apartment building filled with Somali immigrants in Garden City, Kan. (Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office via AP)

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.

"Defendants wanted to send the message Muslims are not welcomed here — not in Garden City, not in Kansas, not in America," prosecutor Risa Berkower said.

The comments were made during opening statements in the trial of Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen on charges of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction for allegedly planning to detonate truck bombs in the meatpacking town of Garden City, 350 kilometres west of Wichita. Stein also faces weapons-related charges and Wright has an additional charge of lying to the FBI.

The three men, who were indicted in October 2016, have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have argued the men formed a splinter group of the militia Kansas Security Force that came to be known as "the Crusaders." Wright is quoted in a wiretap transcript as saying he hoped an attack on the Somalis would "wake people up" and inspire others to take similar action against Muslims.

"The evidence will show that these weren't just words," Berkower said. "These hours of planning were not just talk. It was action."

The government plans to present evidence that the men manufactured homemade explosives and tested them. It also plans to present testimony showing the men tried to recruit other members of the Kansas Security Force to join them, and warned them not to tip off law enforcement about the plan. Some militia members will testify they didn't like Muslims either but refused to join the plan to kill people.

Judge dismisses challenge

But Dan Day knew the plan would go forward and innocent people would die, Berkower said. He struggled with what to do, prayed about what to do. And then he contacted the FBI, and later agreed to wear a wire.

"It was the hardest scariest thing he had done in his entire life," she said. "He agreed even though he was scared."

The relocation of the trial spurred a legal challenge from the defendants, who argued the practice was discriminatory because it excluded western Kansas counties where more rural, conservative residents live. Defence attorneys noted that prospective jurors who live in southwestern Kansas were twice as likely to have voted for Donald Trump than prospective jurors in the Wichita area.

A 2017 photograph shows the apartment complex in Garden City, Kan. which housed dozens of Somali immigrants, which prosecutors allege was the site where the accused planned to detonate truck bombs. (Orlin Wagner/Associated Press)

The defence said that was important because jurors will have to decide whether the men's alleged conduct constituted a crime, or whether it was protected under the constitutional rights to free speech and assembly, and to bear arms.

A federal judge dismissed the challenge, writing in his decision that demographic differences between the regions aren't legally recognizable and wouldn't violate the men's right to a jury trial. There was no evidence to support the contention that citizens in southwest Kansas possess an ideology that fundamentally differs from citizens to their east in the Wichita area, the judge said.

With files from CBC News

now