MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge sentenced Emily Hari to 53 years in prison for orchestrating and helping carry out the bombing of Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, higher than the mandatory minimum but less than the prosecution's request for life without parole.
Judge Donovan Frank said evidence presented in court showed 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."
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 forever shaken their sense of security.
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 manipulated 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 at the sentencing hearing.
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.
"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."
Elkins said "no one was supposed to get hurt" in the bombing, and a life sentence with no chance of parole is too grave.
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 well "in Christ Jesus."
Frank said he "respectfully" based on his sentence on the conduct, and he did not consider the gender dysphoria or fake news influence as mitigating factors.
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 Khalid Omar. "We have permanent scars now."
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