Flipping the Switch

Donald Trump Helped Turn a Christian Extremist Into an Alleged Domestic Terrorist

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, AP

It was just after 4 a.m. on August 4, 2017, when a charcoal-gray Nissan Frontier pulled up to the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.

A slender young man with glasses and a mustache got out carrying a sledgehammer. His accomplice, a pudgy man with a dimpled chin and a wide gap between his two front teeth, followed carrying a black powder bomb.

As the second man, 29-year-old Michael McWhorter, would later tell the FBI, they had a message for the mosque’s worshippers: “You’re not welcome here. Get the fuck out.”

The man with the sledgehammer, 22-year-old Joe Morris, used it to smash one of the mosque’s windows. McWhorter then raised his hand to hurl the bomb. As he did, he saw a man inside the house of worship. Their eyes met as McWhorter released the explosive. He and Morris ran back to the truck, where another man waited behind the wheel. They sped off into the night.

“We were long gone before it went off,” McWhorter later told the FBI.

No one was hurt in the bombing, but the mosque was badly damaged. President Donald Trump and his aides refused to condemn the attack. Sebastian Gorka, then a deputy assistant to Trump, suggested that it could have been a false flag operation carried out by leftists but designed to make right-wing extremists look responsible.

Gorka’s skepticism appears to have been misplaced. Seven months later, the FBI and local police descended on Clarence, Illinois, a tiny ramshackle community surrounded by wind turbines, and arrested McWhorter, Morris, and two others – McWhorter’s stepson Ellis “EJ” Mack and Michael Hari, the man who had driven the getaway car — for their roles in the bombings of the Minnesota mosque and a women’s clinic in Illinois. McWhorter and Mack told the FBI that Hari was the group’s leader.

Moultrie County Sheriff deputies transport Michael McWhorter to the Federal Courthouse in Urbana, Ill., Wednesday March 21, 2018. McWhorter is one of three suspects arrested last week on charges of carry out the Aug. 5 pipe-bomb assault on the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette via AP)

Moultrie County Sheriff deputies transport Michael McWhorter to the Federal Courthouse in Urbana, Ill., on March 21, 2018.

Photo: Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette via AP

Hari had much in common with alleged domestic extremists like Cesar Sayoc Jr., Taylor Michael Wilson, and Robert Bowers, who appear to have been influenced by Trump’s promotion of xenophobia and nativism. He and fellow members of his small, violent group, the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia, wanted to return the United States to a simpler, less progressive era through bombings and armed resistance, according to his manifesto. Hari’s bizarre life story — involving a troubled marriage, antiquated and austere religious observances, and finally an embrace of bigotry and violence — illustrates how our increasingly divisive, conspiracy-laden culture isn’t creating terrorists so much as pushing troubled people toward extremism and violence.

Hari was drawn to Trump as a candidate because Trump wanted to put American culture in reverse, friends and family members told The Intercept. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan spoke to the nativism favored by Hari and some other conservative Christians, and fueled simmering hatred of a changing culture they struggled to understand — one in which women were empowered, gender could be fluid, a black man was president, and Christianity wasn’t necessarily a cornerstone belief.

FILE - In this June 1, 2016, file photo, then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wears his "Make America Great Again" hat at a rally in Sacramento, Calif. Outside groups are promising to spend millions of dollars boosting President Donald Trump's agenda. This week, Making America Great began spending more than $1 million on an ad that will air in 10 states with Democratic senators. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Donald Trump wears his “Make America Great Again” hat at a rally in Sacramento, Calif., on June 1, 2016.

Photo: Jae C. Hong/AP

“This whole Donald Trump movement caught a lot of us,” said a man who knew Hari through their shared religious observance but asked not to be identified because he didn’t want to be associated with Hari’s alleged crimes. “Anybody with a fundamentalist mindset has this ‘we-have-to-keep-our-ways, this-way-is-threatened’ mentality. They look at Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and it’s a lot of what they’re saying.”

