ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The trial of Nicholas Young, the first police officer ever charged in the United States with providing material support to the Islamic State, is scheduled to get underway next week.
Young , who worked for the Metro Transit Police Department in Washington, D.C., was arrested in Aug. 2016, on charges of providing material support to the Islamic State group and lying to FBI investigators.
Young is accused of purchasing technology-related items to send to the ISIS operatives so they could evade authorities when contacting one another.
But instead of speaking to members of the Islamic State group, prosecutors say, Young was actually in touch with FBI informants and agents with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington.
The police officer was arrested after he gave $245 worth of gift cards to one of those informants.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema warned both Assistant U.S. Attorney Gordon Kromberg and defense attorney Linda Moreno that they have only to the end of this week to wrap up loose ends in their pretrial preparations. The jury selection process will get underway promptly on Monday morning, Brinkema said.
The judge also announced she is calling an expanded pool of potential jurors — perhaps as many as 50 — because of Young’s decision to grant an exclusive interview to the Washington Post this past summer.
In the article, Young shared some of his experiences with government agents leading up to his arrest last year, and defended his interests in white supremacy and radical Islam. The story also featured pictures of Young, including one that showed a large Nazi SS unit tattoo on his arm.
“I’m extremely concerned about the pretrial publicity and the hearsay elements,” Brinkema said.
The “unusual set of circumstances” around Young, she said, would undoubtedly make his a tough case for jurors to consider. In addition to the interview, jurors would also be tasked with reconciling Young’s diverse and seemingly contradictory affiliations.
According to court documents, Young had a license plate on his car featuring the name of a pre-Nazi, ultra-right wing German political party, and he used Adolf Hitler’s birthday for an online password.
These facts, coupled with Young having been a police officer for 13 years, could make understanding him and his actions difficult for jurors, said Michael Williams, a social psychologist at Georgia State University.
“We all have identity theory, the notion that we harbor several identities,” Williams said. “We can be parents, employees, students, teachers. We can be all of these things in different contexts. That [Young] would have different identities is not unusual, per se. The interesting thing is how he, or anyone, can resolve what appear to be certain contradictory identities.”
For example, Williams said, patriotism is often associated with law enforcement and the fairness required of the person administering the law, and it tends to run counter with what most people conceive of being a white supremacist.
“But humans have a wonderful capacity to rationalize and justify behavior in the name of self-esteem,” he said. “It’s like a cognitive sleight of hand.”
As the trial unfolds, federal prosecutors are expected to try explain that “sleight of hand” and will argue Young was motivated by violence and used his knowledge of Islam and white supremacy to foment terror more broadly at home and potentially, elsewhere.
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