“Minnesota men” go to trial (5)

Charles Lister remained on the witness stand for the entire day yesterday. He will retake the stand this morning.

Lister is an expert on the Syrian civil war and the groups fighting it out. His most recent book is in fact The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency. The government has called Lister to provide the background on ISIS in Syria, the intended destination of the defendants on trial. Lister’s testimony was in the nature of a history lesson, condensing in a few hours what he has spent years learning. The Star Tribune’s Stephen Montemayor provides a summary here.

Lister was still subject to cross-examination at the end of the day yesterday. Defense counsel have sought to sow confusion about it all. It wasn’t particularly hard to do and I would say they are dong a good job at it so far. How could these 20-year-old boys figure it all out? They didn’t know what they were doing. That’s the theme.

Montemayor notes that outside the courthouse more than two dozen people ranging from family members to antiwar and civil liberties advocates rallied for what organizers said was the first of what will be a weekly protest during the trial. One of their signs read: “Stop Targeting the Somali Community.”

In an earlier version of the story on the Star Tribune site, Montemayor had written that “advocates from Women Against Military Madness and Minnesota’s Anti-War Committee were expected to rally outside the federal courthouse to protest what they said has been a pattern of government spying and harassment of Twin Cities Muslims.”

The FBI used an informant to follow the conspiracy at issue in the case. They certainly had probable cause to monitor conversations and communications among the defendants and their friends in Minnesota and with ISIS in Syria. That’s what the sign referred to: those who sought to join ISIS were “targeted” by law enforcement.

Ambivalent as we may be about the success of the FBI in keeping this crew in the United States, the FBI deserves our thanks for its efforts in this case. Nevertheless, we have yet to find a supporter of law enforcement making himself heard on the scene. Judge Davis’s courtroom and its overflow companion are filled with family, friends and members of Minnesota’s vast social service/social justice warrior infrastructure supporting the defendants. One of the latter reminded me during a break that she is a former student of mine (I remember her as a good one).

Here I want to insert a personal note. As I sat in the overflow courtroom yesterday afternoon, a member of law enforcement involved in the case introduced himself to me. He said he had been following these reports on Power Line and expressed his appreciation. That meant a lot to me.