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Analysts, militia groups weigh in on Wichita mosque controversy

The reaction against a speaker’s appearance at the Islamic Society of Wichita mosque appears to be part of a trend by anti-government militias of targeting Muslims, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst said.
The reaction against a speaker’s appearance at the Islamic Society of Wichita mosque appears to be part of a trend by anti-government militias of targeting Muslims, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst said. File photo

When a Wichita mosque canceled a speaker’s appearance last month after fearing an armed protest, some people wanted to know why some protesters planned to show up with guns at a place of worship.

Daryl Johnson says he has an idea of what might be behind it. It involves the world of home-grown militias or “security forces” and a Facebook message that sounds to him like a domestic terrorist threat against Muslims in Kansas.

“WE need to keep an eye on muslim buildings. and ready to strike,” part of the message, posted on the Kansas Patriots Network, says.

The reaction against the Wichita mosque speaker appears to be part of a new trend by anti-government militia groups of targeting Muslims, Johnson said. He is a former senior domestic terrorism analyst with the Department of Homeland Security who has testified to Congress.

Over the past two years, groups that have traditionally targeted law enforcement and government facilities have widened their focus to include Muslims, Johnson said.

It flows from the wars against terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaida, from the militias’ view that President Obama has taken a pro-Muslim stance or even colluded with extremists, and from the groups’ fear that Muslims will mount terrorist attacks in the United States, he said.

It has manifested itself in plots to attack mosques around the nation, Johnson said.

A September 2015 article by the Southern Poverty Law Center was headlined “FBI: Reported Hate Crimes Down Nationally, Except Against Muslims.” That was based on 2014 FBI data. Since then, there has been “an even broader backlash against Muslims,” so the number of hate crimes is expected to increase, said Stephen Piggott, a senior research analyst at the law center who tracks the anti-Muslim movement.

Piggott also mentioned what he calls the “mainstreaming of anti-Muslim sentiment” by politicians. “It kind of opens the door for people to take action,” he said.

He cited anti-immigrant comments by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The Islamic Society of Wichita called off Monzer Taleb’s March 25 appearance at the mosque after U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, accused Taleb of supporting terrorism and called for the speech to be canceled. Taleb’s appearance was part of a fundraiser for the Islamic Society’s school and local activities. Because of safety concerns, the schoolchildren were sent home early, an Islamic Society spokesman has said.

Pompeo, who described himself as an evangelical Christian, also criticized the timing of Taleb’s address – on the Christian holy day of Good Friday and coming shortly after deadly terrorist attacks in Brussels. The Islamic Society maintains that Taleb, a longtime U.S. citizen from the Dallas area, is a motivational speaker with a peaceful message, that the timing of his speech was a coincidence and that the group doesn’t promote terrorism or want to be associated with it. About a dozen Wichita religious leaders signed a statement supporting the Islamic Society.

‘Ready to strike’

In Wichita, the would-be protesters have been identified by law enforcement as members of a group or groups calling themselves Kansas Security Force or Forces. Law enforcement officials learned from an FBI terrorism task force that some of the protesters were going to come armed outside the Islamic Society mosque off K-96, Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter has said. As long as the protesters legally had guns and didn’t point or shoot the weapons, it would have been legal, Easter said.

Before and after the speaker controversy arose, people under various Kansas Security Force names and banners on the Kansas Patriots Network have been openly posting anti-Muslim messages and information about their groups’ activities on Facebook, including slurs about people from the Middle East and addresses of Muslim buildings in the state.

One message, under the Saline County Kansas Security Force-Defense Force logo, and dated Sept. 6, 2015, said “muslims DO NOT BELIEVE IN OUR GOD, as is mentioned in the US Constitution.”

To Johnson, it sounds like an attempt to dehumanize Muslims.

“It makes it easier to target and to hurt,” he said. Because a lot of militias were linked to white supremacists in the 1990s, today’s militias have gone to lengths to distance themselves from hate groups, Johnson said.

“And yet this anti-Muslim campaign is driven by hate,” he said.

One Facebook post, in particular, caught Johnson’s attention when an Eagle reporter shared it with him Wednesday.