“I don’t think Trump’s rhetoric is getting people to commit violence,” the man continued. “It’s not like he’s saying, ‘Go bomb a mosque!’ I think it’s subtler. I think he’s flipping the switch in certain people. And I think he flipped that switch in Michael Hari.”

In this July 2017 booking photo released by Ford County Sheriff's Office, Michael Hari is seen on an assault charge. Hari, 47, allegedly intended for the attack to scare Muslims into leaving the U.S. He and two associates were charged Tuesday, March 13, 2018, with traveling from rural Clarence, Illinois, about 120 miles south of Chicago, to carry out the Aug. 5 pipe-bomb assault on the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. (Ford County Sheriff's Office via The News-Gazette, via AP)

In this July 2017 booking photo released by the Ford County Sheriff’s Office, Michael Hari is seen on an assault charge.

A Gradual Drift Toward Extremism

Michael Hari was born in Berlin in 1971 while his father was stationed there with the Air Force. He moved to Paxton, Illinois, with his parents and his younger brother when he was a boy. A rural corn and soybean farming community, Paxton is the seat of Ford County, which is shaped like the letter L and known as Illinois’s staunchest Republican county. In most elections, Libertarian Party candidates get more votes in Ford County than Democrats — when there is even a Democrat on the ballot.

In 1990, when Hari was 19, he married Michelle Lee Frakes, who hoped to become a school teacher. Two years later, they moved to Lampasas County, Texas, so Hari could study psychology at the University of Central Texas, now known as Texas A&M – Central Texas.

During Hari’s first year in Texas, David Koresh, the self-appointed prophet of a Christian sect known as the Branch Davidians, was gaining national attention. Law enforcement officials suspected Koresh of polygamy and child sexual abuse. Koresh’s group entered into a standoff with the federal government at a compound in Waco, about 100 miles from where Hari lived. Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, suspecting that Koresh and his followers had illegal weapons, tried to raid the compound in February 1993, leading to a shootout that killed four federal agents and six Branch Davidians. The FBI then surrounded Koresh’s compound in a 51-day standoff. Hari was deeply sympathetic to Koresh’s cause and viewed the standoff and later siege as the acts of a tyrannical government that did not respect religious liberty. He was among those who protested against the government in Waco. Some protesters at the time held up signs that read, “Is your church ATF approved?”

Hari’s support for Koresh was partly influenced by his own religious transformation. While in Texas, he began reading about the Old German Baptist Brethren, a conservative branch of Anabaptism whose members dress in a fashion similar to the Mennonites and the Amish: bearded men in pants, long-sleeved shirts, and fedoras and women in loose-fitting, long-sleeved, ankle-length dresses with bonnets covering their hair.

In Texas, Hari and Frakes had two daughters, but their marriage was tumultuous. Frakes took issue with what she saw as Hari’s oppressive and patriarchal religious beliefs. “I’m supposed to bow down to you,” Frakes once told him. “I can’t do it.”


Michael Hari lived at the end of a narrow, poorly paved road in Clarence, Illinois. His small home was shrouded in overgrown trees and brush.

Photo: Trevor Aaronson/The Intercept

In 1995, Frakes returned to Illinois with their daughters. Hari followed, landing a job as a deputy at the Ford County Sheriff’s Office, but the couple couldn’t mend their marriage. Frakes filed for divorce, beginning what would be a messy, yearslong dispute. One daughter accused Hari of sexually abusing her, but a court found that she had been coached. Frakes and Hari eventually reconciled, and the divorce proceedings were dropped.

Hari left the Ford County Sheriff’s Office in 1997, opened a gun store in Paxton, and tried his hand at politics. He ran for local sheriff unsuccessfully in 1998 as a Libertarian and a year later lost a race for a Paxton City Council seat. Hari won enough public recognition in those campaigns to be appointed to the Ford County Board of Review, which hears appeals of property tax assessments, but he resigned in 2000, halfway through his two-year term. “My church is against involvement in politics,” Hari told the local newspaper, the News-Gazette, at the time. “I’m 100 percent in favor of being against that. I don’t have any interest in getting involved in politics again.”

