Nicholas Young is shown in this undated photo. (Family photo) (N/A)

The first police officer in the country ever charged with a terrorism crime offered no evidence in his own defense, leaving a jury Friday to puzzle out his motivations and his interest in the Nazis and Islamist terrorism.

Nicholas Young, a 37-year-old Alexandria, Va., native and Muslim convert, was a police officer for the D.C. Metro system before his arrest last summer. During a trial in federal court in Alexandria, his attorneys argued that he was entrapped by the FBI into lying about the supposed travel to Syria of an informant he knew as "Mo" and then sending gift cards he thought would be used by the Islamic State.

Prosecutors pointed to Young's collection of radical literature and paraphernalia, to his participation in Nazi reenactments, and to pro-extremist comments made online and in person, to prove that he had a predisposition to backing terrorism. At one point, Young's Facebook profile photo was of a prominent Islamic State fighter. And he twice encountered undercover operatives who were investigating his friends' radical views.

“He yearned to be a terrorist,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg told jurors in closing arguments. “This is what he wanted to be, if he could only have the opportunity where he wouldn’t get caught.”

Young had a law enforcement manual in his home listing terrorism warning signs, FBI agent Nicholas Caslen testified, many of which matched aspects of the defendant's life. Young owned over 70 pieces of body armor, used multiple cellphones, modified his truck, had anti-government tattoos and bumper stickers, expressed belief in anti-government conspiracies and in the illegitimacy of law enforcement, visited suspicious Internet sites and owned terrorist propaganda and extremist literature. One picture in the booklet, distributed by the Justice Department, was of a novel by the neo-Nazi leader William Pierce. Young owned two books by Pierce, Caslen testified. An ex-roommate, Arlington police officer Ian Paul Campbell, said Young had given him a book by Pierce for his 30th birthday.


Nicholas Young at his graduation from the Police Academy. Family photo)

An undercover FBI operative recalled Young making anti-Semitic statements, and Campbell said Young once told him there could be an alliance between Muslims and white supremacists against the Jews.

A fellow Metro police officer, Jo Dill, testified that she was “already suspicious” of Young when she asked him at one point what he thought of the caliphate declared by the Islamic State.

“He thought it was a good thing for that part of the world,” she said.

Defense attorneys argued their client was being prosecuted for his personality rather than his actions.

“This is a complete travesty,” defense attorney Nicholas Smith said in his closing argument. “In this country we are not prosecuted for who we are, for having repellent views.”

Smith objected at every occasion to the use of the Nazi evidence, prompting rebukes from Judge Leonie M. Brinkema for not following proper procedure, and repeatedly demanded a mistrial.

In his cross-examination of people who knew Young over the years — law enforcement agents and friends — Smith implied his client was vulnerable after the death of his father in 2007 and looking for friendship.

The white-supremacist novel, he suggested, was given as a joke. Young’s Nazi reenactment was “cosplay,” or putting on a character. “I never saw politics mixed in with the reenactments,” Fairfax County police officer Jamie McNulty, another former roommate, testified.

A picture of Young in a white robe, wearing a kaffiyeh and holding a gun, showed souvenirs McNulty’s father had brought back from working in Iraq. Along with Nazi and right-wing paraphernalia, Young, who friends described as a history buff, collected a plethora of military items from around the world.

The suspicions Metro officers had about Young, Smith said, were based on newspapers and a Koran in a break room, as well as his beard.

Smith said the informant known as Mo exploited Young’s interest in international politics to prod him into discussing the Islamic State. Young discouraged Mo from joining the Islamic State at some points and criticized the group. When he was interviewed by FBI agents about Mo, he said he believed his friend might have in fact joined the Islamic State.

“If he’s gone there’s nothing to worry about,” Young said in an interview played in court. “He’s not coming back.”

But he also suggested to Mo in emails shown in court that various rebels should unite with the Islamic State. “The only way forward now is with the group you are with,” he wrote.

Young twice went to Libya to fight against dictator Moammar Gaddafi, and the prosecution and defense sparred over his motivations. When he came back, an FBI intelligence analysis determined that he probably had not broken the law, Caslen testified. But in later emails to Mo, Young said the Libyan rebels he met were “very like-minded” to the informant’s group — leading the FBI to conclude in retrospect that Young had been going to Libya to fight with Islamist radicals, Caslen said.

The defense pointed out that after his trips to Libya, Young was asked by someone to send night-vision rifle scopes and responded that it would be illegal to mail them, according to emails produced in court.

In one message shown in court, Young appears to suggest that messaging app codes he sent were sent not for terroristic purposes but so “the brothers will make contact with their families.” But when an FBI agent posing as Mo responded that the cards would go to “brothers from Sudan seeking to fight in the path of Allah,” Young responded: “Glad it came through. Getting rid of device now. Gonna eat the sim card.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gibbs argued that “the FBI employed about as light a touch as they possibly could” in pursuing Young, “because they knew anything more overt would spook him.” Young used various email accounts and was paranoid about surveillance.

Left unexplained by the government was a question Smith raised in his closing. If Young was considered so dangerous, “what was he doing on the force?” Smith asked. “Why was he never fired?”