In August 2017, the pair say, they threw a pipe bomb into the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Illinois.
Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris said that when they arrived at the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington on August 5, 2017, they broke a window and threw a lit pipe bomb and a petrol mixture inside, causing an explosion, fire and extensive damage.
No one was injured in the attack, which happened just as morning prayers were about to begin, shaking members of the local Muslim community.
McWhorter, 29, and Morris, 23, of Clarence, Illinois, pleaded guilty on Thursday to five counts in connection with the mosque attack, the attempted bombing of an Illinois abortion clinic, armed robberies and other crimes.
A third defendant, 47-year-old Michael Hari, who prosecutors said directed the bombing, remains in federal custody in Illinois.
The plea agreements portray Hari as the ringleader of a militia group called the White Rabbits, which included Hari, McWhorter, Morris and at least five other people. Hari’s trial is set for July.
The guilty pleas of McWhorter and Morris came a day before three members of another militia were set to be sentenced for a foiled plot to massacre Muslims in southwest Kansas by blowing up a mosque and apartments housing Somali immigrants.
That attack, planned for the day after the November 2016 presidential election, was thwarted after another member of the group tipped off authorities.
Anti-Muslim attacks have spiked since Donald Trump became the US president, rights groups say.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) recorded 300 hate crimes in the US targeting Muslims in 2017. That number marked a 15 percent increase from 2016, when CAIR recorded 260 incidents targeting Muslims.
Muslims ‘not going anywhere’
In the Minnesota mosque bombing, Hari allegedly picked Dar al-Farooq because it was far enough from the White Rabbits’ central Illinois hometown that he thought they wouldn’t be suspected. He also allegedly believed it was a focal point for “terrorism” recruiting, a claim that law enforcement has not substantiated.
Morris’s lawyer, Robert Richman, said his client merely followed the lead of Hari, a man he’d known as a father figure since he was nine years old.
“Hari essentially weaponised Joe Morris,” Richman said.
McWhorter’s lawyer, Chris Madel, said, “Human beings are a lot more complicated than what some people believe, and Michael McWhorter’s story has yet to be told.”
Morris and McWhorter could each face at least 35 years in prison.
Neither lawyer would say whether his client would cooperate or give evidence against Hari. Messages left with Hari’s lawyers in Illinois and Minnesota were not immediately returned.
|White nationalists pass a militia member during the August 2017 Charlottesville rally [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]|
The plea agreements say the men targeted the mosque to interfere with the free exercise of religion by Muslims and to let them know they were not welcome in the US.
Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR in Minnesota, said McWhorter and Morris wanted the Muslim community to be fearful and run away.
“We’re not going anywhere,” he said.