Two years ago, Patrick Eugene Stein hatched a plot with two other men to kill Somali refugees by blowing up an apartment complex in Kansas that contained a mosque.
The men referred to Muslims as cockroaches and, in the words of prosecutors, “described in the most extreme and violent terms what they planned to do to them.” They were found guilty in April and face a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Now, Stein’s lawyer is asking for a more lenient sentence, arguing that the court consider the “backdrop” of the case: then-candidate Donald Trump’s polarizing rhetoric.
“The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president,” said attorney Jim Pratt in a sentencing memo filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas.
The men’s sentencing is set for Friday.
Lawyer: Trump’s language fueled hysteria
Talking to CNN, Pratt said he’d never seen anything like the lead-up to the 2016 elections.
“It wasn’t just the rhetoric of Trump, who ahead of the election called for a ban against all Muslims entering the US, but it was the rhetoric of everybody that put fear into the system and made people believe that if Trump won, on the first day he’d take office, the world was going to implode,” he said. “Or if he won, martial law was going to be declared and Hillary (Clinton) was going to be put into office.”
As he laid out in his filing, Pratt said such language fueled the hysteria in people like Stein who had been “lost and ignored.”
“A personal normally at a 3 on a scale of political talk might have found themselves at a 7 during the election,” he wrote. “A person, like Patrick, who would often be at a 7 during a normal day, might ‘go to 11.’”
President Trump and his followers have pushed back against assertions that his comments bear some responsibility for others’ actions.
Most recently the President, after last week’s mail-bomb incidents and the Pittsburgh synagogue attack, tweeted: “The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our Country.”
Lawyer: Trump’s election probably changed their minds
The men wanted to time their attack at the apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, for the day after the 2016 presidential election. But because Trump won, the men – who were arrested the previous month – may not have gone through with their plan, Pratt said.
“Trump’s win changed everything, and it is reasonable to speculate that it would have changed things among the defendants as well,” the filing said.
“The urgency for action would be gone. The feeling of a losing battle would be gone.”
What the trial revealed
During the trial last spring, prosecutors said the three men – Stein, 49, of Kansas; Curtis Allen, 50, of Kansas; and Gavin Wright, 49, of Oklahoma – conspired to build and detonate a weapon of mass destruction.
They chose the apartment complex in Garden City, a city of 26,000 in western Kansas, partly because it contained a mosque, prosecutors said.
About 120 Somali immigrants live there, many of them drawn to the area because of jobs in the meatpacking industry, reported CNN affiliate KSNW.
Stein, Allen and Wright were arrested in October 2016 after an eight-month investigation by the FBI. The three defendants held several meetings to discuss their plan, and the FBI was tipped off by a confidential source who recorded some of their conversations.
The three were convicted on one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiracy to violate the housing rights of their intended victims.