The message, also under the Saline County Kansas Security Force logo, and dated April 2, began: “WE need to be ready to move, when the time comes.” It said to have survival gear ready, including a weapon and ammunition.

The message ended: “WE need to keep an eye on muslim buildings. and ready to strike. ALL federal agents need to be accompanied by local Sheriff, or are considered a DANGER”

Johnson’s take: “I think the post … about being ‘ready to strike’ is enough for someone to consider that a terrorist threat. I think it’s important and prudent for authorities to take that statement seriously and look into it to see if there’s anything more,” said Johnson, owner of a Washington, D.C., law enforcement consulting firm called DT (Domestic Terrorism) Analytics.

Wichita police have refused to discuss the mosque issue. An FBI spokeswoman said several days after the canceled protest: “We were made aware of the perceived threat. And we were in contact with the local authorities. If there were or would be credible threat information, the FBI would take appropriate action to address such a threat.”

Protest organizer

The man directing the mosque protest plans on Facebook – Derrick Hulen, 29, of Haven – told The Eagle on Thursday that he is a networker/organizer with the 34th Corp Kansas Security Force III%, that he doesn’t know who the Saline County Kansas Security Force is and had never heard of the post about watching Muslim buildings and being ready to strike until an Eagle reporter read it to him.

It was someone other than his group – someone speaking out on the Kansas Patriots Network – who “wanted to go a little intimidating” with the protest, Hulen said. “They wanted to go (with) rifles and tactical gear. We were … just coming with poster board and flags. We just wanted the Muslims to support us” against the speaker, Taleb.

“We wanted to make sure it was … not intimidating,” Hulen said.

Why did some people want to bring guns to the protest?

Hulen said his understanding is that someone commenting on the Patriots Network said it would be only for self-defense.

In his Facebook announcement of the protest plans, Hulen told people not to bring rifles but said “secondary” was OK.

Asked what he meant by “secondary,” Hulen said, “That’s conceal-carry,” like a handgun in a holster.

Hulen said he can’t have a gun, “nor do I have any. I have a DUI charge, and I don’t think I want that … public.”

His background

According to public records, Hulen has two felony convictions, in 2009 and 2012, for driving under the influence. The latest felony conviction, for a “4th or subsequent” DUI, prohibits Hulen from possessing a firearm for five years – until March 11, 2017, said Ellis County Attorney Thomas Drees. The two convictions together resulted in Hulen spending about a year in jail, Drees said. As of Wednesday, Hulen still owed the state $3,114 in court costs, fines and attorney’s fees.

Hulen said that although he has made mistakes, “I’ve been in the clear for the last four or five years.” He said he no longer drinks and has two children to support. “I work for a living.”

Hulen has been discharged from state corrections supervision.

“In a militia, we think there’s a spot for everybody,” Hulen said. “I don’t go to the training events. I’m more of networker-type person.”

Guns are a core symbol for militia groups. Among the photos Hulen put on his Facebook page is one showing a military-style rifle with a high-capacity magazine and scope and the words “We will never surrender.” The words and the gun rest over a flag with “III” encircled by 13 stars.

Although Hulen has a First Amendment right to advocate for guns, it would be “problematic for him to be around guns should he come into possession of them,” Drees said Wednesday.

Hulen has “aligned himself with this gun culture” in a paramilitary organization, Johnson said. “That’s what they’re all about.”

As a militia leader, Hulen “would have absolutely no credibility among his peers in this type of subculture if he didn’t possess a firearm,” Johnson said.

On the day before the mosque protest, Hulen posted on Facebook that police had been notified about his group’s protest plan. He directed protesters to stay between the sidewalk and the street and not to use hate speech or be aggressive.

Another posting under Hulen’s name said: “Im totally against Islam. But we don’t want media to spin this (stuff) around on us”

Another view

Some people have concerns about both Taleb’s background as a Muslim speaker and how the protest plans played out.

Stuart Elliott, a Wichita resident and retired postal worker, is one of those who believes from what he has read and seen on video that Taleb has raised funds for terrorists and is an enemy of Israel.

