New Jersey's Anti-Discrimination Law Is 'Just A Tool' To Protect Gender Identity

Seventeen states have legal protections to prevent discrimination against transgender people in areas like housing and employment.

Seventeen states have legal protections to prevent discrimination against transgender people in areas like housing and employment.

One of those states is New Jersey, and when employers there want to know how state law applies to transgender people, many of them call Robyn Gigl. She’s a partner at a top law firm, a board member of Garden State Equality, a nonprofit that works on LGBT issues and is also a transgender woman.

“I put a human face on something, and I consider myself the most normal person in the room,” she says.

It’s been nearly 10 years since New Jersey expanded its anti-discrimination law to include gender identity, with little fanfare or opposition, Gigl says. That means it’s illegal to fire someone, or deny them an apartment, or any other public accommodation, just for being transgender.

“Once the law changed, the word got out there relatively quickly that people were protected based on their gender identity or expression. And as a result employers became very aware that they couldn’t discriminate. I think you see that most of the major employers in the state get it,” Gigl says.

Still, Gigl says New Jersey sees a handful of transgender discrimination cases every year. Often, it’s a wrongful termination lawsuit that’s brought after an employee comes out or transitions to a different gender. But there’s only so much the law can cover.

Leslie Farber is an attorney in Montclair, N.J., who specializes in family and employment law. She says a lot of times, there’s just not enough evidence to prove that a landlord or an employer was breaking the law by not giving a transgender person a job or an apartment.

“Those cases are hard to prove because rarely will you get the smoking gun. You may have felt that was the real reason you got denied, whether that was real reason housing or employment, but you have to have something more than a feeling,” Farber says.

Within the LGBT community, transgender people have the highest rates of unemployment and homelessness. Still, transgender people can be reluctant to bring discrimination lawsuits because they don’t want to attract attention. But that did not stop Amira Gray. Gray is a publicist, model and transgender woman. She was pulled over by police in North Bergen, N.J., in 2013. Gray says she got a bad feeling as soon as officers started using the wrong pronoun to refer to her.

“I was bullied by three grown men and harassed and I was defenseless because there was nothing I could do,” she says. “I knew that they were abusing their power.”

Gray says the police accused of her of driving with a suspended license even though her license was valid and improperly impounded her car. The police department settled the case but did not admit any wrongdoing.

Gray’s lawyer, Kevin Costello, says that New Jersey’s law is both working and not working.

“At least New Jersey allowed me to help Amira and to challenge this police department to do better the next time. So it totally worked. On the other hand, it’s a shame that we still are having the conversations we’re having,” Costello says.

Costello says just having a law on the books hasn’t instantly changed peoples’ attitudes. But it can be a first step, says transgender activist Barbra Casbar Siperstein. She pushed hard to expand New Jersey’s anti-discrimination law 10 years ago.

“A law is just a tool and what we want to change is the culture — and that’s long term,” she says.

Siperstein thinks New Jersey’s law has helped more transgender people to come out — and stand up for their rights.

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Lots Of Transgender Stories; Not As Many Transgender Voices

A gender neutral sign is posted outside a bathrooms at Oval Park Grill on May 11, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.

A gender neutral sign is posted outside a bathrooms at Oval Park Grill on May 11, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Sara D. Davis/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed House Bill 2 — far-reaching legislation that limits civil rights protections for LGBT people and requires people to use multiple occupancy public restrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate — on March 23. Since then, NPR’s newsroom has made a concerted effort to approach thoughtfully the ensuing debate, which has largely focused on “Transgender Rights, The New Focus In The Culture Wars,” as the headline on Debbie Elliott’s May 11 Morning Edition piece summed it up. Standards editor Mark Memmott has issued four “memmos” on how to approach the coverage and what language to use; they can be read here.

But, as with any fast-moving story, particularly one in which strongly felt social and religious values meet up with legal freedoms and protections, NPR has not gotten everything right for every listener and reader. Here is a look at just a few of the varied concerns, as well as some thoughts from me on how I think NPR has done.

