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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Minnesota

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, January 24, 2019

Two Illinois Men Plead Guilty To Bombing Of Islamic Center

Michael McWhorter, 29, and Joe Morris, 23, both of Clarence, Illinois, pleaded guilty today to multiple charges including federal civil rights charges in United States District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota.

United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota Erica H. MacDonald; United States Attorney for the Central District of Illinois John C. Milhiser; Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Eric S. Dreiband; and Jill Sanborn, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Minneapolis Division, announced today’s guilty pleas.

“The defendants engaged in a violent multi-state crime spree that terrorized communities, including members of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota. The defendants’ criminal acts are reprehensible and antithetical to our values as a nation. Every individual has the fundamental right to live life free from the threat of violence and discrimination, no matter who they are, what they believe, or where they worship,” said United States Attorney Erica H. MacDonald. “The dedication and collaboration of our law enforcement partners across several jurisdictions to bring these defendants to justice is a powerful example of our unwavering devotion to seek justice for all victims, and to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any individual or group that seeks to threaten another’s civil rights through the commission of such vile hate crimes.”

"We will continue to work with our federal and state partners to identify and prosecute dangerous and radical groups that choose to terrorize our communities,” said United States Attorney John C. Milhiser.

"All people are entitled to live free from violence and fear, regardless of their religion or place of worship," said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department is committed to holding hate crimes perpetrators accountable under the law for their dangerous and criminal actions against innocent community members."

“This crime was not only an attack on the intended target, it was meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community. Because of that wide-ranging impact, investigating this crime and others like it are high priority for the FBI,” said Jill Sanborn, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Minneapolis Division. “The FBI is charged with protecting civil rights and our agents in both the Minneapolis and Springfield field offices in conjunction with the Joint Terrorism Task Force swiftly investigated this case side by side with the ATF, the Bloomington Police Department and other law enforcement partners with one singular goal – to bring the bombers to justice and most importantly to help the  Dar al-Farooq community begin to feel safe and secure once again.”

Defendants McWhorter and Morris pleaded guilty in the District of Minnesota to federal charges that originated in both the District of Minnesota and the Central District of Illinois. The pleas to the charges originating in the Central District of Illinois were entered in Minnesota pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 20, which allows for the transfer of charges for the entry of guilty pleas and the imposition of sentence. McWhorter, Morris, and co-defendant Michael Hari, 47, were federally indicted on possession of a machine gun; conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence (the Hobbs Act); and attempted arson, via a superseding indictment on May 2, 2018, in the Central District of Illinois. McWhorter, Morris, and Hari were indicted in the District of Minnesota on June 21, 2018, with federal civil rights charges, and possession and use of a destructive device in furtherance of a federal crime of violence.

McWhorter and Morris entered their guilty pleas earlier today before U.S. District Court Senior Judge Donovan Frank. Defendant Hari remains in custody in the Central District of Illinois.[1]

According to McWhorter’s and Morris’ guilty pleas, during the summer of 2017, Michael Hari started a militia group in central Illinois, which was eventually called  the “White Rabbits,” and which defendants McWhorter and Morris, together with others, joined.

According to McWhorter’s and Morris’ guilty pleas and documents filed in court, on August 4 and 5, 2017, McWhorter, Morris, and Hari drove in a rented truck from central Illinois to the Dar al-Farooq (“DAF”) Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, leaving their mobile phones in Illinois and avoiding toll roads in an attempt to remain undetected. The defendants stopped along the way to purchase diesel fuel and gasoline, which Hari mixed in a plastic container. About an hour outside of Minnesota, Hari disclosed to McWhorter and Morris that there was a pipe bomb in the truck (which had been created using previously purchased materials) and that they were going to bomb a mosque.

