A federal judge sentenced a onetime militia leader to 53 years in prison for orchestrating and helping carry out the bombing of Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, higher than the mandatory minimum but less than the prosecution's request for life.
Judge Donovan Frank said Monday that evidence presented in court showed Emily Claire Hari, the 50-year-old White Rabbits militia leader formerly known as Michael Hari, committed a "very violent act" of domestic terrorism in contradiction to the freedom of religion guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. Through "premeditated and very sophisticated planning," Hari enacted an attack designed to "scare, intimidate and terrorize the Islamic place of worship."
Outside the courthouse, members of the Twin Cities Muslim community praised the sentence as long-awaited justice that will bring some closure to a saga that shattered their sense of security.
"We were looking for life, but this is something we can settle with today," said Omar Khalid, a community organizer.
Acting Minnesota U.S. Attorney Anders Folk also called the sentence a victory, describing Hari as a "a master manipulator" and "evangelist of hate."
"Through our system of justice, the Minnesota community has collectively condemend that hatred and upheld every individual's right to exercise their freedom to practice their religion free from violence and fear," said Folk.
Last year, a jury convicted Hari on five civil rights and hate crime charges related to bombing the mosque on Aug. 5, 2017, a terror attack that many in the Twin Cities Muslim community say has left a lingering fear.
In the trial, prosecutors portrayed Hari as a hater of Islam who sought to preserve a perceived American way of life through violent action. To aid in the attack, Hari recruited Michael McWhorter, 31, and Joe Morris, 25, two men from her rural Illinois community, they said. The trio drove to Bloomington one night in a rented truck full of weapons and tactical gear. On Hari's orders, they broke open a window to the mosque and threw a black powder bomb into the Imam's office as mosque members began a morning prayer inside. McWhorter and Morris pleaded guilty and testified as star witnesses for the prosecution.
"This crime is not only sickening, but it is completely antithetical to the founding principles of this nation," Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Ethen said in court Monday.
Ethen said Hari hated members of the mosque "based solely on the religion that they practiced," and committed the bombing to send a message: "You are not welcome here and you are not safe here."
She asked Frank to reject that message with a life sentence that would help the community rebuild by deterring others who may seek to commit similar acts of terrorism.
"This is about showing other wannabe terrorists that Minnesota does not and will not tolerate hate, and punishment for said crimes will be severe," she said.
In court documents, Hari asked for a 30-year sentence instead of life. Defense attorney Shannon Elkins said gender dysphoria and false news reports from right-wing blogs, such as Breitbart, World Net Daily and Jihad Watch, fueled an inner-conflict in Hari and pointed her toward Dar Al-Farooq. Elkins said a new reality during Donald Trump's presidency "normalized hate" and spread misinformation about Muslims. In a court filing last month, Elkins asked Frank to legally acknowledge Hari's transgender identity.
"She strongly desired making a full transition but knew she would be ostracized from everyone and everything she knew," Elkins wrote. "Thus, as she formed a ragtag group of freedom fighters or militia men and spoke of missions to Cuba and Venezuela, Ms. Hari secretly looked up 'sex change,' 'transgender surgery,' and 'post-op transgender' on the Internet. As she purchased military fatigues for their 'missions' she also purchased dresses and female clothing for a planned trip to Bangkok, Thailand, for male-to-female surgery. She was living a double life."
Elkins said "no one was supposed to get hurt" in the bombing, and a life sentence with no chance of parole is too grave.
"Blame the former President of the United States for what's happening to mosques across the United States," she said. "Don't blame Ms. Hari. She's nobody."
Although Elkins objected to the sentence as "unreasonable," she requested an amended prison placement based on Hari's transgender identity, something Frank said he was prepared to recommend.
Ethen admonished Hari for not taking responsibility for the crime, and said she was trying to obfuscate blame.
Hari, who did not testify in the trial, spoke briefly to the courtroom. She acknowledged the victims have gone through a "traumatic and tragic experience" and wished them "God's richest blessings in Christ Jesus."
Frank said he "respectfully" based his sentence on Hari's conduct, and he did not consider the gender dysphoria or fake news influence as mitigating factors.
Elkins said they plan to file an appeal.
Before Frank rendered his sentence, a score of community members gave victim impact statements about the trauma they endured that day and since.
"I left like the roof collapsed on top of me," said Imam Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar Al-Farooq. Omar said the explosion nearly knocked him off his chair. He rushed outside to see what was happening and wondered: "Am I in a dream? A nightmare?"
The mosque has continued to lose members since the attack, and Omar said he's struggled to comfort his family and the community who now know somebody can come attack "in the middle of your most sacred place."
After confronting the gravity they'd been bombed, the Muslim community endured baseless accusations from conspiracy theorists — including from inside the White House — that they'd faked the attack in a false flag operation, said Imam Asad Zaman.
Zaman said mosques have since spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on heightened security and he's strategized how to respond to the next attack. Giving Hari any less than the maximum sentence would send a dangerous message to Muslims and Hari's sympathizers, he said. "What would that say about the worth of Muslim lives in our society?"
Several spoke of the trauma they've endured since the attack, living in fear they could be assaulted, kidnapped or forced to leave their homes by "monsters" carrying confederate flags and AK-47s and wearing flak jackets.
"This attack on my faith is something I will always remember," said Omar. "We have permanent scars now."