A Southwest Michigan man, suspected of providing support to foreign terror groups, was sentenced today to prison for trying to ram the car of an FBI agent conducting surveillance before the 10th anniversary of the 11 September terror attacks.
Reed Stanley Berry, 26, of St. Joseph, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert Holmes Bell in Grand Rapids to seven years, eight months in prison for assaulting a federal officer with a dangerous weapon – his car.
Berry has not been indicted on any terror-related charges.
The FBI raided his home after he allegedly used the Internet to contact one or more foreign terrorist organisations, court records showed. His attorney, noting that Berry has not been charged with terror crimes, said that Berry’s correspondence, which the government believed was a threat to national security, was speech protected under the First Amendment.
The seeming disparity between the First Amendment rights of Muslims and other Americans is one that has been recently questioned, especially in light of two recent cases; the Hutaree Militia, self-described ’Christian Warriors’ acquitted on the basis of First Amendment rights, and that of Tariq Mehanna, sentenced to seventeen and a half years for translation of classical Arabic texts and his desenting opinion over US foreign policy.
Attorney Elias Muawad stated that Berry’s actions did ‘not rise to any level of a material support for terrorism’ while Assistant U.S. Attorney Hagen Frank remained ambiguous concerning future charges, saying that whether Berry is charged with a terror crime ‘remains to be seen.’
His attorney said Berry was frustrated by his situation and had felt liked a “caged animal”. He met and married a Muslim woman from London online, and was eager to settle down with his wife and begin his new family life but was prohibited from leaving the US for Britain as he was on the No-Fly List.
Berry was under twenty-four-hour surveillance in the days leading to the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks. He was aware that he was under investigation when he tried to ram a parked car driven by FBI special agent Sam Moore.
‘He’s a terrorism suspect. Now, he’s at the point he’s coming at me with the vehicle, and I didn’t really know how far he was prepared to take it‘. The frightened agent mentioned he considered shooting Berry as Berry’s vehicle sped backward toward him, but instead turned and hit the gas to avoid a collision.
Berry, described as highly intelligent, said he understood that his shooting by the FBI would have been justified. He apologised to all involved, especially to the traumatised Agent Moore, and said his actions that night were ‘rash, irresponsible and potentially dangerous. I feel nothing but regret. … I didn’t hate or harbor ill feelings.‘
His step-mother, Julie Berry, said in a letter to the court that Reed had turned to Islam, the religious community and family to get his life on track:
‘[He] is a kind and loving soul that has struggled, as many young adults do, to find his place in society. Along the way he has made poor decisions hurting himself, but has never been a threat to other individuals or society.
After 9/11 Reed became fascinated with religion, learning everything he could and trying to understand “why” there is so much hatred in this world. His passion for information led him to books and websites that spoke from an international perspective for injustice.’
The judge expressed concerns regarding Berry’s views, stating ’The problem is, his reality may not be everybody else’s reality. I’m troubled by his reality‘. He additionally recommended that Berry might require mental-health treatment, adding ‘That is not something to be ashamed about at all. Some people just have issues… the court is struck by the fact that this is an intelligent individual.‘
It is unknown when or to where Berry will be transferred now that he has been sentenced or as to whether he will serve his sentence in a normal Federal Penitentiary or be placed under ‘special’ housing usually reserved for Muslim inmates and highly dangerous offenders. It is also unclear at this time whether additional charges are pending regarding the government’s “terrorism” investigation.