On Monday, they got a measure of closure when the leader of an armed hate group who authorities say orchestrated the attack was sentenced to 53 years in federal prison.
Emily Claire Hari, 50, was convicted in December of damaging property because of its religious character, intentionally obstructing the free exercise of religion, conspiracy, and two counts related to the possession and use of an explosive device. Hari, who is transgender, was tried as Michael Hari, which was her former name.
Hari received a total of 636 months in prison for the five counts. Anything less “would be disrespect to the law,” U.S. District Judge Donovan W. Frank said in court.
She was the founder and leader of what authorities called a “terrorist militia group” known as the White Rabbits that sought to drive Muslims out of the country. Hari’s two co-defendants have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
In handing down the prison term, Frank called the attack an “act of domestic terrorism” and “a highly sophisticated plot.”
“Diversity is the strength of this country,” Frank said. “Anyone who doesn’t understand that doesn’t understand the constitutional promise of this country that brings a lot of people here.”
Prosecutors and victims had asked for a life sentence.
In court, Hari said she had lived a “blessed” life and “can’t ask the judge for anything further,” according to the Associated Press. She said the victims had been through a “traumatic ordeal” and wished them “God’s richest blessings in Christ Jesus.”
The defense team didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment.
Domestic terrorism incidents similar to the attack on the Dar al-Farooq mosque have proliferated in the past six years, carried out largely by white supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists on the far right. Attackers have frequently targeted religious institutions, including mosques, synagogues and Black churches.
The same day Hari was sentenced in Minnesota, a federal judge in Ohio sentenced Damon Joseph, 23, to 20 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to plotting an attack on a Toledo synagogue. Prosecutors said he expressed support for the Islamic State and wanted to carry out a “mass-casualty attack” on worshipers.
The plot to bomb the Dar al-Farooq mosque was hatched in summer 2017, prosecutors said, after Hari founded the White Rabbits in eastern Illinois. She recruited Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris, her two co-defendants, and soon began outfitting the group with firearms, explosives and tactical gear purchased online and in local businesses, prosecutors said. Court documents show a long list of items including tactical vests, military-style jackets, pistol building materials and chemicals that are sometimes used in homemade explosives.
Prosecutors said the group had a “handbook” in which Hari wrote: “There is no more anti-Christian religion, and no more anti-American philosophy on the face of the Earth than Islam.” A search of Hari’s computer history turned up links to articles from far-right websites promoting misinformation about Minnesota Muslims and Dar al-Farooq, along with Google Maps directions to the mosque, according to court documents.
On Aug. 4 and 5, 2017, the group drove a rented Nissan Frontier from Illinois to Bloomington, Minn., according to authorities. They arrived at the mosque around 5 a.m.
“At Hari’s direction, Morris used a sledgehammer to break the window of the Imam’s office at DAF and threw a plastic container with a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline into the office,” prosecutors said. “Then, also at Hari’s direction, McWhorter lit the fuse on a 20-pound black powder pipe bomb and threw it through the broken window.”
The bomb detonated as the group sped away, igniting the gasoline and diesel mixture. The imam’s office was destroyed in the blast, which also knocked out ceiling tiles and light fixtures, burned the blinds and carpets, and sent shrapnel flying through the interior.
Hari and the others came onto the FBI’s radar in December 2017 through a tip from a confidential source, according to court documents. McWhorter would eventually tell agents that they didn’t intend to kill anyone but wanted to “scare” Muslims “out of the country” and to “show them hey, you’re not welcome here,” records show.
The group also tried to set fire to an abortion clinic in Champaign, Ill., and also robbed an Indiana home they thought belonged to a Hispanic drug dealer, authorities said. McWhorter and Morris have admitted to their roles in those incidents and cooperated with prosecutors in the case against Hari, records show.
“Michael has done his level best to turn a new page in his life, and his extensive cooperation with the government is testament to that fact,” said Chris Madel, an attorney for McWhorter.
Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar al-Farooq, spoke in court this week about how his community was devastated by the attack, which happened at a time when anti-Muslim assaults had reached a 15-year high.
The memories “are a dark cloud,” Omar said in a victim impact statement, according to KSTP. “I feel terrorized.”
“This attacker came to damage and destroy our sense of security,” he told the court. “It damaged me and my community.”
Another victim, Idris Yusuf, was 9 years old when Hari and the others bombed her place of worship. She and her family lived six blocks away.
“I felt really scared because I was going to start school in the same building soon,” she said. “I was scared because if these people could do this to our mosque, what’s stopping them from coming to Muslim people’s homes too?”