As admitted by McWhorter and Morris during their guilty plea hearings, the two, along with Hari, arrived at the DAF Islamic Center, at approximately five in the morning on August 5, 2017. Morris used a sledgehammer to break a window at the DAF Islamic Center and threw the plastic container containing the diesel fuel and gasoline mixture into the building. McWhorter then lit the fuse on the pipe bomb that Hari had built and threw the pipe bomb through the broken window at the DAF Islamic Center. According to the court documents, the window that was broken was part of the DAF Islamic Center Imam’s office. When the pipe bomb exploded, it ignited the mixture in the plastic container, causing extensive fire and smoke damage to the Imam’s office together with water damage caused when the building’s sprinkler system activated. McWhorter and Morris ran back to the truck, where Hari was waiting in the driver’s seat, and drove back to Illinois. At the time of the explosion, congregants were in the mosque for morning prayers, however, the Imam’s office was unoccupied and the bombing caused no fatalities or injuries.

According to their guilty pleas, Hari selected the DAF Islamic Center because it is an Islamic house of worship. McWhorter and Morris admitted that the bombing was an attempt to scare Muslims into believing they are not welcome in the United States, and should leave the country. The defendants also stated that the DAF Islamic Center was targeted, because they believed it was far enough away from central Illinois that the three thought it unlikely they would be suspected in the bombing.

As part of their guilty pleas, McWhorter and Morris admitted to participating in an armed home invasion in the town of Ambia, Indiana on December 16, 2017, where they, masquerading as police officers, carried firearms, including two that had been illegally converted into machine guns. McWhorter and Morris also conducted armed robberies of two Wal-Mart stores, along with co-defendant Hari, one in Watseka, Illinois, and one in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, on December 2, 2017 and December 17, 2017, respectively.

McWhorter and Morris also admitted that along with co-defendant Hari, they attempted to set on fire the Women’s Health Practice in Champaign, Illinois, on November 7, 2017. Morris admitted to breaking a window and placing an incendiary device in the Women’s Health Practice and to lighting a strip of magnesium that was being used as a fuse. However, the device did not ignite and was found on the floor by an employee of the Women’s Health Practice when the employee arrived to work that morning.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is leading the investigation.

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John Docherty and Julie E. Allyn of the District of Minnesota, with assistance from Trial Attorney Timothy Visser of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. The team also worked closely with Assistant United States Attorney Eugene Miller of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of Illinois.

Defendant Information:

MICHAEL MCWHORTER, 29

Clarence, Ill.

Convicted:

  • Intentionally Obstructing, and Attempting to Obstruct, by Force and the Threat of Force, the Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs, 1 count
  • Carrying and Using a Destructive Device During and in Relation to Crimes of Violence, 1 count
  • Possession of a Machine Gun, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to Interfere with Commerce by Threats and Violence, 1 count
  • Attempted Arson, 1 count
     
    JOE MORRIS, 23
    Clarence, Ill.
     
    Convicted:
  • Intentionally Obstructing, and Attempting to Obstruct, by Force and the Threat of Force, the Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs, 1 count
  • Carrying and Using a Destructive Device During and in Relation to Crimes of Violence, 1 count
  • Possession of a Machine Gun, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to Interfere with Commerce by Threats and Violence, 1 count
  • Attempted Arson, 1 count
     
    MICHAEL HARI, 47
    Clarence, Ill.
     
    Charges in the District of Minnesota:
  • Intentionally Defacing, Damaging, and Destroying any Religious Real Property Because of the Religious Character of that Property, 1 count
  • Intentionally Obstructing, and Attempting to Obstruct, by Force and the Threat of Force, the Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to Commit Federal Felonies by Means of Fire and Explosives, 1 count
  • Carrying and Using a Destructive Device During and in Relation to Crimes of Violence, 1 count
  • Possession of an unregistered destructive device, 1 count

 

Charges in the Central District of Illinois[2]:

  • Possession of a Machine Gun, 1 count
  • Conspiracy to Interfere with Commerce by Threats and Violence, 1 count
  • Attempted Arson, 1 count
  • Possession of a firearm by a felon, 1 count

 

 

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United States Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota: (612) 664-5600

 

 

 

[1] The charges against defendant Michael Hari are accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Topic(s): 
Civil Rights
Hate Crimes
Violent Crime
Component(s): 
Updated January 24, 2019