Three militia members go on trial Tuesday for plotting to bomb Somali immigrants working in the Kansas Meatpacking Triangle, a constellation of minority-majority, hardscrabble pioneer towns, that depend on foreign labor. Somali immigrants have all but abandoned one town, despite civic and police efforts to reassure them that they’re safe there. Some residents want them to return.
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Now to Kansas. Three members of a militia group are scheduled to go on trial tomorrow for what prosecutors say was a plot to bomb an apartment complex full of Muslim Somali immigrants. The alleged plot rattled people in the three rural southwest Kansas communities that form what is known as the Meatpacking Triangle. As Frank Morris of member station KCUR reports, it has also sparked an exodus of immigrants from one of the towns.
FRANK MORRIS, BYLINE: The bomb plot allegedly took root right where I’m standing here by an old, rusty, metal Quonset hut in Wright, Kan., a few miles from Dodge City. Patrick Stein lived here in a trailer, since been removed. And the FBI says that Stein was stockpiling weapons and ammunition until one morning in October of 2016.
CHELSEA BRADVILLE: My kids went out to go to school and there were cops with assault rifles everywhere.
MORRIS: Chelsea Bradville lives a couple of doors down from Stein’s old place in this tiny town of 160 on the spare, dry plains of southwestern Kansas.
BRADVILLE: And we don’t even have cars that drive by our house really, so, you know, it was really scary.
MORRIS: Prosecutors say that months before the raid, a paid informant began recording Stein as he allegedly prepared to bomb and shoot up an apartment complex containing a mosque 60 miles away in Garden City. According to the indictment, those recordings are full of hateful, racist screeds against Muslim immigrants with Stein claiming that refugees were taking jobs from white workers. This is a staunchly conservative part of Kansas.
The pickup in Chelsea Bradville’s driveway has a black assault rifle decal in the rear window.
But Bradville has an abiding respect for the Hispanic, Asian and African immigrants doing hard, dirty work in the area’s meatpacking plants.
BRADVILLE: That’s, you know, very intensive labor and there’s a lot of the community that just doesn’t want to do that, you know, and they do. They don’t care. They’ll do the hard work and make it.
MORRIS: That’s a widely held view around here. Ninety miles to the southwest, hundreds of immigrants work at the huge slaughterhouse in the hardscrabble town of Liberal, Kan.
EARL WATT: This is a place for you get a chance to get started.
MORRIS: Earl Watt runs the High Plains Daily Leader and Times newspaper here in Liberal, the town where Patrick Stein allegedly found two men eager to join his plot to attack Somali immigrants.
WATT: The Crusaders or I’ve heard some other militia names that they were called.
MORRIS: Prosecutors say the two other Crusaders, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, work in Liberal making explosives, identifying targets and developing a manifesto declaring war on Muslim immigrants. Defense attorneys won’t comment so close to trial, but Watt thinks the defense may argue that the men were lured into the bomb plot by FBI agents.
WATT: If it’s proven to be true, these guys are associated with something that was pure evil and it was happening right under a lot of our noses. That’s scary.
MORRIS: Especially scary if you are the intended target.
AMBYIO FARAH: Like, it was kind of shocking to me to believe that someone wants to bomb me because of my religion or where I’m from, you know?
MORRIS: Ambyio Farah is an 18-year-old refugee from Somalia and a U.S. citizen. She says she’s one of the few from her native country still in Liberal, that close to 200 Somalis have fled. And you can clearly see that here at what used to be a thriving African grocery store.
FARAH: This is the place. It used to be the place, but now it’s a ghost town. There’s no one here.
MORRIS: It’s locked up, it’s dark.
FARAH: It used to be really beautiful, have all these African lightings and have someone standing here dressed in their African clothing just to welcome you, say hi.
MORRIS: Farah says a lot of Somalis from Liberal have moved to Garden City, Kan., about 60 miles north of here, joining a larger Somali community, the one allegedly targeted for attack by men going on trial tomorrow. For NPR News, I’m Frank Morris in Liberal, Kan