Start with a big helping of pro-Trump, then throw in some of Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Next, add a chunk of rabid anti-abortion feeling, with a really big dollop of gun love. Now mix that together with pinch of Rebel flag and what do you have? Some would say the GOP base. But in this case you get a group of three right-wing terrorists who were responsible for bombing a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, in August 2017.
The men arrested and charged Tuesday by the United States Attorney’s office for the Eastern District of Illinois were Michael B. Hari, 47; Joe Morris, 22; and Michael McWhorter, 29, all from Clarence, Illinois, a rural community approximately 35 miles north of Champaign-Urbana. To date, these three were only charged with possession of illegal firearms. But per the affidavit of the FBI agent submitted in support of the criminal complaint, Hari, the oldest, was the mastermind of the bombing that targeted the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center that serves the Somali community in Bloomington, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis.
The authorities aren’t sure yet why Hari, Morris, and McWhorter drove from their sleepy little rural community over 500 miles to target this mosque. But let me offer at least one reason: Donald J. Trump.
Hari, a former local sheriff’s deputy, was a big Trump fan. I’m not just talking the type who would wear a MAGA hat. Hari literally wanted to build Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. Hari was interviewed in April 2017 as one of vendors vying to win the contract to build Trump’s beloved wall, where he served up a buffet of white nationalist buzzwords: “We would look at the wall as not just a physical barrier to immigration but also as a symbol of the American determination to defend our culture, our language, our heritage from any outsiders.” Beyond just a monument to white supremacy, Hari’s detailed proposal for the wall included a walkway that he hoped would allow it to also become a beloved tourist attraction “on par with the Washington Monument.”
But why would these men drive eight hours to attack a mosque in Minnesota, as opposed to just driving two hours to Chicago, where there are numerous mosques and which is, after all, located in their home state? Trump twice during the 2016 campaign specifically demonized the Somali Muslim community in Minnesota. First in August 2016, when Trump declared that the state of Minnesota is having “tremendous problems” because of the influx of Somali Muslims, smearing them as turning the area into a hotbed for terrorism.
And then again just the day before the Nov. 8, 2016 election, there was Trump back in Minnesota feeding more anti-Muslim and specifically anti-Somali red meat to his base. Trump declared, “Here in Minnesota, you’ve seen first-hand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with very large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state without your knowledge.” Trump added, “Some of them [are] joining ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world.”
Trump clearly seems to have played a role in radicalizing these men and in their choice of the mosque to attack. To this end, Hari and his friends drove all night and then threw a “huge-ass black powder bomb,” as one defendant put it, through the window of the Bloomington mosque at around 5 a.m. shortly before morning prayers. Thankfully, no one was injured, but this place of worship suffered extensive damage.
As the criminal complaint states, the reason behind the mosque bombing was to scare Muslims “out of the country” and make it clear: “hey, you’re not welcome here and get the fuck out.” The message of these terrorists is not much different than when Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims from entering the United States.
But there’s just so much to unpack with Hari and his co-conspirators from Hari’s history of violence, to talk of getting “ni***ers” to Rebel flags. And in addition to the mosque bombing, the authorities announced that these men are also suspected in the Nov. 7, 2017 attempted bombing of the Women’s Health Practice, a facility that does offer abortions, located in Champaign, Illinois. A bomb was discovered in the facilities surgical room that contained oxygen tanks but thankfully it did not detonate.
And then there are the guns. The FBI also found the men in possession of four shotguns and four assault rifles. Alarmingly, the “four ARs” had been modified to allow them to shoot fully automatically like a machine gun, making them illegal under U.S. law.
At this point, the three men have appeared before a federal magistrate only on the illegal gun charge but since the U.S. attorney has noted that “they have gathered evidence to indicate that Hari, McWhorter and Morris were responsible for the bombing of a mosque,” it’s likely additional charges will be forthcoming.
But the biggest takeaway from the arrest of these men is the spike in right-wing and white supremacist terrorism under Trump. As the Anti-Defamation League recently documented, there were 34 extremist-related deaths on U.S. soil in 2017. Eighteen of those were caused by white supremacists, while nine were caused by Islamic extremists.
A few examples include 28-year-old James Jackson, a self-professed white supremacist, who came to New York City last March for the sole purpose of killing black men. He was successful at murdering one black man before he was arrested and formally charged with terrorism. And of course, there was the white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August that took the life of Heather Heyer.
And beyond murders, there has been a bone-chilling rise in white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups under Trump. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has recently noted, neo-Nazi organizations saw the greatest growth among hate groups in 2017. Add to that as the ADL documented, white supremacist groups have recently been targeting college campuses for recruitment “like never before.”
Despite this, Trump has been worse than silent. He literally equated white supremacists with those opposing hatred by saying there were “very fine people” on both sides in Charlottesville.
What we are seeing in Trump’s America is a recipe for even more white supremacist and right-wing terror. The question is not if we will see more white supremacist terror under Trump but how many more will die because of it.