Editor’s Note: This article is part of CNN’s Undivided series, which chronicles how Americans of very different backgrounds have found common ground. In this series, which runs through the midterm elections, we profile unlikely friendships between people of differing ages, races, religions and cultures.CNN —
As soon as some members of the Islamic Center of Muncie saw the man coming toward them, they knew he was trouble.
He was a big guy with broad shoulders, marching toward their mosque with his head down and his face flushed red from what looked like anger. It was Friday at Muncie Islamic Center in Muncie, Indiana, and the mosque was filling with people who had come for afternoon prayers. As an outsider with a USMC tattoo on his right forearm and a skull tattoo on his left hand, he stood out.
His name was Richard “Mac” McKinney, and he was there not to worship but to destroy. He was a former US Marine who had developed a hatred toward Islam during combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. His fury deepened when he returned home to Muncie to see how Muslims had settled into what he called his city, and even sent their children to sit next to his daughter at her elementary school.
Unable to contain his anger, he went to the Islamic center that day in 2009 on what he saw as his final mission. He was going to plant a bomb at the mosque in hopes of killing or wounding hundreds of Muslims. He was on a scouting mission to pick a location to hide his bomb and to gather intelligence that would validate his assumption that Islam was a murderous ideology.
“I told people that Islam was a cancer; and I was the surgeon to cure it,” he says.
But when McKinney entered the mosque, he encountered a form of resistance that he had not planned for. Something happened that day that would change him in a way he never expected.