But Elliott said he has concerns about how protests are carried out.

He said although he supports the right of people to protest against Taleb, “I think when people go to a mosque or a synagogue or a church, that it’s a matter of courtesy and common citizenship not to make them feel uncomfortable.” But there could be exceptions when there is no recourse but to protest at a place of worship, Elliott said.

Still, he said, “I don’t think that there’s any time that taking guns to a demonstration on a controversial issue is justified.

“I think that’s intimidation, and that’s something I strongly oppose.”

Militias, post-1995

In the years since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, when militias became demonized in the media, the groups have gone to calling themselves by names that sound more like a “neighborhood watch,” Johnson said. “That’s their attempt to try to mainstream themselves.”

It’s an effort to disguise themselves and avoid the stereotypes about extremists brought up by the word “militia,” he said. So Johnson wasn’t surprised by the name “Kansas Security Force.”

“It almost sounds like a private security company,” he said.

Among themselves, the members use “militia.” On Facebook, the 34th Corp Kansas Security Force III% says it is “an unorganized volunteer militia.”

Hulen said he doesn’t know how many people are members of the group.

The group describes itself as “everyday individuals in the state of Kansas who love this country and everything it was founded on,” including “defending and upholding the Constitution. … We are always looking for like-minded individuals.

“Training meetings will consist of things as little as studying the constitution, reading a map, or eating good food at the park …. To as big and important as first aid, gun safety/training, tactics, and more.”

The posting said “KSF III% is not affiliated with any other groups in Kansas,” and that although some in the media and government accuse militias of breaking the law, “We do not engage in any illegal activity. … We are NOT anti-law enforcement or anti-government.” Members must be at least 21 “and not be part of or affiliated with any type of hate groups/organizations.”

In a recent posting, the Kansas group was contacted by someone identifying himself as a member of the Texas Citizens Militia, inviting the Kansans to train and communicate with them.

The designation of “III%” refers to the idea that only 3 percent of American colonists took up arms against the British, and there is a “III%” movement across the nation, Johnson said.

Piggott, with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that among the anti-government groups, the “3-percenters” are “kind of leading the way” in the national anti-Muslim movement. Members have posted videos of someone shooting up a Koran, for example, he said.

The anti-Muslim push has included calls for armed protests at mosques and has crossed over into opposition to Syrian immigrants, Piggott said. “The line we see over and over again is a ‘government sponsored invasion’ of Muslims,” Piggott said.

What unites the militias, Johnson said, is what they see as a tyrannical federal government.

The workplace attack in Santa Bernardino, Calif., last December helped feed the animosity toward Muslims, he said.

‘Fight against terrorism’

In an email statement Thursday, Kansas Security Force spokeswoman Shelby Lewis said: “Town Hall meetings and Constitutional education seminars are being held all over the state of Kansas. We are Christian Constitutional Citizens that consist of young children to seniors. We live in fear for our freedoms, Liberties and the safety of American families with the influx of unknown refugees, the population of illegal persons, and the escalation of terrorism on our own soil.”

“Our message will be to ask the Muslims to join the fight against terrorism,” her statement said.

After the group’s rally at the mosque was called off, the statement said, “citizens went to the Federal Building and walked in Old Town with flags and posters.”

In a phone interview Friday, Lewis, 53, said the messages on the posters called for freeing political prisoners, including ranchers in Nevada and Oregon. The posters also referred to LaVoy Finicum, a militia spokesman shot and killed by police after Finicum and others occupied a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.

As for the planned protest rally in Wichita, she said it was not against the mosque or against Islam. “It was limited to the speaker.”

The group’s mission, she said, is “to peacefully and quietly educate people and help them realize that we have got to stand up for what our founders put together.” As it is, Lewis said, “We don’t believe that the government is protecting the American people.

“We don’t believe Islam is a religion …” A few minutes later, she added: “The whole thing is, if Islam is a peaceful, supposed religion … we don’t always see peace.” She cited the Brussels attack.

“We’re not after anybody. … We by no means ever threatened anybody.”

Tim Potter: 316-268-6684, @terporter

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