As they drove through their rural community in central Illinois in summer 2017, Michael Hari asked Joe Morris if he wanted to take a job.
"He said that it wouldn't be exactly legal," Morris, 25, recounted to jurors in St. Paul's federal courthouse on Friday, "but we were going to harass the untouchables."
The "untouchables," Hari told Morris, included people the government couldn't get to, such as George Soros, antifa and ISIS, according to Morris's testimony. And "harass" meant to "take the money, destroy their buildings," said Morris, swiveling back and forth in his chair in the courtroom. "Different odds and ends like that," he added.
On the fifth day of Hari's domestic terrorism trial, Morris, a key witness for the prosecution, told the jury that Hari planned and recruited him to help carry out the Aug. 5, 2017, bombing of Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington. Hari, 49, of Clarence, Ill., has pleaded not guilty to five federal charges, including civil rights and hate crimes. The trial was abruptly halted Friday afternoon after a juror's spouse tested positive for COVID-19. The trial will remain in recess pending further testing to determine if the jury was exposed, and at the earliest would resume late next week.
Morris pleaded guilty to charges of obstructing the free exercise of religion by force and using a destructive device in a crime of violence. He faces up to 47 years in prison for his role in the bombing, though prosecutors could ask for leniency in exchange for his cooperation in the case. He agreed to testify against Hari as part of his plea agreement.
Morris's testimony comes a day after that of Michael McWhorter, 31, the third man charged in the bombing, who also called Hari the mastermind behind the bombing.
On Friday morning, under direct examination from Assistant U.S. Attorney John Docherty, Morris described Hari as a longtime friend of his parents who was "like a father" to him. He first met Hari when he was 8 or 9 years old. Hari advised his parents on how to punish him, said Morris, which entailed "consistently" spanking him.
When Morris was 12 or 13 years old, on Hari's advice, Morris' parents sent him to live in an Amish farming community with no electricity in Kentucky to "correct my behavior," Morris told the court. He spent his days working on the farm, playing board games and reading books. He said he saw his parents only one time in the five or so years he lived there; Hari visited once a year.
While living on the farm, Morris started to hear voices in his head, he said. In lieu of mental health treatment, Hari told Morris to simply ignore the voices. Recently, while in custody, Morris has been treated and is taking medication.
At age 18, Morris moved back to Illinois to live with his parents. They did not get along. Morris traveled to Mexico twice with Hari and a few other men, where they worked on a watermelon farm and tried to start a community there, said Morris.
Morris, an eighth-grade dropout, said he was accustomed to people treating him as "less than them." Hari gave him acceptance, Morris told the jury. "Hari was accepting of who I was," he said. "He thought I was a good person who knew what I was doing. And it felt like I could be myself around him."
In 2017, when Hari offered him the job, Morris first declined. But in the next day or two, he called Hari back and said he'd do it. At the time, Morris said, he was about to lose his job and was in need of money.
Hari said he was taking orders from a CIA agent he called "Congo Joe." The assignment, Hari told him, "was 'need to know,' " Morris said. "And I didn't need to know until we got up there." Hari told him to pack toiletries and leave his cellphone behind.
On Aug. 4, Hari picked up Morris in a rented pickup truck, he said.
McWhorter, whom he'd never met, sat in the front passenger's seat. There was a bag containing two AR-15 automatic rifles in the back seat, and Hari told Morris he was "sitting on a 20-lb. pipe bomb," according to Morris.
On the drive, Hari stopped at a gas station and filled a bottle with diesel fuel and gas. Hari told them they were going to bomb a mosque, said Morris.
Morris told jurors he wasn't sure what a mosque was at the time, but Hari told him Dar Al-Farooq was a "recruiting center for ISIS."
They arrived at the mosque about 5 a.m. At Hari's instruction, Morris said, he broke open a darkened mosque window with a sledgehammer and threw inside the diesel-gas bottle. McWhorter lit the pipe bomb and tossed it through the broken window, he said. Hari remained in the truck, he said.
As they drive away, they heard a report over the radio of a possible explosion and fire at the mosque.
"We all high-fived each other," said Morris.
On the way back, Hari suggested they blow up an abortion clinic. Morris said in court he believes abortion is wrong. According to the charges, the men attempted to bomb a women's health clinic in Illinois, but the explosive device did not ignite.
When they got back to Clarence, Ill., Hari started calling their militia the "White Rabbits."
He recruited other members and taught them how to alter firearms. Morris said Hari referred to Muslims in derogatory terms and called Islam a "cult." Morris also used slurs to describe Muslims at the time, he said. He said his opinion has changed since he's now met dozens of Muslims. "They are pretty cool," he said.
Hari gave the White Rabbits military ranks, naming himself "Captain," McWhorter "Sergeant" and Morris "Corporal," said Morris. Asked why McWhorter was given a higher rank, Morris said that Hari believed McWhorter was more capable of doing the work than him.
Asked why they chose Dar Al-Farooq in Minnesota as a target, Morris said: "We were less likely to get caught."
Morris' full testimony, and the cross-examination from defense counsel, will continue once the trial resumes.
Andy Mannix • 612-673-4036