A letter from a transgender man in northern Ohio who asked not to be identified for reasons of personal privacy came in on May 10:

“I’m sad to say that it was almost the last straw this morning when you interviewed a supposed ally from a civil rights group who referred to transgender as a ‘sexuality.’ Transgender is not a sexuality. I know gay, straight, and bisexual transgender people. Being transgender has nothing to do with one’s sexuality. Please, if you are going to interview allies, make sure they are informed allies. Make sure they speak for us. Better yet, please please PLEASE speak to some actual transgender people about what they are experiencing. A number of folks have spoken out and protested in NC. Speak to them. Speak to the lawyers of the young man in Virginia who has won the right to use the restroom matching his gender identity. Speak to people who will provide the facts,” about whether transgender individuals have been charged with lewd acts in public restrooms and the danger to transgender individuals who use such facilities.

NPR cannot control what its guests say, although misinformation should ideally, indeed, be corrected along the way. As to the facts, Jeff Brady’s Weekend Edition Sunday piece attempted to get at them, citing some preliminary research that “extending public accommodations rights to transgender people” does not appear to lead to more crimes by predators, and that transgender people and non-gender conforming people themselves are at some risk in restrooms.

But the writer makes a valid point regarding who gets to speak as this topic is debated. Of the 43 stories we found in the archives through yesterday that dealt with the issue since HB2 was signed, just nine (four of those after the listener wrote) included someone who openly identified themself to NPR as transgender. Looked at another way, out of 91 total guests, just 11 spoke from the perspective of being transgender. That is not enough.

One guest, Matt Sharp, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which NPR described as “a faith-based legal advocacy group” that has “opposed similar policies in public schools across the country,” has been interviewed twice — on Weekend Edition Sunday on April 10 and on Morning Edition on May 13 — and both interviews have drawn critical letters. (Media Matters for America, which calls itself a “progressive research and information center dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media,” also weighed in with criticism of the May 13 interview.) Listener Paul Kinney, of Westland, Mich., wrote of the May 13 interview, which opened with brief pre-recorded comments from Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, followed by about four minutes from Sharp:

“I’m sure Sharp and his supporters were delighted with NPR giving them an unfiltered platform. But I expect more than simplistic journalism from NPR. Is Sharp’s view justified? He claims to represent many families. Did NPR meet any of them? How did the transgender students view the situation? What did they think of Sharp’s words? Are the transgender students justified in their view? This piece is an astonishing failure of NPR to get the whole story. I don’t want my NPR to be a mouthpiece for extremists.”

The interview was booked after news broke very late Thursday evening that the Obama Administration would be sending guidance on bathroom access for transgender students to school districts nationwide, so answering those questions was not possible on the short turnaround. But that was not a reason not to do the interview, in my mind, and host David Greene acted as a surrogate for critics of Sharp’s work. (The program also included a more straightforward report on the new directive.)

Listener Kinney also wrote with concerns about the April 10 Sharp interview. As I responded to him then, “For better or worse, NPR tends to deal with multiple perspectives on an issue in separate interviews, sometimes strung out over a couple weeks.” (I also pointed him to the counterpart perspective that ran earlier.) I understand why listeners find NPR’s approach unsettling; not every listener can hear every interview.

Meanwhile, the language NPR has used in its reports continues to evolve. Over the weekend, several people wrote my office, after a call-out on social media, with a concern about “what I guess is unintentional bias in the framing of access to bathrooms for transgender people,” wrote Emma Caterine, from Deer Park, N.Y., who described herself as “an advocate and writer on transgender issues as well as a trans woman myself.” She wrote:

“My concern is that by framing our aim as to be able to get ‘the bathroom of our choice’ feeds into the mindset that being transgender is a choice. While the right wing may make this claim, medical and scientific current research posits a range of potential causes, from the genetics of the brain to prenatal exposure to a certain cocktail of hormones. Regardless of which of these explanations winds up being the correct one, no peer-reviewed research published by a credible scientific organization states that being transgender is a choice.”

I understand that there [are] a lot of mixed messages out there about what is the ‘right’ way to talk about transgender rights. I certainly wouldn’t expect you to not publish that the right-wing are claiming that we want ‘the bathroom of our choice’: but it should be expressly framed in that way rather than written as if that’s our way of framing it or an objective truth.”

