By NADYA FAULX
The ex-girlfriend of one of the men accused of plotting an attack against immigrants in Garden City says the men spent months studying how to make homemade explosives.
Lula Harris was on the witness stand Monday during the first day of testimony in federal court in Wichita. She said she was in a relationship for several years with Curtis Allen, who along with Patrick Stein and Gavin Wright is charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction.
The three men are accused of planning to bomb a mosque and apartment complex that was home to Somali Muslim immigrants and refugees. The defendants were arrested in October 2016 following a months-long FBI investigation.
Their attorneys argue the men – heard on recordings by an FBI informant – were engaged in banter, complaining about immigrants and the state of the country. They say that is constitutionally protected free speech.
Prosecutors say the three men went beyond banter and crossed the line into action as they discussed their plans to bomb the building in Garden City.
In her testimony, Harris – who lived with Allen from June through October 2016 – said he repeatedly watched YouTube videos explaining how to make an explosive and collected recipes for homemade explosives.
Harris recounted a time she stopped by G&G Home Center, the business Wright owned and where Allen worked. She said sitting on the kitchen island was a burner and a beaker full of a white substance she recognized from one of the YouTube videos.
“It rattled me, upset me,” Harris said. “They were cooking explosives.”
She said she didn’t report the incident to police. Two weeks later, Harris reported Allen to the Liberal Police Department for alleged domestic violence. He was arrested, as were the two other men.
Harris told prosecutors the three men, who belonged to a militia group, had been discussing for some time a way to “wake people up” to what they saw as the problem of Muslims immigrating to the U.S.
“[Allen] just didn’t feel they belonged here; that they were violent,” she said. “They were a threat to our country.”
She said another plan involved killing the head of a refugee resettlement organization in Garden City and pinning the murder on a Muslim refugee.
Allen, Stein and Wright seemed so serious about their plan that even fellow members of the militia group distanced themselves from the discussion, a former member testified Monday.
Brody Benson said he met the defendants while a member of the Kansas Security Force. But he told prosecutors he resigned in June 2016, following a meeting in which Stein discussed using “high explosives” like rocket-propelled grenades to attack Somali immigrants.
The meeting, at a shooting range on Benson’s property, took place in the week after a man killed 49 people at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Benson testified that the group was just venting, but he was becoming concerned that the group was moving toward some type of violent act.
“It wasn’t just talk, it was … action,” Benson said.
During cross-examination, the defense asked Benson why he didn’t report his concerns to law enforcement and whether he was providing testimony to avoid facing charges himself. Benson can be heard on recordings made by an FBI informant suggesting targeting imams and Islamic leaders that he blamed for terrorist acts in the U.S.
Benson denied he is facing any charges.
Several other Kansas Security Force members are on the prosecution’s witness list. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
If the three men are found guilty, they could face life in prison.