An Illinois trio bombed a mosque and a women’s health clinic, according a federal indictment filed last week. Then they tried to set up rural militia, sell their neighbors a phony local currency, and ransom a stretch of railroad tracks.
Michael Hari, Joe Morris, and Michael McWhorter of Clarence, Illinois were arrested in March on charges related to the bombing a Minnesota mosque in August 2017. The trio is also accused of a failed bombing at a Champaign, Illinois women’s health clinic three months later. A pair of cases, including an indictment returned against the group in Minnesota last week, describe the trio as a wannabe terror cell that carried out bombings and robberies under the banner of their right-wing militia, the White Rabbits.
The Dar al Farooq Islamic Center was almost empty on August 5, 2017 when Hari, Morris, and McWhorter allegedly pulled up outside with what McWhorter later described to an FBI agent as a "huge-ass black powder bomb.” Hari, the group’s alleged ringleader, had assembled the bomb during a stop at a gas station on the inter-state drive to the mosque, according to the indictment filed in Minnesota last week. The group allegedly broke the mosque window with a sledgehammer and tossed the bomb inside, where it exploded with no injuries. They pleaded not guilty to a firearms charge relating to the incident, but do not appear to have entered pleas in response to last week’s indictment over the actual bombing.
McWhorter told the FBI agent that Hari had orchestrated the bombing to “show [Muslims] hey, you’re not welcome here, get the fuck out,” according to the agent’s affidavit in the case.
The bombing was one of the militia’s first in a series of crimes, according to an indictment filed against them in Illinois last month. In August, around the time of the mosque bombing, the trio decided to form a then-unnamed militia, the indictment alleges.
After evading capture for the mosque attack (Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka took to Twitter to suggest the bombing was a fake hate crime staged by “the left”), the fledgling militia allegedly took the crime spree further. In November, they allegedly attempted to bomb a women’s health clinic. The bomb, a potentially devastating thermite device, never detonated. In December, the group allegedly carried out a series of robberies on Wal-Mart stores and people they suspected of being involved in drug trafficking.
And on January 17, the group allegedly attempted to explode a section of Illinois railroad track and then tried “to extort money from the railroad by threatening additional attempts to damage the railroad tracks if the railroad did not pay a ransom,” according to an indictment filed in Illinois.
Six months into their crime spree at the time of the railroad bombing, the group had still managed to avoid public suspicion. The railroad bombing, in a deep rural stretch of Illinois, went unremarked in the media at the time. Local police and sheriff’s agencies told The Daily Beast they were uninvolved in the case, which was handled by the FBI and transit authorities.
Meanwhile, the militia was working on its image. In late December, shortly after the series of alleged robberies, the group started establishing a web presence. Using an offshore web hosting service favored by extremist pages like neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer, the group declared themselves the Patriot Freedom Fighters of Illinois 3%. “Three percent” militias are typically conservative, heavily armed fringe groups, whose title refers to the supposed three percent of colonial Americans who fought the British during the Revolutionary War.
The group also went by the “White Rabbits.” The name is a possible reference to QAnon, a right-wing internet conspiracy theory that claims President Donald Trump is not actually under investigation, but that he is actually playing the stooge to help convict the Clintons and other high-level Democrats of crimes relating to Satanic pedophilia. The trio appears to have adopted the White Rabbit name after October 2017, when the QAnon theory kicked off and its adherents took up the rallying cry “follow the white rabbit,” a reference in The Matrix.
But the militia wanted to bring white rabbit worship offline and into the real world. On their YouTube channel, launched in late December, the group pushed “White Rabbit Money”. The currency consisted of phony bills the militia claimed could be used at “downstate Illinois” businesses and cashed out “in gold upon maturity at the White Rabbit Bank.” (No such bank exists.)
The channel also features a White Rabbits video accusing Hispanic people of being involved in Illinois election fraud, a playlist including a video by “Proud Boys” founder Gavin McInnes, and several long clips of Hari speaking in a ski mask, through which his face is still recognizable. The channel advertises an email address that was confirmed as the group’s in a search warrant for their emails.
The group’s website and failed local currency pushed a pseudo-secessionist agenda. “ILLINOIS: A FAILED REPUBLIC,” read one header on the militia’s now-defunct website. “The Grounds for Armed Rebellion in the State. This brief article lays out the case against the state of Illinois, explains why elections have not solved the problem, and explains the case for armed rebellion (not terrorism).” The site also accused Illinois of “confiscat[ing] all dogs.”
An armed rebellion against the state of Illinois wouldn’t be Hari’s first dabbling in separatist groups. A Minneapolis Star Tribune investigation revealed Hari’s long history on the fringe. In 1993, he supported a religious cult in their infamous standoff with law enforcement in Waco, Texas. 75 people died in the standoff, which Hari later described as “galvanizing” his personal convictions. After a stint as a sheriff’s deputy in Illinois (he was fired for “odd behavior,” the sheriff told the Star Tribune), Hari joined a deeply conservative Christian sect, similar to the Amish church, and later abducted his two daughters to religious communities in Mexico to avoid a custody dispute with his ex-wife. He was convicted of child abduction following a dramatic saga involving multiple appearances on the Dr. Phil show.
After serving prison time for child abduction, Hari tried to start religious, watermelon-growing commune in Mexico, the Star Tribune reported. After the cult’s failure, Hari returned to Illinois where he set up a small company and submitted a bid to build President Donald Trump’s border wall.
“The wall will be culturally significant, a powerful architectural statement of the determination of the American people to defend their nation and its Anglo-Saxon heritage, Western culture and English language,” Hari said in a video proposal in April 2017.
Unsurprisingly, he did not win the bid. But four months later, he was parroting another flavor of Trump rhetoric.
Hari, the alleged architect of the mosque bombing, wanted Muslims “out of the country,” McWhorter told the FBI agent. “They push their beliefs on everyone else.”