WICHITA — A key witness in the federal trial of three southwest Kansas men accused of planning an attack on Somali immigrants at an apartment complex in Garden City testified Thursday that the group was actively recruiting people to help carry out the alleged plot.
Dan Day recorded months of phone calls and meetings with members of the Kansas Security Force militia as a paid informant for the FBI.
He told jurors that Patrick Stein, of Wright, held at least three recruiting meetings to find out "who was with him, who was against him."
"I’m tired of waiting on somebody else to do something," Stein can be heard saying on one recording.
Stein and Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright, both of Liberal, are charged with conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. They were arrested in October 2016 after a months-long investigation into their alleged plan to bomb an apartment complex and mosque in Garden City.
Day, dressed in jeans and a green-striped, button-down shirt, said he went along with the plot as part of his "persona" as a Kansas Security Force vetting and intelligence officer. He was recruited as an FBI informant, prosecutors say, after he approached officials with his increasing concerns about the defendants’ discussions, which took place in person and during hours-long nightly calls.
Day began recording meetings shortly after the shooting at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub in June 2016. That's when, he says, he became convinced the defendants "might be serious about actually trying to kill" Somali immigrants.
The men were "outraged," Day says, about a "Muslim killing all these people, Americans. I was outraged, too."
The Florida gunman, Omar Mateen, pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State.
Over the course of several weeks, Day says Stein and Allen approached other members of their militia group. During one recorded meeting, Stein tells Cody and Trish Burch — also expected to testify as witnesses in the case — he needs "to know where you guys stand" on a potential attack.
Trish Burch got defensive, Day says. She can be heard on the recording telling Stein, "We’re not just gonna go up and start shooting for no reason.
"We’re not that type of people," she says. "We believe in protecting ourselves."
She tells Stein the purpose of a militia is for defense.
"We have to keep our image good," she says. "We have to be smart about this."
At another meeting, the defendants tried — and failed — to recruit another couple to be a part of an attack.
Day says he took the defendants seriously.
"They had set their minds on getting rid of all the 'cockroaches,' all the Muslims, killing them," he says, repeating a term the men used to refer to Somali immigrants.
He says the defendants met frequently to plan the actual attack, studying targets on Google Earth and going on surveillance missions. Day was in charge of suggesting some targets, and he told jurors he thought Garden City would be "attractive" because of its high concentration of Somali Muslim immigrants. Potential future targets there included a different apartment complex near Garden City Community College, as well as the landlords who rented to Muslims and immigrants.
Day told prosecutors it was difficult to maintain his persona with the militia over the course of the investigation.
"It went against most of everything I believe in myself," he says.
He also had to avoid planting any ideas with the defendants, per the FBI’s rules.
"It had to be their idea," he says.
By September 2016, the men were drafting a manifesto to release at the same time as the attack, and were close to acquiring the material to make explosives, Day said. It was then that the FBI decided to send in an undercover officer to "take control of the situation," he said.
"[The defendants] were progressing very fast," he said.
Within a month, Stein, Allen and Wright were arrested.
Defense attorneys argued last week that Day was not the hero the state is portraying him to be, but a bounty hunter who exploited the defendants and pushed them along. Attorneys said the FBI manipulated the situation against the defendants.
The state’s questioning of Day continued into late Thursday afternoon. Defense attorneys will have the chance to cross-examine him when the trial resumes Monday.