Militia Dude's Lawyers: 'Just Following Trump's Orders!'
Just an excitable boy.
Lawyers for convicted domestic terrorist Patrick Stein, who had planned to bomb a Kansas mosque and apartment complex where Muslims lived the day after the 2016 election, are offering a charming argument in advance of his sentencing hearing Friday: They say he should get less than 15 years in prison -- instead of a potential life sentence -- because Donald Trump and rightwing media poisoned his brain against Muslims, so he honestly thought he was acting on the orders of his chosen presidential candidate. Coincidentally, the argument comes as we in the leftist media are saying Trump's rhetoric played a role in motivating the mail bomber and the Pittsburgh synagogue murderer, but it seems a bit of a stretch to claim that decreases the actual (accused) criminals' responsibilities for their actions, no?
In their sentencing memorandum to the court, lawyers for Stein argue that Stein was a mess due to a history of alcohol and drug abuse, plus a number of traumatic events including being the victim of a violent crime and going broke during the 2008 recession, after which he "became consumed by fear and anger, seeking to fill the holes in his life with substances and by pursuing duty and 'brotherhood' in an organization with purpose—the militia."
Things only got worse, they say, after Stein met Dan Day, who talked up violent revolution against Muslim invaders, and who turned out to be a confidential informant working with the FBI. Day and an undercover agent who pretended to join in on the plot just made things worse for Stein, the memo says:
Rather than try to use Dan Day to talk Patrick Stein out of his fearful beliefs, or encourage him to use nonviolent means to address his fears about Muslims, rather than tell him it was ok not to pursue action, rather than have agents knock on Patrick's door and interview him to scare him and disrupt his thinking, the FBI chose to use Dan Day to reinforce every one of Patrick Stein's beliefs, his rhetoric, and his hate, for their own ends.
It's a sentencing-based rehash of the claim the attorneys made during the trial of Stein and his two accomplices, Curtis Allen and Gavin Wright: These guys were just bigoted "knuckleheads" who never would have acted on their hatred if the FBI had simple sat them down and told them to stop hating Muslims and planning to blow up the apartments where a bunch of them lived. Look, we know lawyers have to do everything they can to get their clients a shorter sentence. But we're not sure "you should have offered them therapy" is an especially strong case.
While continually acknowledging that they're not arguing guilt or innocence anymore, lawyers James Pratt and Michael Shultz say Stein was also shaped by his chosen rightwing media diet, as well as the brain poison the FBI fed him, too:
Patrick was afraid of Muslims because of what he read about them on the internet and the videos he watched on YouTube. Dan Day testified "I heard all kinds of YouTube videos that he watched, not just Muslims, and that's the reason that he didn't like Muslims." Id. at 287. Patrick's knowledge of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, came directly from the internet and conservative talk-show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Michael Savage.
Patrick himself had never read the Quran, nor had he participated in a comparative study of any religion. All of Patrick's exposure to the Muslim religion has been negative—by choice, through the media to which he exposed himself, and by government design through Dan Day and the UCE.
Day and the undercover agent also lied to Stein about Muslim refugees being given free luxury cars by the government and about Somali refugees in the apartments he targeted maybe being involved in a terrorist plot, too. Plus, there's the malign influence of the Trump campaign:
Much has been written about Trump's election, but two things are relevant to the time period surrounding this case. First, almost no one thought Trump was going to win. Second, Trump's appeal as the voice of a lost and ignored white, working-class set of voters (Patrick Stein) is the connection most often cited for his ultimately surprising victory.
This matters for two reasons. First, Trump's brand of rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling heightened the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions. A personal normally at a 3 on a scale of political talk might have found themselves at a 7 during the election. A person, like Patrick, who would often be at a 7 during a normal day, might "go to 11." See SPINAL TAP. That climate should be taken into account when evaluating the rhetoric that formed the basis of the government's case.
Yes, Spinal Tap is now part of federal criminal cases. We live in days of wonder not seen since druids danced naked around Stonehenge.
Second, the memo insists, since Stein was "an early and avid supporter for Donald Trump," he and his buddies might well have just decided not to proceed with his plot if Day and the undercover guy hadn't egged them on, because once Trump won, they'd be happy and not in the mood to kill any Muslims:
The urgency for action would be gone. The feeling of a losing battle would be gone. The conspiracies, in part, would be disproven as the transition from Obama to Trump took place. It is logical to conclude that the discussed attack would never have happened in the world that existed post-Trump.
That seems a tad unlikely, given the fact that hate crimes against Muslims (and Jews) increased immediately following the election -- Trump's victory didn't lead his most awful followers to sit back and enjoy the win, but emboldened them to start the ethnic cleansing of America, because surely the God Emperor would approve. For that matter, one study suggests hate crimes go up measurably whenever Trump tweets about Muslims -- though again, we doubt that means diminished capacity for members of his violent cult.
Stein and the other two members of his "Crusaders" militia will be sentenced Friday; it remains to be seen whether Trump plans to pardon them, but they probably shouldn't get their hopes up. He hasn't paid the legal bills of people who assaulted protesters at his rally, either. To deserve his attention, they'd have to actually be respectable sheriffs or movie-makers who can be of use to Trump in the future.
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