Something about the request just didn’t feel right to Miles Evans.
Over the summer, the state commander of the Kansas Flatlanders Militia had been contacted by two men who wanted to join his group. Evans had run into the two at militia training events. But they belonged to another group, he said, and it seemed odd that they wanted to hook up with his militia, clear across the state from their southwest Kansas communities.
“They contacted me through Facebook,” said Evans, who lives in Wichita. “... I remembered exactly who they were. So I went to my second-in-command and spoke with him. He basically said all we can do is vet them, see what their outlook is and see what their intentions are.”
About halfway through the process, Evans said, they rejected the men.
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“They were just very extreme with the way they go about things,” he told The Kansas City Star. “Too extreme for us.”
Now, those two men — Patrick Stein and Gavin Wright — stand accused of conspiring with another man, Curtis Allen, in what federal authorities say was a domestic terrorism plot by a small militia cell to attack Somali immigrants in Garden City, Kan.
The charges, announced Oct. 14, have thrust the militia movement back into the national spotlight. And while some militias are choosing to avoid the renewed attention, Evans agreed to talk about his group — which he describes as the biggest in the state — in an effort, he said, to paint a more accurate picture of the movement.
“We’re for the people, we’re with the people, we stand behind the people and the government,” he said. “We’re a group of like-minded, law-abiding citizens that all believe the same thing. And that is, our government is turning to (expletive).”
The arrests come as the militia movement is in the midst of a massive growth spurt. The Star reported on the resurgence of militias as part of a series on domestic terrorism last year.
The greatest growth, experts say, is in the Three Percent movement — the Kansas Flatlanders are a part of it — which gets its name from the percentage of colonists said to have taken up arms against the British in the Revolutionary War. Supporters vow to use force if necessary to resist gun control laws.
“Given the huge growth of the Three Percenters in recent years, I would say that the militia movement has more than 50,000 adherents and an additional number of people who sympathize to varying degrees,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.
Social media have played a huge role in the explosive growth among Three Percenters, he said, allowing for mass transmission of concepts at lightning speed. Another reason, he said, is that it’s become “fashionable” to be a Three Percenter.
“The Three Percenters are almost as much a marketing phenomenon as a movement,” he said, “with literally thousands of Three Percent-related products — from babies’ onesies to gun accessories — being marketed and sold.”
Those who monitor the militia movement say the numbers could get even more of a boost in the wake of last week’s acquittal of seven defendants tried on federal conspiracy charges for their involvement in the 41-day armed occupation earlier this year of a national wildlife refuge in Oregon.
When news broke about the Garden City case, Evans said, he wasn’t surprised to hear the names of the suspects.
Allen and Wright, both 49, of Liberal, Kan., and Stein, 51, of Wright, Kan., were charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. Federal authorities said the men planned to detonate bombs at an apartment complex where Somali immigrants live and worship.
The criminal complaint alleged that the defendants were key members of a militia group called the Crusaders. A confidential source attended meetings, authorities said, and provided information to the FBI.
All three men have pleaded not guilty and are being held pending trial. Attorneys for Wright and Stein declined to comment on the case. Allen’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
Stein’s attorney, Ed Robinson, told a magistrate judge during an Oct. 21 detention hearing that the three men were not plotting an attack but accumulating weapons and ammunition as a means to defend themselves in case of a “massive social upheaval.”
Evans said Stein and Wright first contacted him about a week apart in July or August through a message on Facebook.
He knew them from training events that his former group, the Kansas Citizens Militia, conducted about two years ago outside Great Bend in central Kansas, Evans said.
“They showed up, wanting to train with our group,” he said. “They were with KSF (Kansas Security Force) then.”
Evans said the men were “very self-centered, arrogant, cocky.”
“I don’t believe any of them were prior military, but man, they pushed that so hard,” he said. “They didn’t get along with anybody. Kind of stood off to the side, then sit there and be like, ‘Well, that ain’t how I’d do it.’ ”
Evans said when he talked to the other members of his militia about the men’s recent request to join, “everybody was kind of like, ‘That’s weird,’ because we knew that they were still active with the KSF. ... And if you’re involved in another group, we don’t want you.”
There are several Kansas Security Force organizations across the state. One posted a Facebook message after news of the alleged bombing plot broke, saying “the Kansas Security Force (Crusaders) mentioned in the media is not this Group.”
“Our group is not at all about HATE, or by any means about extremism, but about protecting and defending ourselves, our neighbors and our State,” the post said. “Should any one feel differently about this please leave.”
Evans said neither Stein nor Wright mentioned the name “Crusaders” during their online chats with his militia. He said the discussions were designed to weed out the bad seeds.
“We ask questions that get personal,” he said, “and we watch people’s reactions to them.”
Stein’s responses were troubling, Evans said.
“One of the deals he was talking about, if we ever had a fallout situation or anything, our bug-out locations, where they would be, what would we do, and how would we take that area and hold it for our own and stuff like that,” Evans said. “And he just started talking about popping people. He was like, ‘When it comes to things like that, I ain’t even letting them go through the gate. Our numbers are going to be high enough; we need to defend what’s ours and we need to keep the number low.’ ”
That, Evans said, was a red flag.
