Special Report | Michael Hari: From deputy to abductor to alleged terrorist


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MICHAEL BENJAMIN HARI has been in the news before — many times, actually. But for those who may not remember, WILL BRUMLEVE — editor of News-Gazette Media's Ford County Record — dug into the past of the 47-year-old Clarence man, who now stands charged by the federal government in connection with two alleged bombings.

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One of two children born to Michael Lee and Janice Hari of Paxton, Hari attended Paxton schools and studied criminology and criminal justice at the University of Central Texas before graduating from the University of Illinois Police Training Institute.

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Hari lived in Texas after college and became politically involved after the Waco shootout in 1993. He later told The News-Gazette that the FBI standoff with separatists in Waco had galvanized his beliefs.

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Hari moved back to Paxton in 1995, and became a deputy sheriff. He quit that job in 1997, telling The News-Gazette he became disgruntled with the way justice was often carried out.

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Also in 1997, a 26-year-old Hari held a meeting of the Libertarian Party in a gun store he operated in downtown Paxton called Hari's Gun Works and made plans to run as a Libertarian candidate for Ford County sheriff. The county is mostly Republican.

"Basically, we have a one-party system here, and any time you have that, you're not getting the kind of scrutiny you need," he told The News-Gazette. "Nobody questions anything. They just go along."

Previously, Hari worked for the campaign of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas. Hari said he got involved with the Libertarian Party when he attended demonstrations in Waco in 1993.

"Basically, Libertarianism stands for smaller government, cutting taxes, personal liberties. That's what I'm for," he said.

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In 1998, Hari challenged Republican Gibson City police Chief Jeff Bond for sheriff in that November's election.

"As Ford County sheriff, I will put the sentenced inmates in the county jail to work," Hari said.

He also said he would devote more county resources to solving rural burglaries, drug enforcement and drunken driving enforcement.Bond defeated Hari by a vote of 3,272 to 1,166, even though a grand jury had recently indicted Bond, accusing him of using force to obtain a confession from a suspect.

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In 1999, a 28-year-old Hari ran for a seat on the Paxton City Council representing Ward 2. He opposed Richard Wolfe.

Also in 1999, Hari was appointed to a two-year term on the Ford County Board of Review. Since Libertarians had garnered more votes than Democrats in the previous November's election in Ford County, they were entitled to a seat on the review board.

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In 1999, Hari, secretary-treasurer for Ford County Libertarian Party since its formation in October 1997, announced that the Ford County Central Committee had elected Harold Forbes of Melvin to succeed him in that position.

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In 2000, Hari became a member of the Old Order of the German Baptists, a group that has similar beliefs to the Amish.

"My church is against involvement in politics," he said. "I'm 100 percent in favor of being against that. I don't have any interest in getting involved in politics again."

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In 2005, after being out of the public eye for some time, a 34-year-old Hari was being sought by police for abducting his two daughters. Police said Hari never returned Allene and Mollie Hari to their mother as he was scheduled to do that April 1. The children's mother, Michelle Frakes, a Peoria schoolteacher, was granted temporary custody of the children April 6.

A warrant for his arrest included one count of child abduction and one count of unlawful interference with visitation. Police said investigators had a wide swath to check for the children — "anywhere from the Lafayette, Ind., area through Nashville or Phoenix, and he has lived in Texas."

Authorities' search led to a Mennonite colony in Belize, where Hari had taken refuge with his kids. He agreed to return to the U.S. with Allene and Mollie on one condition: that they appear on the daytime talk show "Dr. Phil."

Ford County Sheriff's Lt. Pat Duffy said authorities, including the U.S. Marshal's Service, had tracked Hari to Canada and then to a religious colony in Minnesota.

"Dr. Phil decided to look and hired a private investigator," Duffy said.

That investigator, Harold Copus, a former FBI special agent, had previously worked with the TV host to find missing children, he said. Copus met with Ford County officials and then talked with the leader of the religious colony in Minnesota.

"He said, 'You might try looking in Belize,'" according to Duffy. "They located him in a jungle in Belize. They had carved out a religious colony on 2,000 acres in the jungle."

Copus contacted the Belize colony leaders and, with them and Hari, negotiated Hari's return with the girls, Duffy said. Staff from "Dr. Phil" were in Miami to tape the reunion, when the girls were returned to their mother.

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In 2006, a jury found Hari guilty of child abduction. Hari, 35, dressed in black and sporting a full beard, stared straight ahead at the jury as his verdict was read. Testifying on his own behalf, Hari admitted taking the girls to Mexico and Belize on April 1, 2005.

"It was a continuation of four years of constant strife with my ex-wife," he said. "We didn't have the opportunity to raise the girls the way we wanted to."

Hari said his daughters were unhappy at Paxton-Buckley-Loda schools. Both Hari and Frakes had agreed in November 2004 that the girls would attend public schools unless both parents agreed on an accredited Christian school. The religious sect Hari belonged to at the time, the Old German Baptist Brethren, believes that girls should have no formal education after the eighth grade.

"The girls were miserable," he said. "They got mocked in school. The children would cry and refused to go" to school.

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In November 2006, Hari was sentenced to 30 months of probation. During the sentencing hearing, Ford County State's Attorney Tony Lee argued for a jail term, saying that Hari "displayed classic criminal tendencies" and referring to a sentencing report that said Hari "rationalized the situation for his own benefit, minimized his own wrongdoing and projected blame onto others."

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In 2008, as fuel prices were skyrocketing, Hari could be seen regularly visiting Paxton on a horse and buggy. Hari, who said he had not driven a car in three years, said he didn't even glance at the signs at area gas stations that listed the price of gas at above $4 a gallon at the time."I really don't even know what it sells for. I think it sells for somewhere between $3 and $5 a gallon," he said. "It's kind of nice not to know what it costs."

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In April 2017, Hari told The Chicago Tribune that he drafted a $10 billion plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico, citing President Donald Trump's call for such a wall. Hari drew up the proposal after launching a security company, Crisis Resolution Security Services, the newspaper said.

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In July 2017, Hari was arrested for the alleged assault of a neighbor in Clarence. The Ford County Sheriff's Office released an incident report detailing how the 46-year-old Hari, amid an argument with his neighbor, allegedly used an "arm-bar takedown" maneuver on his neighbor to restrain him, then pressed an Airsoft pellet handgun against the back of his head as he was being held face-down against the back of Hari's car.

Hari was charged with unlawful restraint and battery. His case is still pending in Ford County Circuit Court.

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In October 2017, Hari and Joseph Allen Morris brought suit in Ford County Circuit Court against Button Township and seven township officials, claiming they maliciously turned off the water to Hari's office building in Clarence. The lawsuit said the township's actions had prevented the opening of a grocery store in the north end of the building, because the health department requires water service for handwashing.

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In February 2018, Hari filed a federal lawsuit in central Illinois, naming the U.S. secretaries of agriculture and health and human services as defendants. It accuses their departments of violating his constitutional rights by doing the food-safety certification work that his firm, Equicert, does.

"The People of the United States have rejected the Marxist doctrine that the government shall own the means of production," he wrote, according to the court document. He requested a court order barring federal officials from interfering with his business.

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On Tuesday, Hari and three other Clarence men were arrested by federal authorities for possession of a machine gun, a charge intended to hold them while the government seeks additional charges that allegedly link three of them to a mosque bombing in Minnesota and the attempted bombing of a women's health clinic in Champaign last year.

Hari is believed to have been the leader of a homegrown domestic terrorism group to which the other men belonged.