A New York lawyer facing charges of supporting terrorism told a federal jury that she viewed violence as essential to dismantling institutions that perpetuate "sexism and racism."
As a federal prosecutor questioned her statements and support for a "people's revolution," Lynne Stewart, 65, testified that her lifelong philosophy included fighting "entrenched ferocious capitalism that is in this country today."
"I believe that entrenched institutions will not be changed except by violence," Stewart said. "I believe in the politics that lead to violence being exerted by people on their own behalf to effectuate change."
Stewart cited the American Revolution and the struggle to end slavery as such examples but emphasized that she did not support terrorism, saying, "I do not believe in civilian deaths or wanton massacres."
Federal prosecutors presented Stewart's statements in an effort to show that Stewart sought to aid a militant group. If convicted, she could face a 40-year sentence.
The case centers on her role in delivering a communique from her client, blind cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence after a jury convicted him in 1995 of seditious conspiracy in a plot to blow up New York bridges, tunnels and landmarks.
That communication, expressing the sheik's disapproval of a cease-fire between the Islamic Group and the Egyptian government, is at the heart of the government's case. Prosecutors say that by conveying the message, Stewart violated her agreement to special prison rules that restricted the sheik's communication to the public and allowed him access to his followers in the Islamic Group, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
Her attorney, Michael Tigar, objected to the prosecution's focus on her beliefs, saying "everyone of us is protected by the First Amendment."
U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl said Stewart's view of violence was not "irrelevant" or "straying into an impermissible area."
U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember methodically recounted the events that led up to Stewart reading a handwritten statement to a Reuters reporter. Dember pointed to excerpts from a transcript from taped conversations in which Stewart referred to Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Rahman, as a "devil" and showed that Stewart viewed her relationship with the government as "adversarial."
At times, Stewart sparred with Dember over terminology. She took issue with his suggestion that by signing an agreement to the prison rules she had agreed with their intent. She said she viewed it as necessary to gaining access to her client. When Dember showed the jury a copy of the agreement specifying restrictions over mail, she said she understood the term to mean envelopes delivered by the Postal Service.
Dember asked Stewart to explain her motivation for continuing to visit Rahman in a Minnesota prison after he had exhausted his appeals.
"I think that our legal system reacts differently to people who are paid attention to," she said. "I think the worst thing is the way it treats people who are nobody."