By then, Hari had become even more religiously devout, which caused more problems for his marriage. He had stripped the family’s home in Clarence, Illinois, of most vestiges of modern life. There was no electricity, just kerosene lamps for light and a wood-burning stove for heat. Frakes didn’t want to live like that, she wrote in court filings. New child abuse allegations surfaced against Hari, only to be dismissed as not credible by an administrative law judge with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. Hari filed for divorce in February 2001 and won sole custody of his two daughters. At the time, a therapist noted Hari’s “somewhat unconventional religious beliefs” but found “no conflict with good parenting principles.”

Over the next four years, Hari and Frakes argued in court proceedings over parenting and education decisions. One of their daughters, Mollie, then 14, often missed school and was diagnosed with agoraphobia. Hari made her wear long dresses and bonnets. Frakes alleged that Mollie’s behavioral problems were rooted in her having to straddle modern culture in school and her father’s conservative religious beliefs at home.

Halfway through the school year in 2004, Mollie had missed 50 percent of her scheduled days. In April 2005, Frakes requested an emergency custody hearing, arguing that Hari had failed to keep the kids in public school. Hari didn’t show up. Instead, he left the country, taking his two daughters with him.


Michael Hari attempted to establish an Old German Baptist Brethren community on this rundown farm in Zaragoza, Mexico, about 60 miles south of Del Rio, Texas.

Photo obtained by The Intercept

Austerity in Fountain Creek

Hari took Mollie and her younger sister, Alleen, to Belize, where Hutterites, an Anabaptist sect similar to the Mennonites, had established a community. Back in Illinois, prosecutors charged him with felony child abduction.

Desperate to reunite with her daughters, Frakes turned to psychologist Phil McGraw, best known as the host of the TV talk show “Dr. Phil.” As part of a 2006 episode intended to reunite the family and offer counseling, the show hired Harold Copus, a former FBI agent, to track down Hari and the girls. Copus learned of the Hutterite community in Belize, and he and a film crew traveled there.

“It was like stepping back into the 1800s,” Copus recalled in an interview with The Intercept. “Everything’s horse-driven, no electricity, no modern conveniences whatsoever.”

Copus met with the community’s elders and explained that Hari did not have his ex-wife’s permission to take the girls out of the country. Copus then was shown to the house where Hari and his daughters were living. “It was a piece of crap,” Copus remembered.

Nearly a year after they left the United States, Hari agreed that he and his daughters would accompany Copus on a flight to Florida, where they filmed an episode of “Dr. Phil” that reunited Hari’s daughters with their mother. Hari then stood trial for child abduction in Illinois, where Frakes urged the court to send him to prison. “He believes his freedom of religion allows him to break the law,” Frakes told the court. Hari was found guilty and sentenced to 30 months of probation.

Starting in the mid-2000s, Hari began to believe that if the U.S. could not change, people like him would have to form new, independent communities grounded in conservative moral and religious beliefs.

He began to self-publish books and essays linked together by the notion that modernity has ruined American culture and family life. He blamed significant changes in public opinion about same-sex marriage on “nothing more than 20 years of campaigning by the secular global elite,” and predicted that same-sex marriage would soon create widespread social unrest in the United States. Hari believed that Americans had begun to accept same-sex marriage because churches had started to condone a “hedonistic view of marriage” between men and women that allowed for the pursuit of materialism and sexual pleasure at the expense of having children. In Hari’s view, changing attitudes about marriage, coupled with growing secularism nationwide, had ushered in an era when couples have fewer children and instead feed their “carnal desire for a higher standard of living.” In Hari’s view, Christianity, and the United States by extension, faced three enemies: the so-called global secular elite, Islam, and what he termed “false Christianity.” Hari viewed the “global secular elite” as an organized and unified cabal, and referred to it by the acronym “GSE.”

