One of the three Illinois men accused of bombing a Minnesota mosque last year is now negotiating a possible plea agreement with government prosecutors, his attorney told a federal magistrate judge on Wednesday.

Although Michael James McWhorter, 29, pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges in his first appearance in Minnesota federal court, attorney Chris Madel said Wednesday that he has been negotiating a possible plea deal with prosecutors to resolve the case.

McWhorter is one of three men from rural Clarence, Ill., who were arrested in March for allegedly bombing the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington on Aug. 7, 2017.

Court papers have described McWhorter as an early cooperator in the case. Speaking with FBI agents after his arrest, McWhorter allegedly admitted to traveling to Minnesota with Michael Hari and Joe Morris to carry out the bombing under the banner of their White Rabbits 3 Percent Illinois Patriot Freedom Fighters militia group.

McWhorter said the group was also behind another bombing attempt at a central Illinois women’s clinic in Nov. 2017. Though it is still unclear why the men chose to bomb a mosque in Minnesota, McWhorter has allegedly told the FBI that they wanted to “scare [Muslims] out of the country ... because they push their beliefs on everyone else.” Death was not a goal of the group, according to McWhorter, but the White Rabbits instead wanted to “show them hey, you’re not welcome here, get the [expletive] out.”

The three men have been under indictment in both Illinois and Minnesota since their arrests. On Tuesday, the federal cases of both McWhorter and Morris, 23, were consolidated in Minnesota, and Morris made his first appearance to plead not guilty. Both days this week, Dar Al-Farooq’s executive director, Mohamed Omar, sat in the gallery of St. Paul federal courtrooms to watch the men be led into the courtroom by U.S. marshals.

Both McWhorter and Morris are scheduled to return to court for a Jan. 28 motions hearing. A trial date has not yet been set — though one may not be necessary for McWhorter. Madel disclosed the plea negotiations to U.S. Magistrate Judge Becky Thorson as the judge sought to issue motions filing deadlines for the case.

Hari, who McWhorter told agents built the pipe bomb used in the attack and hatched the plan to drive to Minnesota, remains in federal custody in Illinois and it is unclear when or whether he will be transferred to Minnesota.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment Wednesday. An attorney for Morris also declined to comment on the status of his case. However, under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, defendants may be transferred from one district to another district where they are charged for the purposes of eventually pleading guilty there. Hari is still under separate indictments in both cases and is scheduled to stand trial on weapons charges in February in Urbana, Ill.


Twitter: @smontemayor