In a plea for leniency, a lawyer argued President Donald Trump‘s rhetoric was partly to blame for his client’s plot to kill hundreds of Somalian refugees by bombing an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas.
Patrick Eugene Stein, 49, and two other men hatched a plan to blow up the apartment building, which also contained a mosque, CNN reported. Their attack, planned for the day after 2016 presidential election, was foiled however, and now the group faces a maximum sentence of life behind bars.
Stein’s lawyer is pushing for a softer punishment, urging the court to consider the “backdrop” of the case — specifically the racist vitriol spewed by then-candidate Trump.
“The court can’t ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president,” attorney Jim Pratt wrote in a sentencing memo filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas on Monday.
In an interview with CNN, Pratt argued Trump’s language fueled mass hysteria leading up to the 2016 election, using words that riled up folks like Stein who felt “lost and ignored.”
“It wasn’t just the rhetoric of Trump, who ahead of the election called for a ban against all Muslims entering the U.S.,” he began. “[But] it was the rhetoric of everybody that put fear into the system and made people believe that if Trump won, and on the first day he’d take office, the world was going to implode.”
“Or if he won, martial law was going to be declared and Hillary (Clinton) was going to be put into office,” he added.
The president himself has dismissed claims that he’s somehow responsible for the acts of right-wing terrorists, and instead pointed the finger at the “fake news” media for sowing discord and “anger” across the U.S.
“The Fake News is doing everything in their power to blame Republicans, Conservatives and me for the division and hatred that has been going on for so long in our Country,” Trump tweeted after last week’s mail-bomb incidents and the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 people dead.
Stein and his friends, Curtis Allen, 50, of Kansas; and Gavin Wright, 49, of Oklahoma; were plotting to wage a similar kind of attack by crafting and detonating a weapon of mass destruction. Prosecutors said the men settled on the Garden City apartment complex because there were about 120 Somali immigrants living there and they knew there was a mosque inside.
The three held several meetings to discuss their plans, however, the FBI was tipped off by an informant who recorded some of their conversations. Stein, Allen and Wright were arrested in October 2016 following an eight-month investigation and were later found guilty of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to violate the housing rights of their intended victims, local station KSNW reported.
Although they were apprehended before their plot could unfold, Pratt argued the men might not have gone through with it since Trump was victorious.
“Trump’s win changed everything, and it is reasonable to speculate that it would have changed things among the defendants as well,” the attorney wrote in his filing.
He added: “The urgency for action would be gone. The feeling of a losing battle would be gone.”
Stein, Allen and Wright are scheduled to be sentenced on Friday.