“To truly be more than conquerors, let us lay every other weapon aside, and turn our efforts to seizing the education of children away from the GSE,” Hari wrote. “Let us consider Islam to be a problem that we as Christians are equipped to handle. Let us confront every sin, false religion and heresy that we see with patient rebuke. Let us esteem other men better than ourselves, and go into battles as the Christians of old did, until we have cast down the devil’s strongholds and made every enemy our Savior’s friend. And then we will be more than conquerors.”

Hari came to see the social degradation all around him. He wrote about a case he helped investigate as a sheriff’s deputy in 1997, when the skulls of local town pioneers James and Elizabeth Jones were stolen by a group of people in their late teens and early 20s. Hari described the group as “cultists” and wrote that their crime was fueled by their use of marijuana and LSD. Instead of seeing them as young people experimenting with drugs and stealing remains for whatever ridiculous reason they thought justified their actions, Hari viewed the group and their behavior as symptomatic of a declining society that had wrongly embraced modernity and multiculturalism.

“What can we learn ultimately from this story?” Hari asked in his book’s final pages. “I would say that the culture and society that produced the [Joneses] is superior to the one we have now. Those cultists were products of the progressive movement. That is what it generates.”

Starting in the mid-2000s, Hari, who at the time was still apolitical, began to believe firmly that if the United States could not change, people like him would have to form new, independent communities grounded in conservative moral and religious beliefs. These communities would be more agrarian and communal, the way America once had been, at least in Hari’s mind. In 2006, he wrote a short manifesto titled “Fountain Creek.” Building on his experience in Belize, he espoused the creation of an Old German Baptist Brethren community founded on three principles: the “common purse,” in which the community pools its money; using simple tools, such as a horse-drawn plow instead of a tractor; and performing hard labor to produce food. Hari distributed and promoted his manifesto throughout the Anabaptist communities in the United States, then set off to put his ideas into practice. He leased a small farm outside Zaragoza, Mexico, a poor agricultural community about 60 miles south of Del Rio, Texas, where he planned to start his new society. Google Maps still labels the farm in Mexico as “Fountain Creek Old German Baptist Brethren.”


Michael Hari described his farm and farmhouses in Mexico as developed and livable. An Old German Baptist Brethren family that joined him there discovered that wasn't the case. Photos obtained by The Intercept

The property was in disrepair; drug cartels had used part of the farm as a burning pit for bodies. Hari went there with Joe Morris, the man who would allegedly smash the Minnesota mosque’s window with a sledgehammer. Growing up in Illinois, Morris had shuffled between foster parents and grandparents before Hari had taken him to a horse-and-buggy community in Kentucky to be raised, according to people who knew both men. To Morris — who would later become part of the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia — Hari was something of a father figure.

Only one other family joined Hari and Morris at Fountain Creek. The patriarch, the affable man who blamed Trump’s rhetoric for Hari’s radicalization, said he’d dreamed of a simpler life and was enticed by Hari’s manifesto. He and his family joined Hari in Mexico in 2013. They stayed only 12 days, after discovering that Hari had embellished his descriptions of the farm.

“Every promise was broken,” the man said. “The ranch was in disrepair. It was a mess. When we left, it was pretty much just him.”

Hari gave the man a hard time for leaving, saying that he was not living up to his obligations to the nascent community. But a short while later, Hari himself abandoned Fountain Creek and returned with Morris to Illinois. He and the man who had left kept in touch. After Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, the man said that Hari’s views grew increasingly radical. Hari’s fervent support for Trump also put him at odds with his church, which advocated for political neutrality.

