Two Illinois men were sentenced Tuesday to 190 months and 170 months in prison, respectively, for their roles in the 2017 bombing of Dar al-Farooq (DAF) Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota.
On Jan. 24, 2019, Michael McWhorter, 33, and Joe Morris, 26, both of Clarence, Illinois, 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 charges included intentionally obstructing, and attempting to obstruct, by force and the threat of force, the free exercise of religious beliefs; carrying and using a destructive device during and in relation to crimes of violence; possession of a machine gun; conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence; and attempted arson. 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 and Morris carried out a violent plan to attack a house of worship as people peacefully prayed inside,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “In the United States, all people have a right to exercise their faith freely. The Justice Department will vigorously prosecute domestic terrorists who carry out acts of violence to suppress those rights or threaten and intimidate others based on their religious identity.”
“Hate-fueled acts of violence like the bombing of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center violate our laws and run contrary to our values as a nation,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This heinous bombing instilled fear in an entire faith community. These defendants made the decision to confess to their crimes and assist in the civil rights prosecution of the individual who led them to join a far-reaching criminal conspiracy rooted in white supremacy. The department will continue using all the tools in our law enforcement arsenal to prosecute hate-fueled acts, including those that target communities of faith and houses of worship.”
“These men followed Hari’s lead, complied with her direction, and subscribed to her violent and extremist ideology in carrying out this act of terrorism,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota. “Today, justice has been served for their actions. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice will protect and uphold the rights of individuals and faith communities to worship freely, without the threat of violence.”
“Attacks on houses of worship and those practicing their faith are heinous acts,” said Assistant Director Timothy Langan of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “The outcome of this case should serve notice that such actions will not be tolerated. The FBI will work with our partners to hold accountable those who commit or plot to commit such acts of violence in our communities.”
McWhorter and Morris were recruited by Emily Claire Hari, 51, formerly known as Michael Hari, to join a terrorist militia group called “The White Rabbits” in the summer of 2017. According to court documents, Hari recruited McWhorter and Morris to join the militia, which Hari outfitted with paramilitary equipment and assault rifles. On Aug. 4 and 5, 2017, Hari, McWhorter and Morris drove in a rented pickup truck from Illinois to Bloomington, Minnesota, to bomb the DAF Islamic Center. About an hour outside of Minnesota, Hari disclosed to McWhorter and Morris that there was a pipe bomb in the truck and that they were going to bomb a mosque. Hari targeted DAF specifically to terrorize Muslims into believing they are not welcome in the United States and should leave the country.
According to court documents, Hari, McWhorter and Morris arrived at DAF at approximately 5:00 a.m. on Aug. 5, 2017. Morris used a sledgehammer to break the window of the Imam’s office at DAF and threw a plastic container with a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline into the office. McWhorter then lit the fuse on a 20-pound black powder pipe bomb and threw it through the broken window. McWhorter and Morris ran back to the truck where Hari was waiting in the driver’s seat. The three sped away from the building and drove back to Illinois. When the pipe bomb exploded, the blast caused extensive damage to the Imam’s office. It also ignited the gasoline and diesel mixture, causing extensive fire and smoke damage. At the time of the bombing, several worshipers were gathered in the mosque for morning prayers.
According to court documents, on Nov. 7, 2017, Hari, McWhorter and Morris attempted to set fire to the Women’s Health Practice in Champaign, Illinois. Morris used a sledgehammer to break a window and placed a PVC device containing thermite powder in the Women’s Health Practice. 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 later that morning.
According to court documents, on Dec. 16, 2017, McWhorter and Morris participated in an armed home invasion in the town of Ambia, Indiana, where they dressed as police officers and carried firearms, including two that had been illegally converted into machine guns. Hari, McWhorter and Morris also carried out armed robberies of two Walmart stores, one in Watseka, Illinois, and one in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, on Dec. 2, and 17, 2017, respectively.
This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the FBI.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Allison Ethen and Timothy Rank for the District of Minnesota prosecuted the case, with valuable assistance provided by Trial Attorney Timothy Visser of the Civil Rights Division, Lead Paralegal Specialist Lynette Simser, Community Affairs Director Angie LaTour, Witness Specialist Selina Kolsrud, former Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Docherty and Julie Allyn, Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugene Miller of the Central District of Illinois, and the special agents of the FBI’s Minneapolis and Springfield Divisions, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Bloomington Police Department, and the Bloomington Fire Department.