The Illinois militia leader accused of organizing the 2017 bombing of a Bloomington mosque kept a cache of guns and AR-15 style rifles that were altered to be fully automatic, according to pretrial testimony Thursday in U.S. District Court.
FBI special agent Joel Smith testified about how in February 2018 he found four shotguns and four rifles with their serial numbers scratched off in a big black duffel bag tied to Michael Hari at the home of the defendant’s friend in Clarence, Ill.
The agent said the owner of the house, Herbert McWhorter, consented to the voluntary search in February 2018 when agents showed up asking questions. Smith said McWhorter told him the duffel bag had been dropped off by Hari and Joseph Morris, also of Clarence.
The absence of serial numbers and the connection to Hari were immediately concerning to the agent, although he didn’t determine until later that some of the rifles had been customized to be fully automatic. Smith said McWhorter told him the men dropped the duffel because they didn’t want the guns in their possession.
“Michael Hari is a felon,” Smith said. “He shouldn’t have weapons and certainly not fully automatic ones.”
The nearly three-hour hearing in U.S. District Court in St. Paul was the first since Hari attempted to escape federal custody while he was being transported from Illinois to Minnesota in February. Hari has pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors and Hari’s defense attorneys argued pretrial evidentiary motions, but pushed back until Aug. 19 arguments on whether charges against Hari should be dismissed in the Minnesota case. No trial date has been set.
Hari also faces charges in Illinois related to accusations he robbed Walmarts, attempted to bomb a Champaign, Ill., women’s health clinic and extorted the Canadian National Railway. Prosecutors accuse Hari of committing the acts as leader of the group White Rabbits 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters Militia.
Morris and Michael McWhorter, Herbert’s brother, also from Clarence, have already pleaded guilty for their roles in the bombing and crime spree. Their names were mentioned often in the nearly three-hour session in front of Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer. The hearing revealed elements of the lifestyle of the accused terrorists that included eating vienna sausages, drinking purified ditchwater and seeking out untraceable cellphones from a man identified only as “Congo Joe.”
When he found the bag of guns, Smith said he was conducting a neighborhood canvass, knocking on doors in the tiny, rural southern Illinois town. When he found and opened the large black duffel, Smith said Herbert McWhorter gasped. In addition to the guns, the bag contained a plate carrier, which can be placed on the body both for protection and to carry extra magazines for the guns, he said.
Smith said Herbert McWhorter also told him he had seen Morris and Hari cleaning weapons a month prior.
Sometime after the search, Hari, Morris and Michael McWhorter fled. While they were on the run, Smith seized three cellphones belonging to the men from Michael McWhorter’s home. The phones had been left behind, according to Michael McWhorter’s wife.
Bowbeer ruled on one issue Thursday, handing a defeat to Hari.
Defense attorney Shannon Elkins had questioned the legality of a search because Hari’s Nissan Frontier had been described in the Minnesota warrant application as a “full-size” truck. Elkins said an Illinois warrant application described the Nissan simply as a truck.
Elkins argued the vehicle wasn’t full size and the discrepancy was significant enough to call the ensuing search into question. She also argued that a confidential informant who pointed law enforcement toward Hari had a long-running personal feud with him.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty countered that the description of the truck was minor compared to the “overwhelming” amount of evidence pointing investigators to Hari.
Bowbeer agreed with the prosecutors, saying the inclusion of “full-size” wasn’t an attempt to mislead the judge into signing a warrant.
Throughout the hearing, security on Hari was tight. Two U.S. marshals sat within 10 feet on either side of him as he was at a table between Elkins and her co-counsel Reynaldo Aligata. Hari’s feet were shackled. He wore a fraying light gray sweatshirt over his forest green jail shirt and pants.
Hari took occasional notes on a big white pad but was quiet.