CLARENCE, Ill. (WCIA) — The FBI says three Ford County men bombed a mosque in Minnesota and tried to bomb a women’s health center in Champaign.
Tuesday, Michael Hari was one of four men, from Clarence, arrested for possession of a machine gun. Investigators say three of them, Hari, Joe Morris and Michael McWhorter, are responsible for the bombs.
Hari is a former Ford County Sheriff’s deputy. The FBI says he’s the ringleader, and this isn’t the first time he’s had a run-in with the law.
On top of that, he may have tipped off authorities to one of his own crimes. A few weeks ago, a bomb squad investigated homemade pipe bombs in someone’s backyard in Clarence. Prosecutors say one of Hari’s accomplices admitted planting those and claims Hari told the ATF about it in an attempt to discredit the people who live there because Hari was facing charges for assaulting them.
Tuesday, the homeowners said they’re not surprised he and his group are accused of planting bombs elsewhere.
“There was a crew banging on the front door of the building here,” says Gage Tjarks.
That was Mike Hari’s building, in Clarence, being taken over and searched by federal agents. The FBI believes Hari and his accomplices are responsible for bombing a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota last summer. No one was hurt, but investigators say one of them admitted their intention was to try to scare Muslims out of the country.
Agents also say the group was responsible for trying to bomb the Women’s Health Practice, in Champaign, in November. Police found a device, but it didn’t go off.
Before Tuesday, Hari’s neighbors in Clarence didn’t know he might’ve been behind all that. They only knew he was tough to talk to.
“My family’s never really cared for him,” says Tjarks.
“I never trusted him,” says Stephanie Davis. “Honestly, he gives me the heebie-jeebies, I guess.”
Hari also had a reputation for letting his animals run loose. Hope O’Neill says she eventually got tired of seeing his horse in her yard.
“We went down there and introduced ourselves,” she says, “and I guess that was the wrong thing to do, ’cause he literally just freaked out. He pulled a gun out on my husband, put it to his head, and put it to his back, and tried to put him into the car.”
The federal criminal complaint says that led to an assault charge. During a second interaction with Hari, O’Neill says he demanded her husband drop the case. She told him they didn’t have the power to do that.
“He said, at the end, ‘You’re going to regret this and you’re going to pay for it,’ and boy, has that happened.”
O’Neill says, when she returned home one day in February, “We went around the yard and we went to my red barn and sure enough, they were right there, with a bow wrapped with blinking lights. It was just bottles just filled to the top with this liquid solution and black tape over it. There was timers and detonators and nails, and everything, oh my God.”
Investigators took pictures of devices found in Hari’s parents’ home which look similar to what O’Neill’s describing. They determined the devices in her backyard were homemade pipe bombs.
In the days after the bomb squad cleared that, Hari’s neighbors say he started posting videos on YouTube, asking people to join their militia opposing the FBI. In those, Hari claimed federal agents were harassing the town by blocking off streets while crews worked the scene.
“We sent out an appeal for help in case they decided to do the same thing on the south end of town,” Hari said in a video.
Prosecutors say one of Hari’s cohorts admitted the three were responsible for planting those bombs, too.
But even though they’ve been arrested, some in town say they’re scared about what else could be happening in this village of fewer than 30 houses.
“I have kids that come down to the bus stop across from where the bombs were found,” says Davis, “I’m scared for their lives. With everything else and the YouTube videos, I’m kind of nervous and I’m wondering if we’re safe or not.”
O’Neill, on the other hand, is feeling better.
“I can actually sleep at night,” she says, “I wasn’t sleeping at night, I just stayed up all night and slept during the day. Now I can sleep and my kids will sleep in their own rooms, and I’m just, oh my God. I’m so happy.”
As previously mentioned, four men were arrested for possession of a machine gun. 18-year old Ellis Mack is one of them. Prosecutors didn’t say they suspect him of helping the others plant bombs, but they were all arrested on the machine gun charge so they can be held while investigators gather enough evidence to charge them for other crimes.
Federal prosecutors say the group is also linked to a home invasion in Indiana.
More than a decade ago, Hari was convicted for kidnapping his own kids. In 2006, he was sentenced to 30 months probation for kidnapping his two teenage daughters and taking them to Central America for almost a year. The family’s story was featured on The Doctor Phil Show.