Terrence McNeil, 24, was sentenced in federal court to 20 years in prison on terrorism charges. McNeil, a Muslim, had been found guilty of threatening members of the US military and their families in the name of the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS. When US District Court Judge Dan A. Polster handed down the sentence, McNeil unleashed a chilling threat. 

“Nothing you did today even matters. Jihad will continue until the day of judgment,” McNeil said. “And that’s a promise from Allah. It’s not going to change. It’s not going to stop. Neither of them are. My commission of Allah is not going to stop. So this is meaningless. I’ll be rewarded for what I do. You’ll be punished for what you do. I’m fine with that. You’re fine with that. So we’ll wait for the punishment of Allah to afflict you, either by himself or through the hands of the Muslims, and then we’ll see. Inshallah.”

Polster told the terrorist, “All right. Mr. McNeil, while I respect your opinion, I think you have confirmed the wisdom of my 20-year sentence.”

McNeil has been in federal custody since his arrest in November 2015. In April, he pleaded guilty to 10 terrorism-related charges. Rather than face a possible life sentence if he were convicted at trial, McNeil agreed to serve between 15 and 20 years in federal prison. McNeil was arrested after using social-media websites to proclaim his loyalty to ISIS, according to prosecutors. 

On Sept. 24, 2015, he posted a file on his Tumblr page which had the header “Islamic State Hacking Division,” followed by “Target: United States Military” and “Leak: Addresses of 100 U.S. Military Personnel.” That file was first posted by another party in March 2015; it is a .gif, which allows multiple images to be looped. In the first file, a text encouraged viewers to kill members of the military and their families “in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe…”, prosecutors said. McNeil made other similar postings on Twitter and Tumblr at least two other times.

Muslim defiance of legal system

On August 2, McNeil refused to stand the judge entered the court room, which is a customary sign of respect. Until giving his warning to the judge, McNeil only answered “yes” and “no” when the judge asked him questions.

Attorney Nathan Ray, who represented McNeil, argued for a 15-year sentence. He pointed out that his client had never before been charged in another criminal case, nor took any actions to carry out his threats beyond making social media posts. Ray said, “I don’t believe at the time, he appreciated the magnitude of what he was doing, judge.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christos Georgalis disagreed. He said, “the whole point of the post was for Mr. McNeil to encourage others to carry out the attacks.” Georgalis revealed that McNeil had researched gun prices from local dealers and had a document that showed how to make a homemade bomb. 

McNeil’s social media accounts were filled with Islamist propaganda and statements. They included:  “I can’t wait for another 9/11, Boston bombing, or Sandy Hook!!!”, according to the government’s sentencing memo.

Judge Polster said that he watched videos associated with the case and found them to be disturbing. “I had read about them, but it’s a heck of a lot different reading about then than watching them,” Polster said.

McNeil is expected to pay restitution to the service members who took security measures in view of his threats. The amount has not yet been set.

Judge criticizes Trump on immigration

In April, Judge Polster told a local gathering of the Anti-Defamation League in Cleveland, Ohio, that a statement that President Donald Trump made that supposedly questioned the legitimacy of a federal judge is  “a line that shouldn’t be crossed.” He said that any official making such comments “forfeits his or her own legitimacy.” Polster made the remarks just days after Trump criticized a federal judge who blocked his travel ban. However, Polster did not mention Trump by name.

Polster is a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, and Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood, Ohio. “That’s why it’s important to have judges of diversity – each of us sees the world through our lens …. a big part of my lens is because of my Jewish upbringing and beliefs.” He spoke to the ADL gathering about his experience in New Mexico, where he was called to sentence illegal aliens who had re-entered the US. He said that he saw no rapists or terrorists while he served on the bench in New Mexico where he typically saw 25 cases each day. In Ohio, he typically sees two cases per day. 

Regarding the prospect of possible pressure exerted by the executive branch on federal judges like himself, Polster said, “I do not believe there is a single federal judge who can be intimidated by anyone.” He was nominated to the federal court for the Northern District of Ohio by Bill Clinton.
 

 

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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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