“People like Michael Hari, they’re not so big on ideology as much as they are on the feeling of rightness,” the man said. “In his mind, Mike could be right about being a pacifist and he could also feel like he’s right about blowing up a mosque. People like you and me, it never runs through our mind — blow up a mosque. It’s extremism. Whatever Mike did, it had to be extreme. He was always in rebellion. If you go back to 2016, think about where he was in life. His farm idea had failed; he had taken a shot to his pride there. And then here comes Donald Trump telling everyone, ‘Let’s make America great again.’ To Michael Hari, Trump was a righteous cause.”

Michael Hari started a company called Crisis Resolution Security Services to apply as a contractor to build President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. This is the video Hari produced as part of his application to the Department of Homeland Security.

“Build the Wall”

Hari didn’t just back Trump’s policies; he also wanted to help bring them to fruition. Back in Illinois after the failure of Fountain Creek, he leased a rundown former grain elevator on Main Street in Clarence, a short distance from his home off a narrow, poorly paved road. He used the building as an office and let Morris live there. Together, they formed the nucleus of the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia.

The goal of Hari’s organization was to return the United States to “the good old days” through bombings and armed resistance, according to a 38-page document he began selling on Amazon in 2017 called “The White Rabbit Handbook.” The book and YouTube videos Hari posted describe his group’s militancy as a response to corruption in Illinois state government and a means of supporting Trump’s secret battle to remove bad actors from the so-called deep state.

“Trump’s brand of rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling heightened the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions.”

“If you’re dissatisfied with how things are going in this country, you’re already a White Rabbit,” Hari said in a video he posted online in March 2018. “You’re in pretty good company, because about 60 to 70 percent of the people right now in this country think it’s on the wrong track. Whether you love Trump or whether you hate him, you’re probably dissatisfied with how things are going because, you know, Trump’s not really in charge of the whole government. You’ve got a huge deep state rebellion going there.”

Hari and his followers were part a small but growing cohort of extremists who appear to have been inspired by Trump’s rhetoric or conspiracy theories that promote the president as a sort of citizens’ defender against evil forces.

Curtis Allen, Gavin Wright, and Patrick Eugene Stein conspired in October 2016 to bomb an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, where many Muslims, mostly of Somali descent, lived. The FBI became aware of the plot when a fourth man who was in the group reported it to law enforcement. In recorded conversations, the men referred to Muslims as “cockroaches,” and Stein, who was an early Trump supporter, commented: “The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim.” Lawyers for the three men blamed Trump’s rhetoric for encouraging the violent plot. A lawyer for Stein wrote in a court filing that Trump appealed to Stein as “the voice of a lost and ignored white, working-class set of voters” and that “Trump’s brand of rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling heightened the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions.”

Taylor Michael Wilson was among the white supremacist demonstrators at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 — demonstrators who, according to Trump, included some “very fine people.” Two months later, Wilson tried to pull the emergency brake on an Amtrak passenger train traveling through Nebraska. Armed with a handgun and carrying business cards for the white supremacist National Socialist Movement and the Covenant Nation Church, a Christian identity organization, Wilson told police he planned to kill the train’s black passengers. He was instead tackled by two conductors.

This Friday, Feb, 3, 2017 photograph show the apartment complex targeted in Garden City, Kan. Prosecutors allege Stein and others plotted to detonate truck bombs the day after the election at an apartment complex where 120 Somali immigrants live in western Kansas. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson talks about the FBI's roll in stopping a bomb plot. Acting U.S. Attorney Tom Beall (left) announced Friday a major federal investigation stopped a domestic terrorism plot by a militia group to detonate a bomb at a Garden City apartment complex where a number of Somalis live.Two Liberal men and a Dodge City resident were arrested and charged in federal court with domestic terrorism charges, Beall told reporters at a news conference in downtown Wichita. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

Left/top: The apartment complex targeted in Garden City, Kan. Right/bottom: FBI Special Agent in Charge Eric Jackson talks about the FBI's role in stopping a bomb plot. Photos: Orlin Wagner/AP; Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP

In July 2018, an unemployed Marine veteran named Matthew P. Wright blocked traffic on the Hoover Dam using an armored vehicle. Wright was armed with an AR-15 rifle, a handgun, and a flashbang device, which can temporarily stun people by generating a blinding flash. In letters he wrote to Trump and other elected officials, Wright referred to “QAnon,” a conspiracy theory that suggested that Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller were secretly working together to expose a sex-trafficking ring operated by Hillary Clinton and Hollywood celebrities.

