ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Nicholas Young, the first police officer in the United States to be charged with providing material support to ISIS, brushed away tears Friday during closing arguments as his attorney recounted times Young spent praying with and confiding in an undercover FBI informant.
“Mo met Nick in a place of religious worship,” attorney Nicholas Smith told jurors. “Mo bought Nick gifts. Nick bought Mo dinners. They bonded over talks about their girlfriends and [Young’s] dead father.”
As he spoke, jurors looked at a photo of Young and his father. In it, they are both smiling. They’re celebrating Young’s police graduation 13 years ago.
Young is charged with buying $245 in Google gift cards which prosecutors say he intended to give to members of the Islamic State to purchase encrypted mobile messaging apps and communicate with ISIS fighters and potential recruits. Prosecutors also say he lied to the FBI and accordingly charged him with obstruction.
Authorities surveilled Young, now on trial in the Eastern District of Virginia, for six years. Surveillance lasted so long, attorney Smith told reminded jurors, agents referred to him as “Slow Decline” in internal emails.
Linda Moreno, Young’s lead counsel, gently touched the former Metro Transit Police officer’s back as he looked away from the jury, momentarily wiping away tears.
Beginning in 2014, “Mo” informed on Young for two years. Mo posed as a U.S. veteran of Palestinian descent that – like Young – went to George Mason University and faced religious discrimination at work because he was a Muslim.
Young converted to Islam after his father died, which he says the feds exploited in order to entrap him and induce him into committing a crime.
The exploitation didn’t stop there, Smith told jurors, it continued right through to this week with the “excessive” admission of exhibits depicting Young’s relationship with Nazism.
That evidence included photos of a large SS unit tattoo on Young’s arm, an Israeli flag he used as a doormat; photos of a bumper sticker on his truck proclaiming Israel a terrorist state, a portrait of Adolph Hitler hanging in Young’s house, radical Nazi literature and photos of Young donning Nazi uniforms at what he said were war reenactments and social gatherings.
Since the trial began last week, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema repeatedly warned prosecutors to be mindful of overreliance on evidence not directly linked to Young’s charges.
“But if you open the door,” Brinkema told defense during a pretrial hearing last week, “prosecution can walk through it.”
U.S. Assistant Attorney Gordon Kromberg and co-counsel U.S. Attorney John Gibbs did more than walk through that door, Smith argued Thursday, they relied on a “bombardment” of Nazi-related evidence to sway jurors’ focus.
“They have taken a six-year-long undercover investigation and fit it all into a few trial days. One of the most important issues here today is that jurors do not allow these images to play on our fear and anger,” he said.
Since Young’s defense relies on entrapment, prosecutors have been tasked with showing Young was predisposed to extremist behavior. The admission of the evidence shown at trial wasn’t prejudicial, it was informative, Gibbs argued.
“No, the government did not induce Mr. Young. But if it had, still, there’s no entrapment because he is definitely predisposed to these crimes,” Gibbs said.
After his arrest in 2016, investigators found Young’s phone. Among dozens of other “burner” or disposable phones used to secretly communicate with two informants, prosecutors say, was one with a screen saver of smoke stacks and a message scrawled across.
“‘Let’s finish what Hitler started,’” Gibbs told jurors the message said. “He could wipe his feet on an Israeli flag. He picked Hitler’s birthday for his online password.”
Young travelled to Libya twice, both times to help rebels overthrow Moammar Gaddafi, he contends. His trip raised alarm bells at the FBI and he was stopped at the airport. The Justice Department considered arresting him, but let him go. They did, however, continue watching him.
“This is who he is and who he was long before he met Mo. He was drawn powerfully to the Islamist cause. He didn’t do it because he liked Mo. He did it because he liked ISIS,” Gibbs said. “All of this predisposition gives us a glimpse into who he is. It’s not fleeting. It predated [our informants.] And when it shifted [from white nationalism] it shifted to the cause of the Caliphate.”
Kromberg told jurors the United States has done exactly what it set out to do on the first day of trial.
“Young knew and believed he was sending money to ISIS fighters and to help bring more fighters. That’s settled. He did that. That’s settled. When Mo sent a text to Young talking about ISIS, Young wrote back saying he wanted to buy a slave girl,” Kromberg said. “You can measure, sometimes, a person’s predisposition on how they act now. What would predispose a D.C. cop to say ‘I want to buy a slave girl?’”
Kromberg said the defense’s claim of Young’s spotless performance record as a police officer is also deceiving and could tell jurors a lot about Young’s proclivities.
The prosecutor recounted recorded evidence of Young speaking to another informant, Khalil Sullivan. In the call, Young told Sullivan he was pulled over and didn’t tell the officer he was one too.
“Because if he got called in, the department would know he lied about being on patrol. Instead, he called in to say he’s on the job, patrolling the D.C. Metro, when he wasn’t,” Kromberg said.
Bringing up photographs of evidence found in Young’s home, Kromberg compared the white supremacist music found there and the nasheeds, or Arabic songs, calling for jihad found on his phone after his arrest in 2016.
“This is who he was and this is who he is,” Kromberg said as he showed jurors the next image: Young in Muslim robe and head covering, head bowed in prayer, his gun across his lap.
“This is what he wanted to be if only he had the opportunity,” Kromberg said.
The jury begins deliberations next week.