In the end, it took jurors only half a day to reach a verdict in the trial of a man accused of bombing a Minnesota mosque: Guilty on all five charges.
Muslim faith leaders praised the swift and decisive conviction Wednesday of Michael Hari, a 49-year-old from rural Illinois who prosecutors say meticulously planned and helped execute the bombing of Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington on Aug. 5, 2017, motivated by hate for Islam and immigrants.
Hari faces a mandatory minimum of 35 years in federal prison. Judge Donovan Frank did not immediately schedule a sentencing date.
Hours after his conviction, Hari called a Star Tribune reporter from Sherburne County jail to read a prepared statement proclaiming he would begin a hunger strike on Thursday.
"I am protesting my sham trial by submitting to a trial by ordeal in the form of a hunger strike to prove my innocence and my sincerity," Hari said Wednesday evening over the phone. Hari said he would continue to fast until tens of thousands of Americans incarcerated for drug-related crimes were released. "I vow before God that no food shall pass my lips until these people are released from custody."
Hari was not convicted of a drug crime. He declined to answer any further questions or explain why his protest included drug-related crimes, citing advice from his attorney to only read from the statement.
Throughout two and a half weeks of testimony, federal prosecutors painted a portrait of a man who rejected the changing tides of time. Fueled by vitriol for anyone he considered a threat to American values, they said, Hari believed it was incumbent upon him to correct the country through violent action.
Hari recruited uneducated men in financial duress to help carry out his attacks, prosecutors said. He manipulated them through promises of huge sums of cash, wild fabrications about taking orders from clandestine government agents and fearmongering theories that the mosque served as a "training ground for ISIS." When FBI agents started closing in, Hari attempted to groom one of his acolytes to take the fall, prosecutors said.
Instead, the two men who helped Hari carry out the bombing pleaded guilty and testified against him during the trial — key to placing Hari at the center of the attack. Michael McWhorter, 31, and Joe Morris, 25, also face 35-year mandatory minimum sentences. They both said in court they hoped prosecutors would ask the judge for leniency due to their assistance in the case against Hari.
"Michael Hari's goal in bombing the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center was to spread hatred, instill fear and threaten the constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion," U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald said in a statement Wednesday.
"This act of violence, driven by hatred and ignorance, shook our community. Today's guilty verdicts represent a condemnation of that hatred and uphold our fundamental right to live and worship free from the threat of violence and discrimination."
Hari's convictions include interfering with the free practice of religion by force and conspiracy to commit felonies using explosives.
His defense attorneys declined to comment on the verdict. Hari did not take the stand to testify during the trial. His defense team attempted to challenged the credibility of McWhorter's and Morris' testimony, saying they were telling scripted lies to save themselves from life in federal prison, and that Morris stood to take over their White Rabbits militia by getting Hari out of the way.
The bomb did not injure anyone physically in the Dar Al-Farooq mosque, though members testified about psychological trauma that still grips the Twin Cities Muslim community.
After the verdict, several Muslim faith leaders held a news conference outside the courthouse, where they praised the U.S. Attorney's Office for its aggressive prosecution of Hari and the jury for reaching a guilty verdict.
"Their message is: Your hate has been rejected and you are deemed a criminal, and this society does not agree with what you have done," said Imam Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.
Zaman said Muslim and interfaith communities can "breathe a sigh of relief today." But, Zaman said, the threat of white supremacist violence will not disappear with Hari going to prison, and he called on lawmakers to create harsher penalties specifically designating a criminal statute for domestic terrorism.