QAnon began in October 2017, when an anonymous poster, using the handle Q, claimed on the internet forum 4chan to have information about Trump’s battle with the “deep state.” Online conspiracy theorists quickly began to parse and interpret Q’s cryptic posts, referring to them as “bread crumbs” that they believed could lead to some larger truth. Last summer, people began to show up at Trump rallies in QAnon T-shirts and holding up signs declaring: “We Are Q.” Despite the fact that many of Q’s prophecies have proven false — these bogus claims are catalogued on Reddit under the tag “Q’s Failures,” which include predicting that Republicans would win the 2018 midterms, that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions would not be fired or asked to resign, and that Clinton would be arrested — QAnon and related conspiracy theories have resonated among some of Trump’s most ardent supporters, including Hari and his followers.

More recently, Cesar Sayoc, a strip club disc jockey in Florida, allegedly mailed pipe bombs to more than a dozen Democratic Party leaders and critics of Trump. The windows of Sayoc’s white van were covered in pro-Trump stickers and images of target symbols over the faces of filmmaker Michael Moore, Clinton, and CNN commentator Van Jones.

Following Sayoc’s attempted bombings, Robert Bowers killed 11 worshippers in a Pittsburgh synagogue in the deadliest act of anti-Semitic violence in U.S. history. Bowers said he was inspired not only by his hatred of Jews, but also by the Jewish community’s support for immigrants, whom he called “invaders.” Trump has also demonized immigrants since he announced his candidacy in 2015.

Members of QAnon await the arrival of US President Donald Trump for a political rally at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on August 2, 2018. - QAnon adheres to a grand-scale conspiracy theory placing President Trump against an alleged "deep state" committed to ending his rule. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Supporters of QAnon await the arrival of President Donald Trump for a political rally at Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. on Aug. 2, 2018.

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Back in Clarence after leaving Fountain Creek, Hari worked as a food inspector for farms operated by Amish, Mennonites, and members of other Anabaptist communities. Those farmers bristled at the prospect of women inspectors from outside their conservative communities visiting their farms. Hari’s business filled that niche.

In December 2016, a month after Trump was elected, Hari founded a second company, CRSS, or Crisis Resolution Security Service. The company’s logo is a muscled man giving a thumbs-up, with a helicopter, tank, and raft of soldiers behind him. “We’ve got your back!” the slogan reads. On behalf of CRSS, Hari submitted a proposal to the Department of Homeland Security to build a 1,500-mile border wall for $10.9 billion.

Hari’s proposal for what he dubbed the Great Western IBW, or International Border Wall, envisioned a barrier topped with a pedestrian walkway similar to the one atop the Great Wall of China and visitor stations in Texas and California. “The wall exists to protect the economic rights of the U.S. population and to protect our way of life from other people who have different value systems,” a narrator reads over a video proposal Hari created.

Hari’s bid caught the attention of the Chicago Tribune, which questioned his lack of experience in construction projects, particularly building security barriers. “I have had some experience with it, but not a great deal,” Hari told the newspaper in April 2017. But Hari’s ability to complete such a project, if selected, was highly questionable even if he’d had construction experience. He told a local court in 2017 that he had just $17 in his bank account.

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2017, file photo, Asad Zaman stands at the site of the bombing in the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn. Michael Hari pleaded not guilty, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, in federal court in St. Paul, Minn., in the bombing of the Minnesota mosque, three weeks after two of his alleged accomplices pleaded guilty. Federal prosecutors allege Hari was the ringleader of an Illinois-based militia and that the trio drove more than 500 miles to bomb the mosque in hopes of scaring Muslims into leaving the U.S. No one was injured in the August 2017 attack. (Courtney Pedroza/Star Tribune via AP)

Asad Zaman stands at the site of the bombing in the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., on Aug. 7, 2017.

