The fate of a man accused of masterminding a plot to bomb a Minnesota mosque is now in the hands of a jury.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys gave closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of Michael Hari, 49, capping off two and a half weeks of testimony in St. Paul’s federal courthouse, plus a two-week delay mid-trial for quarantine after a juror tested positive for COVID-19.
The trial amplified ideological and political rifts over changes in the American way of life that have divided the nation in recent years. Prosecutors say Hari, of Clarence, Ill., viewed rise of Islam and influx of immigration as threats to American culture. Feeling left behind by a changing world, he believed the country required correction through violent revolution, prosecutors said.
A supporter of President Donald Trump, Hari poured his money into a pitch to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall, which Hari viewed as a symbol of the endurance of American values that must be protected from outsiders. In 2017, Hari graduated from violent rhetoric to violent action, spending weeks planning the bombing of Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington.
“Michael Hari believes that America is a country for white Christians,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty in closing arguments.
After the bombing, Hari and his militia, the “White Rabbits,” attempted to bomb a clinic that performed abortions in Champaign, Ill., but the homemade explosive failed, according to prosecutors. Hari authored a manifesto and appeared in YouTube videos under the name “Illinois Patriot,” describing government corruption, deep state actors and the need for a militant action to get the country back on track. The White Rabbits also planned but never carried out moneymaking schemes to fund their actions, including traveling to Cuba to capture the aunt of dead rapper Tupac Shakur, who is on the FBI’s most-wanted list, and turn her in for a $1 million reward.
Hari pleaded not guilty to the five federal charges, including interfering with the free practice of religion by force and conspiracy to commit felonies using explosives. He did not testify. Throughout the trial, Hari’s federal defenders argued that prosecutors lacked evidence placing Hari at the scene of the bombing. Defense attorney Shannon Elkins challenged the credibility of two key witnesses who testified to helping Hari carry out the mosque attack, calling them “lying snitches” who testified in hopes of avoiding decades in federal prison.
“The truth is often more complicated and messy than what we might prefer,” Elkins said in closing arguments. “The government here is aiming to get a conviction. But the truth isn’t picking the story you like more … It’s looking at all the evidence and using your brain and using your open mind to hear everything.”
What is not in debate is that a homemade bomb exploded inside Dar Al-Farooq mosque in the early-morning hours of Aug. 5, while members gathered inside for a dawn prayer. No one was hurt, but several mosque leaders testified to the lasting psychological impact the attack has left on the Muslim community.
“Mr. Hari bombed the Dar Al-Farooq mosque because it is a mosque,” said Docherty. “From what he says, and more clearly from what he writes, Mr. Hari hates Islam. He hates Muslims. And because of that hate, he bombed a mosque.”
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors called a wide range of witnesses, from forensic investigators to a gun store owner in Indiana who remembered selling Hari 20 pounds of black powder.
The star witnesses were Joe Morris, 25, and Michael McWhorter, 31, who pleaded guilty in January 2019 to their part in the bombing, and testified that Hari took advantage of their financial desperation to recruit them to help carry out his plot.
Morris, who described Hari as a father figure, said Hari told him they were taking orders from a CIA agent called “Congo Joe” to harass “untouchables,” such as Antifa and billionaire George Soros, and that Hari told him the mosque was a training ground for ISIS.
Both men said Hari picked them up on Aug. 4 in a rented pickup truck filled with assault rifles, a sledgehammer, masks, gloves and a 20-pound black powder bomb. McWhorter and Morris had never met before, they both said.
At Hari’s instruction, Morris broke out a window with a sledgehammer and threw inside a bottle containing unleaded gas and diesel fuel, according to both men’s testimony. McWhorter then tossed in the pipe bomb, they said. The men high-fived when they heard the bomb had exploded in the mosque.
Later, when federal investigators were closing in, Hari “groomed” Morris to take the fall by transferring evidence, including a vault containing guns, into his name, said Docherty.
Hari was born in West Berlin, Germany, where his father, also named Michael Hari, decoded Russian messages for the Air Force, and later the National Security Agency, according to the father’s testimony. He described a quaint upbringing for his son: They moved to Illinois in the 1970s. His mother worked as science teacher and taught her son how to make slime and bottle rockets outside of school for fun. They occasionally went hunting, but guns were not common in their household.
Hari worked as a sheriff’s deputy in Paxton, Ill. for a year and a half in the 1990s, then ran a failed campaign for sheriff on the Libertarian ticket, owned a gun shop and at one point farmed watermelons.
One of his daughters, Alleen Hari, testified that Hari owned many guns and made sure his children knew how to use them safely. “We grew up around guns,” she said. “So it was really important to my dad that we learned how to handle firearms.”
In her closing argument, Elkins said Morris and McWhorter “cannot be trusted.” She said their accounts of what happened have changed — suggesting they were “scripted stories written by someone else” — and in some cases did not add up. She cited McWhorter’s claim that he feared Hari might shoot him if he didn’t go through with the mosque bombing, asking why then he continued working with the White Rabbits for months afterward.
“I think his story about being fearful is baloney,” she said.
She said Morris and McWhorter were responsible for the bombing and sought to pin the attack on Hari, who she said was on a business trip at the time. They have given conflicting accounts on key details, she said, including what they wore during the bombing.
Elkins said Morris in particular is not credible, calling him a severely mentally ill “drifter” who stood to take over the White Rabbits by getting Hari out of the way.
In rebuttal, Docherty called Elkins’ closing statements an “exercise in speculation” of a motiveless law enforcement conspiracy to railroad Hari and an “insult to your intelligence.” He attributed inconsistencies in their stories over time to human fallibility of memory, saying “it doesn’t matter what they were wearing.” Docherty said Morris and McWhorter have been kept apart before the trial, and the defense has alleged “without a particle of evidence” that they conspired to lie in court.
Jury deliberations will begin Wednesday morning.