“We bounced him out of the chat.”
Wright didn’t seem as aggressive as Stein, Evans said.
“Gavin, he kind of maintained and handled himself a little bit better and more professional, and he had been part of other groups longer and had prior experience with other militias and stuff,” he said.
‘A solid 30’
Evans recently spoke with The Star in Overland Park, accompanied by his wife, Tiffany, a registered nurse who joined the militia two months ago.
Evans, who grew up in Wichita and operates his own business, said the Kansas Flatlanders Militia formed about 18 months ago after breaking away from the Kansas Citizens Militia.
He said the Kansas Citizens Militia fell apart because it grew too fast.
“Our numbers went from around 30 to 50 in the first six months and then boomed up to about 200, 250 over the last year,” he said. “A lot of egos started flying through that. There was a lot of ex-military, active military, started joining the group, and they started running the group military based.”
After that, Evans said, many members branched off into other groups.
“We still associate with those other groups,” he said. “We train with those other groups; they come and train with us.”
Evans said his Kansas Flatlanders Militia has “a solid 30 that shows up regularly.”
“A lot of other groups, they don’t have gatherings, they don’t train,” he said.
About half the members — ages 18 to 65 —are from Wichita and the surrounding area, Evans said, with others from Ottawa, Olathe, Topeka, Hutchinson and Arkansas City.
“There’s doctors, lawyers, business owners, paramedics, construction workers,” he said. “We’re just ordinary citizens committed to the preservation of the American way with strict adherence to the Constitution of the United States and of Kansas, and to the Republic of the United States of America.”
He said members are dedicated to serving their communities in times of natural and man-made disasters.
“The Flatlanders do not promote the overthrow of local, state or federal government,” he said. “However, if required, we will defend our ways of life against those who wish to strip Americans of their freedom.”
Though not a military group, Evans said, some members are in the military: “We have a retired chief of police, SWAT team, correctional officers at some of Kansas’ penitentiaries.”
Evans said the militia has a strict vetting process.
“We do not allow felons, we do not allow violent offenders,” he said. “If there’s any legal issues that keep you from owning or purchasing a firearm, you’re not allowed in the group.”
He doesn’t consider his group dangerous.
“We’re not out looking for a fight,” he said. “Our group is not a group that you will see running toward the bullets. We will back off, establish ground, separate ourselves from the mass population, stand our ground and protect our family and our loved ones.”
The group has multiple areas where it trains, he said, all on private property.
“There’s times that we do bug-out scenarios, where you can’t bring anything but your backpack and your gear, no firearms or anything like that,” he said. “And we’ll hike up the Walnut River or out by Fall River. We’ll just go from Friday to Sunday and you literally learn about water purification, primitive shelter building, snares and traps. We’re huge on edible and medicinal plants.”
The militia also conducts tactical training.
“Everybody in the group is very familiar and very safety minded with their weapons, and we’re very strict on that,” he said.
Evans said his militia is family oriented.
Members recently had a “meet and greet” at a bowling alley and arcade in Wichita that included wives and kids, he said, and they occasionally get together for barbecues. They also perform community service, he said. When flooding hit Mulvane hard over the summer, Evans said, members helped residents with cleanup.
“We’ve got a food drive going on from November 1 to November 14,” he said. “We’ll take that to the Kansas Food Bank. We’re also doing a winter clothing drive.”
Evans dismisses criticism that militias are racist.
“We are not about racism whatsoever,” he said. “We have all ethnic groups. We’ve had blacks, whites, Hispanics.”
He acknowledged, however, that members sometimes show up with Confederate flags on their trucks.
“It’s like, ‘Man, take that flag down. There’s no need for that. You weren’t born in the South, you have nothing to do with the Confederacy.’ But the government said, ‘Don’t buy a Confederate flag,’ so the first thing you do is run out and buy a Confederate flag.”
Evans said he’s aware of eight militias in Kansas.
He added, however, that “there’s a lot of groups that I don’t know anything about, to be honest. A lot of the guys kind of do their own thing.”
Lie low or stand up
The day the arrests in southwest Kansas were announced, word rippled through social media, Evans said.
“The web pages and chats started blowing up, and everybody was like, ‘What do we do?’ ” he said.
Now, Evans said, most militia members want to keep a low profile.
“And I’m thinking, that’s the wrong thing to do right now,” he said. “We need to let people know what we’re about.”
Evans said interest in militias continues to escalate.
“Just today, I’ve had three people contact me about entering the group,” he said last week. “And weekly, I’m looking at 10 to 15 people coming to me wanting to join.”
He said, however, that he isn’t interested in building a large organization.
“We’re wanting to hold our numbers around 30 to 35,” he said. “Because I’ve seen the large groups. They start forming cliques and branching off into other groups. And then they can end up giving everyone a black eye.”