Photo: Courtney Pedroza/Star Tribune via AP

The Attacks Begin

Hari’s turn from extremist ideas to violent acts came on July 7, 2017. That day, aggravated by Hari’s emaciated dogs rooting through their trash, Hari’s neighbors Jon and Hope O’Neill walked over to his property to complain. They pushed open his gate and walked around the outside of his home. Hari then pulled up in his car.

“You are on my property,” Hope O’Neill remembered Hari telling them.

“We thought you were home,” she replied. “We were looking for you.”

That’s when, according to Hope O’Neill, Hari accused them of stealing from him. She and her husband laughed, then started to walk back to their home. “I got something for you,” Hari said, according to Hope O’Neill.

Hari then pulled out a gun and placed the mouth of the barrel to the back of Jon O’Neill’s head. Hope screamed, then called the police. Hope told The Intercept that she is confident the gun Hari had was real, but by the time police arrived, he was holding an air pistol, the kind that fires pellets. While not as dangerous as a real gun, air pistols can be fatal at point-blank range. The local police arrested Hari and charged him with felony unlawful restraint and misdemeanor battery.

Then came the two bombings, nearly back to back: in August 2017 at the mosque in Minnesota and then in November 2017 at a women’s clinic in Champaign, Illinois, where a secretary discovered a broken window and a device in a surgical room that appeared to be a live explosive. Investigators believe the bomb was designed to ignite oxygen tanks in the surgical room.

At first, the police and the FBI didn’t have credible leads for the bombings. That changed the day after Christmas in 2017.

Hari’s brother, Jason, an Iraq War veteran, had been in a nearly two-year feud with Hari. Jason was angry that Hari had damaged one of his trailers, while Hari had accused Jason of taking a security camera from his property and erasing photos from the camera’s memory.

Because Hari did not have electricity or running water, he often stayed at his parents’ house. While Jason was there one day, he found guns and bomb-making materials that Hari had left. Jason photographed the cache and showed the images to deputies at the same local sheriff’s office where Hari had once worked. The sheriff’s deputies referred Jason to the FBI, where he signed on as an informant.

A building that housed Michael Hari's business is seen Wednesday, March 14, 2018, in Clarence, Ill. Hari, a former sheriff's deputy accused of being the ringleader in the bombing of a Minnesota mosque emerges in court documents as a sometimes-threatening figure with anti-government views who also wrote books and attracted others into his shadowy group. Hari, allegedly intended for the attack to scare Muslims into leaving the U.S. He and two associates were charged Tuesday, March 13, 2018m with traveling some 500 miles from rural Clarence, Illinois, about 120 south of Chicago, to carry out the Aug. 5, 2017 pipe-bomb assault on the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

Left/Top: Michael Hari rented an old grain elevator building and converted it into an office in Clarence, Ill. Right/Bottom: Signs for Hari's companies still hang from the building. Photos: Teresa Crawford/AP; Trevor Aaronson/The Intercept

With its first solid lead, the FBI recruited another informant, this one a member of Hari’s group, the White Rabbit Three Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia. The informant had convictions for drug possession in the 1990s and a pending assault charge, according to FBI records, which did not disclose his name. The informant told federal agents that Hari, McWhorter, and Morris were responsible for the mosque and women’s clinic bombings.

Unaware that he was the target of an expanding FBI investigation, Hari was concerned about the state charges he faced for putting a gun to his neighbor’s head. On February 19, someone using a proxy server sent an anonymous tip to the ATF that Jon O’Neill was a “possible terrorism threat” who had bombs in his shed. Jon and Hope O’Neill cooperated with investigators, who found explosives just where the anonymous tipster had promised they would. The O’Neills told the ATF that they suspected Hari had planted the bombs.

