Judge hears closing arguments in Bloomington mosque attack

Prosecutors cited an Illinois man’s anti-Islamic writings and testimony from co-defendants in urging a jury Tuesday to convict him in the 2017 bombing of a Minnesota mosque.

In closing arguments in the trial of Michael Hari, 49, prosecutors cited testimony from his co-defendants Joe Morris and Michael McWhorter and excerpts from Hari’s writings on Islam that they said "overwhelmingly" show how and why Hari spearheaded a plan to throw a pipe bomb into the window of Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center. Other evidence presented to jurors by the government include purchases used to make explosive devices and telephone records.

Morris portrayed Hari as a father figure, and both he and McWhorter portrayed Hari as the driving force behind a plan that included renting a truck in Illinois and traveling to Minnesota to carry out the attack. McWhorter testified that Hari waited in the car as Morris and McWhorter carried out the bombing.

"Mr. Hari bombed the Dar al-Farooq mosque because it was a mosque," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty told jurors. "As we can see … 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."

During his remarks, Docherty read excerpts of anti-Muslim rhetoric from The White Rabbit Handbook, a manifesto of Hari’s anti-government militia group that encourages use of guerrilla war tactics and a return to "the good old days."

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Defense attorneys for Hari tried to raise doubts about the credibility of Morris and McWhorter, suggesting they were out to reduce their own sentences by turning on Hari. Shannon Elkins, Hari’s attorney, said prosecutors failed to prove Hari was in Minnesota on the date of the bombing or provide forensic evidence, arguing inconsistencies in the co-defendants’ testimony make them untrustworthy.

"I ask that you consider with your independent minds whether you have the whole story," Elkins said to the jury. "Something about this story seems funny, because the government’s star witnesses can’t seem to tell the truth."

Docherty said Hari’s background as a former sheriff’s deputy and knowledge of how crimes are investigated helped him avoid leaving forensic evidence.

Hari is charged with several civil rights and hate crimes, include damaging property because of its religious character, forcibly obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, conspiracy to commit felonies with fire and explosives, using a destructive device in a crime of violence, and possessing an unregistered destructive device.

On Aug. 5, 2017, Hari, Morris and McWhorter allegedly carried out the attack as several men gathered for early morning prayers. The device exploded in the imam’s office, and while no one was hurt in bombing, the attack spread fear through the mosque’s community of worshippers.

Hari is the leader of an anti-government militia group called the White Rabbits based in Clarence, Ill., a rural community about 120 miles south of Chicago where Hari, Morris and McWhorter lived. Under the screen name "Illinois Patriot," Hari posted more than a dozen anti-government monologue videos to YouTube, including one video days before his 2018 arrest for the bombing where he claimed the FBI and local law enforcement were tormenting the central Illinois town.

It’s not clear how the White Rabbits became aware of Dar al-Farooq, but the mosque was in headlines in recent years: Some young people from Minnesota who traveled to Syria to join the Islamic State group had worshipped there. Mosque leaders were never accused of any wrongdoing.

A former sheriff’s deputy and self-described entrepreneur and watermelon farmer, Hari’s past includes a federal lawsuit he filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for cutting into his food safety certification business, and an appearance on the "Dr. Phil" talk show after abducting his daughters and fleeing to the Central American country of Belize during a custody dispute.