United States

Former Metro Transit Police Officer Appeals Conviction in Terror Case

During Nicholas Young's trial, the jury was shown a photo of Young wearing a Nazi uniform, a photo of a woman carrying a "God bless Hitler" sign, and a dirtied Israel flag Young allegedly used as a doormat.

Young, a former patrol officer in the D.C. region's Metrorail system, wasn't on trial for hate crimes. Instead, he was charged with attempting to provide support to the Islamic State terror group.

The items were among three dozen Nazi artifacts and photos presented by prosecutors during the trial. A counter-terrorism analyst testifying for prosecutors said there are "areas of convergence" between Islamist militancy and Nazism" based on a mutual hatred of Jews.

Young, the first law enforcement officer in the country to be convicted of a terrorism offense, says the Nazi memorabilia "irreparably tarred" him before the jury and violated his right to a fair trial. His appeal is set to be heard by the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Nov. 1.

"There is no more prejudicial (and overused) accusation than to label one a 'Nazi,' " Young's attorney, Nicholas Smith, argues in a legal brief filed with the appeals court.

Young, who grew up in the D.C. suburbs, was raised Catholic but later converted to Islam.

Young was first contacted by the FBI in 2010, when he was interviewed by agents about Zachary Chesser, an acquaintance who was convicted of attempting to join the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia and of threatening the creators of the "South Park" cartoon series for perceived insults to the Prophet Muhammad.

In 2016, Young sent $245 in gift cards to an account he believed belonged to an ISIS fighter he knew as "Mo." Mo was actually an FBI informant.

At trial, Young's lawyers argued that he was entrapped in the government's sting operation. During his sentencing hearing, Young said he was prosecuted only after he rejected the FBI's request to be an informant.

But prosecutor Gordon Kromberg said Young willingly bought the gift cards after the FBI informant told him the Islamic State needed them to recruit more fighters by communicating with them securely through a specific mobile-phone app.

Kromberg also cited the Nazi memorabilia found in Young's home, which he said flowed out of anti-Semitic views that fit with his embrace of militant Islam.

"What happened in July 2016 (with the gift card purchase) was not an aberration, not something out of character for the defendant," Kromberg said during Young's sentencing hearing.

Young's lawyers argued that the alleged connection between radical Islam and Nazism defies common sense.

"White supremacism and militant Islam are mutually inconsistent," Smith said during a pretrial hearing.

In their appeal, Young's lawyers say the prosecution's expert was contradicted by a large 2016 study of domestic radicalization in the U.S. funded by the Department of Justice that found there is not enough data to compare militant Islamist and far-right radicalizations, but that "important differences" exist between Islamist, far right, far left and other radical movements.

Prosecutors, however, cite other Americans they argue have "crossed from Nazism to radical Islam," including Devon Arthurs, a former neo-Nazi who allegedly confessed to killing two of his roommates because they disrespected his conversion to Islam.

"For some individuals who have embraced both Nazism and militant Islamism, the two movements' contempt for Jews is of utmost importance, and allows them to overlook incongruent aspects of Nazi and jihadist ideology," prosecutors wrote.

This "convergence" theory, while unusual, is not unheard of, said Brian Levin, director at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernadino.

Levin said the 4th Circuit will have to decide whether the Nazi imagery and artifacts offered evidence of Young's alleged crimes.

"There is a place where these two generally oppositional ideologies have met through certain individuals. The key here is how relevant is Mr. Young's potpourri of extremism relevant to the crime charged?" Levin said.

Prosecutors said the Nazi images established Young's predisposition to violence, an element of the entrapment defense.

Judge Leonie Brinkema denied Young's pretrial motion to suppress the Nazi material in his Islamic terrorism trial, saying that "the common aim of both groups is anti-Semitism."

Young, 38, is asking the court for a new trial on the charge of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization and to reverse his convictions on obstruction of justice charges.

He is also appealing his 15-year sentence.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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