One of the explosives was wired to a green propane tank. Jason Hari told the FBI that his brother had multiple green propane tanks that he used for camping. Shown a picture of the bomb and the tank, Jason Hari said the tank looked “very similar” to the ones Hari had.

The next day, the FBI informant inside Hari’s group wore a wire and recorded a conversation with Hari, Morris, and McWhorter. The informant said he thought Morris should be more careful when talking and not use the term “bang bangs,” an apparent reference to the bombs. Hari agreed, but said he wasn’t concerned because they’d moved all of the weapons and explosives out of the old grain elevator building he’d converted into an office. Besides, he told the informant, Morris had been “in a friendly crowd” when he made the comments.

The FBI and local police went door to door trying to find out who might have been responsible for the bombs in the O’Neills’ shed. They stopped at the home of McWhorter’s brother, who gave police permission to search his house. They found rifles McWhorter had left there; they had been illegally modified to make them capable of automatic fire. McWhorter was later arrested for federal firearms violations.

As the FBI searched the tiny town of Clarence, Hari, Morris, and Mack huddled in the former grain elevator that Hari used as an office and recorded an internet video. Hari, wearing a black ski mask, stared into the camera.

After FBI agents arrived in Clarence, Illinois, Michael Hari posted a series of videos to YouTube calling for militia members to help defend his group.

“We’re speaking to you from the Clarence, Illinois, area, where we’ve had a crisis in the last something over a week,” Hari said. He described a “bomb scare” in town and claimed FBI agents were searching homes without warrants.

“We’re asking for militia support to come and help us. … All of our liberties are on the line,” Hari continued. “If they can come into a town like ours and just rule it like they have, then they can do this anywhere. So we’re sending an appeal to all the militia brothers out there. Please come and support us in Clarence, Illinois. We need people to stand with us and win back our liberty, because it’s definitely gone. If this sort of thing can happen in Clarence, Illinois, it can happen anywhere. It can happen to you. It can happen to your family. We need you to come and stand with us.”

Morris and Mack, also wearing ski masks, took turns sitting in front of the computer’s video camera to ask for backup. “Sending out a request for more militia to come and help us take our town back,” Morris said in the video. “A lot of us have friends and family that we can no longer see now.”

A few days later, the FBI arrested Hari on the steps of the local courthouse, where he was scheduled to attend a hearing on the unlawful restraint and battery charges. He now faces separate federal trials in Minnesota for the mosque bombing, which is scheduled to begin September 30, and in Illinois for the women’s clinic bombing, which has not yet been scheduled. As is common for domestic extremists who use bombs, Hari and his followers weren’t charged with a terrorism-related offense, such as material support or weapons of mass destruction. Instead, federal prosecutors in Illinois charged Hari and his group with firearms violations, conspiracy, and attempted arsons, while prosecutors in Minnesota filed explosives charges.

McWhorter and Morris pleaded guilty in Minnesota to bombing the mosque there and the attempted bombing of the women’s clinic in Illinois. They also pleaded guilty to an Illinois charge alleging they conspired to commit robbery to raise money for Hari’s group. McWhorter’s stepson, Mack, who was not charged in the Minnesota mosque bombing, pleaded guilty in Illinois to firearms violations and the robbery conspiracy.

McWhorter has been cooperating with the FBI. He told agents that Hari spoke of reporting to “higher-ups” named “Ben Lewis” and “Congo Joe.” It’s unclear if these people exist.

In a letter from jail, Hari told The Intercept that he couldn’t comment on his case due to “legal circumstances.” However, he enclosed a poem he’d written titled, “We Are Men! The Battle Cry of the Patriot Freedom Fighters!”

It begins:

Men built the walls,
And men can destroy them.

We are men!

Men took away our rights
To defend ourselves,
To innocence, until proven guilty,
To make our choices, and to live our lives.
But men can win them back.

We are men!

Men built this unjust system,
And men can destroy it.

We are men!

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