In April 2009, Daryl Johnson found himself caught in a firestorm because of a report he’d authored at the Department of Homeland Security.
It warned of a surge in activity by right-wing groups, including militias, white supremacists, anti-government activists and others motivated by racial grievance toward the nation’s first black president and the consequences of a faltering economy.
Republicans in Congress slammed the report as an attack on conservatives. Then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for the report and it was withdrawn. Johnson’s unit was disbanded.
Nearly eight years later, Johnson’s warnings have proved prescient in a string of incidents from the murders of a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to mass shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and an African-American church in South Carolina.
And last week, a foiled alleged plot by three militiamen to attack an apartment complex inhabited by Muslim Somali immigrants in western Kansas further demonstrated that it isn’t just foreign terrorists or those sympathetic to them that Americans have to worry about.
“This is exactly the type of threat we were talking about,” said Johnson, who’s now a homeland security consultant. “It’s continued to grow over the past eight years.”
Three Kansas men – Curtis Allen, 49, Gavin Wright, 49, and Patrick Stein, 47 – were indicted by a federal grand jury Wednesday with one count of conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. The three are accused of plotting to detonate truck bombs around the complex in Garden City, Kansas, where 120 people live and worship.
The FBI arrested the men last Friday in Liberal, Kansas, after an undercover investigation.
According to a complaint filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kansas, the men belonged to a militia group called the Crusaders, known for its anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-government views.
The group referred to the Somali immigrants, who work at a local meatpacking plant, as “cockroaches,” the complaint said.
The men had discussed using rocket-propelled grenades to attack the complex, proposed dipping bullets in pig’s blood and even considered something similar to the fertilizer-and-fuel-oil combination Timothy McVeigh used in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, according to the complaint.
“I’ll blow every goddamn building up right there,” Stein allegedly said.
The three even talked about attacking area churches that supported the Somali migrants, according to the complaint, and said they wouldn’t even spare the children any mercy.
“The only good Muslim is a dead Muslim,” Stein allegedly said.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of extremist groups, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups has increased 42 percent since 2014.
“This is just symptomatic of the really unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim bigotry in our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Hooper and others say the federal government’s focus on terrorism from abroad, or domestic terrorism carried out by people sympathetic to foreign terrorist groups, is diverting attention from threats against Muslims and where they live and worship.
“The attitude seems to be it cannot be terrorism unless a Muslim commits an act of violence,” he said.
Hooper said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump had fueled anti-Muslim bias by calling for, among other things, a ban on Muslims entering the country and widespread surveillance of mosques.
“All of this stuff adds up,” he said.
The suspects in Kansas allegedly were planning to carry out their attack Nov. 9 – the day after Election Day. Trump’s campaign has struggled in recent weeks, and he’s fallen behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the polls.
“The militia and anti-government types are using the election to recruit more people and fuel more paranoia,” Johnson said.
Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said its mission involved protecting the country from a wide range of threats, including domestic ones.
Earlier this year, the department formed the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, a shared effort involving Homeland Security, the FBI, the Justice Department and the National Counterterrorism Center.
Christensen said the department had proposed $10 million in grants to assist communities in countering violent extremism.
To be sure, there isn’t a foolproof way to predict and stop terrorist attacks, no matter who perpetrates them. Authorities didn’t prevent, for example, the Boston marathon bombing in 2013 or this year’s attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando.
After Omar Mateen killed 49 people in June at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, FBI Director James Comey said Mateen had been on the radar of investigators. Though they interviewed him twice, they couldn’t prove he had any ties to terrorist groups.
“Our work is very challenging,” Comey said in June. “We are looking for needles in a nationwide haystack, but we are also called up to figure out which pieces of hay might someday become needles. That is hard work. If we can find a way to do that better, we will.”
2009: Anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder shoots and kills George Tiller, a Wichita doctor who performed late-term abortions. Roeder is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
2009: Joseph Von Brunn, a neo-Nazi, shoots and kills Stephen Johns, a security guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Officers shoot and wound Von Brunn, and he dies while awaiting trial on murder charges.
2010: Joseph Andrew Stack, an anti-tax activist, flies a single-engine plane into an IRS office in Austin, Texas. Stack and an IRS employee are killed.
2010: Jerry Kane, a “sovereign citizen,” and his 16-year-old son kill two police officers in West Memphis, Arkansas. The pair are later killed in a shootout with police.
2011: White supremacist David Pedersen and his girlfriend, Holly Grigsby, are arrested and charged with killing his father and stepmother, a man they thought was Jewish and an African-American man, in a multiple-state spree.
2012: Wade Michael Page, an Army veteran affiliated with a racist skinhead group and a white power band, opens fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six. Page shoots and kills himself at the scene.
2014: Frazier Glenn Miller, an Army veteran and former Ku Klux Klan leader, shoots and kills three people at a Jewish community center and retirement community in Overland Park, Kansas.
2015: Dylann Roof, who expressed sympathy for white supremacist causes, shoots and kills nine African-American churchgoers during a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina. One of those who died was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina state senator.
2015: John Russell Houser open fire in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, killing two people. Houser was sympathetic to neo-Nazi groups, and had praised Adolf Hitler and David Duke.
2015: Anti-abortion activist Robert Lewis Dear opens fire on a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing three people, including a University of Colorado police officer.
Source: Southern Poverty Law Center