Three men who were convicted of plotting to bomb an apartment building that housed a mosque and dozens of Muslim Somali refugees in Kansas were encouraged by President Donald Trump's rhetoric and asked a judge for leniency in their sentencing, their attorneys said.
In court documents filed this week, attorneys for Patrick Stein, Curtis Allen, and Gavin Wright, say the men were influenced by Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric and Russian propaganda on social media and argue that life sentences against their clients would not deter others from committing similar crimes.
"As long as the White House with impunity calls Islam 'a dangerous threat,' and paints average Americans as 'victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad,' a mixed signal gets sent," Wright's attorneys wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Tuesday.
"As long as the Executive Branch condemns Islam and commends and encourages violence against would-be enemies, then a sentence imposed by the Judicial Branch does little to deter people generally from engaging in such conduct if they believe they are protecting their countries from enemies identified by their own Commander-in-Chief," they continued.
Stein, Allen, and Wright were convicted of one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of conspiracy against civil rights by a federal jury in April. The jury also convicted Wright of lying to the FBI.
Officials said the men, who were members of a militia group in Kansas, planned to detonate four parked vehicles filled with explosives outside the apartment complex in Garden City the day after the 2016 presidential election to "wake people up." They were indicted and arrested in October 2016 following an eight-month investigation by the FBI.
The men are currently scheduled to be sentenced by US District Judge Eric Melgren on Nov. 19 and 20, according to online court records.
Federal prosecutors argued in their own sentencing memorandum filed Monday that maximum sentences of life imprisonment were "appropriate" for all three men.
"Their goal was not only to commit mass murder, but also to incite other groups to 'wake up' and commit other acts of violence against Muslims, against landlords who rent to Muslims, and against the U.S. government, and to spread the hateful message that Muslims should be, in the words of Defendant Stein, 'eradicated' from the United States," prosecutors said.
Attorneys for Stein have asked for no more than 15 years total, while Allen's attorneys asked that he be sentenced to 10 years for each count to be served at the same time. Wright's attorneys are asking the court to sentence him to time already served.
Stein's attorneys argued that the 2016 presidential election and Trump's rhetoric played a role in the culpability of their client, whom they described as "an early and avid supporter" of Trump, who called for a Muslim registry, closing mosques, and greater surveillance of Muslim Americans during his campaign.
"The court cannot 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," his attorneys said. "Trump’s brand of rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling heightened the rhetorical stakes for people of all political persuasions."
They continued that a normal person "at a 3 on a scale of political talk might have found themselves at a 7 during the election," whereas, "a person, like Patrick, who would often be at a 7 during a normal day, might 'go to 11.'"
Wright's attorneys cited a Pew Research Center analysis that found an increase in anti-Muslim violence since Trump's election and Trump's continued stoking of Islamophobia as reasons why a life sentence against him would do nothing to discourage others.
They pointed to several of Trump's tweets, including one from just last week in which he claimed, without proof, that "Middle Easterners are mixed in" the migrant caravan currently making its way toward the US from Central America.
"The speaker with the best bully pulpit in the world is never sanctioned for spreading fear and advocating harm," Wright's attorneys said. "General deterrence under these circumstances is simply a pipe dream."
The White House did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
Allen's attorneys didn't specifically mention Trump in their sentencing memorandum, but say their client's "misguided patriotism was inflamed by the rhetoric of the 2016 political climate and the influence of the Russian information warfare campaign against the American people."
A doctor who evaluated Allen, a military veteran, concluded that his "'distorted beliefs' about Muslims were borne from his experience in Iraq and that they were exacerbated by his news consumption," according to the court documents.
"Mr. Allen perceived himself as a patriot who needed to protect his community," his attorneys said.