ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Two of three militia members accused of bombing a Minnesota mosque and attempting to bomb an Illinois women’s clinic are expected to enter guilty pleas.
Twenty-nine-year-old Michael McWhorter and 23-year-old Joe Morris are scheduled to appear Thursday in US District Court in Minnesota for a change of plea hearing. This typically means the defendants will plead guilty.
The Clarence, Illinois, men face federal hate crime charges and other counts. A third man, 47-year-old Michael Hari, is also charged.
The men are accused of attacking Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in August 2017. McWhorter allegedly said the men did it to scare Muslims from the country. The pipe bomb thrown into the mosque caused damage, but no injuries.
In the Illinois attack, a pipe bomb thrown into a Champaign, Illinois, abortion clinic in November 2017 failed to explode.
Hari described in an April 2017 Chicago Tribune article how he drafted a $10 billion plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico, citing US President Donald Trump’s call for such a wall. Hari drew up the proposal after launching a security company, Crisis Resolution Security Services, the newspaper said.
Hari also filed a federal lawsuit in central Illinois, naming the US secretaries of agriculture and health and human services as defendants. It accuses their departments of violating his constitutional rights by doing the food-safety certification work that his firm, Equicert, does.
“The People of the United States have rejected the Marxist doctrine that the government shall own the means of production,” he wrote, according to the court document. He requested a court order barring federal officials from interfering with his business.
A criminal complaint said a tip in December 2017 led authorities to investigate the three men, after a person sent the local sheriff photos of guns and bomb-making material inside Hari’s parents’ home, where Hari often stayed. In January 2018, a second informant told authorities that the three men had carried out the mosque bombing and the failed clinic bombing, according to the complaint.
McWhorter allegedly told an FBI agent during an interview that the three rented a pickup in Champaign and drove more than 500 miles (805 kilometers) to Minnesota with a plan to bomb the mosque, according to a criminal complaint. He said they wanted to let Muslims know they are not welcome in the United States and “scare them out of the country,” according to notes taken by the FBI.
It wasn’t clear from the complaint why the men may have targeted a mosque so far from Illinois.
Morris told one informant that Hari had promised to pay him and McWhorter $18,000 for participating in the mosque bombing, according to the complaint. An affidavit says the men broke a window to the imam’s office and threw a pipe bomb containing black powder into the mosque. The pipe bomb exploded, causing a fire that was extinguished by sprinklers.
A witness outside the mosque heard the sound of breaking glass and saw a man get into a dark pickup truck. The truck then sped away, the affidavit said.
McWhorter also allegedly admitted that the three men tried to bomb the abortion clinic on November 7, 2017, again renting a truck to carry out the attack. McWhorter described a PVC pipe bomb and said Morris broke a window and threw it in, where it failed to go off, according to the complaint.
The complaint also said nothing about a possible motivation for the clinic attack.
The Islamic Center primarily serves Somalis in the Minneapolis area and houses a mosque and religious school for children. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community outside of east Africa, with an estimated 57,000 people, according to the most recent census estimates.
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton called the bombing an act of terrorism when he and other officials visited the mosque the day after the explosion.