Abby Jensen, “a transgender woman, attorney, activist and vice president and general counsel of the Southern Arizona Gender Alliance,” wrote, “In fact, what we want is the right to use the restrooms and other facilities that match our gender identity, just as all non-transgender people are allowed to do; in other words, equal rights, not special rights. (Everyone has a gender identity, just as everyone has a race and a sexual orientation.) By using the word ‘choice,’ NPR feeds into anti-LGBT arguments that being transgender is merely a ‘lifestyle choice,’ and therefore not worthy of respect or consideration.”

NPR has indeed used the word “choice” a number of times, but in response to the letters, standards editor Memmott today issued new guidance to the newsroom that “choice” is to be avoided. He wrote: “We look for neutral language. One way to talk about this subject is to say it’s a debate over whether transgender people should be allowed to use public bathrooms ‘based on their gender identities or, instead, what’s stated on their birth certificates.'”

Finally, I have received a couple of letters from listeners who think NPR is devoting altogether too much time to the issue (which was the subject of the first hour of both On Point and The Diane Rehm Show today, as well as 26 pieces on the morning and evening newsmagazines since May 9, through this morning.) One NPR listener from Temple Hills, Md., who did not give a full name, wrote, “There are rampant energy issues, a faltering infrastructure, a U.S. economic recovery that has left the patient with significant lasting deficiencies,” adding, “The incremental enlightenment — or impediments to same — regarding rules for human beings relieving themselves really doesn’t warrant so much air time.”

As Elliott’s piece made clear, this is more than a simple debate over bathrooms, and NPR has not ignored other issues — it has still found time for plenty of Donald Trump news as well as a superb report this morning about continued delays to see a doctor at Veterans Affairs clinics. But what do you think? Has NPR spent too much time on this topic?

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100,000 Orbits Later, International Space Station Still Going Strong

Astronaut Tim Peake of European Space Agency took this photograph on April 6, as the International Space Station flew over Madagascar.

Astronaut Tim Peake of European Space Agency took this photograph on April 6, as the International Space Station flew over Madagascar. Picasa/NASA hide caption

toggle caption Picasa/NASA

Gently bouncing up and down in microgravity aboard the International Space Station, NASA’s Jeffrey Williams delivered a message to the people of Earth.

“Monday, May 16, 2016, at 06:10 at GMT, the ISS will begin its 100,000th orbit as it crosses the equator,” Williams said in a video, calling the feat a “significant milestone.”

Nearly 18 years after its initial launch, the ISS has traveled 100,000 laps — 2.6 billion miles — around planet Earth, according to a statement from NASA.

Traveling at speeds of nearly 18,000 miles per hour, the craft takes about 90 minutes to complete one orbit. This means the astronauts living on-board experience 16 sunrises and sunsets in a 24-hour period.

Right now, there are six astronauts on the ISS: Williams, from the U.S.; Tim Kopra, also from the U.S.; Russian cosmonauts Yuri Malenchenko, Oleg Skripochka, and Alexey Ovchinin; and British astronaut Tim Peake.

Williams said in the video that the 100,000-orbit mark was a “tribute to international partnership made up of the European Space Agency, Russia, Canada, Japan and the United States.”


He said more than 220 astronauts and cosmonauts from 18 different countries have been on the ISS since its “first element launch” in 1998.

Since humans began living and working on the ISS continuously in 2000, they’ve repeatedly pushed the boundaries of what’s possible for life in space. In March, astronaut Scott Kelly returned from nearly one year in space, the longest-lasting space flight ever.

And last month, the current ISS commander, Peake, ran the London marathon from space, as the Two-Way reported. Harnessed to a treadmill to keep from floating away, Peake finished the race with an estimated time of 3:35.21.

As Williams said in his video message, this is just the beginning.

“One-hundred-thousand orbits, the journey continues.”

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Crowdfunding For Small Businesses Gets Kick-Start

President Obama signs the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in 2012. Crowdfunding, long used by charities, could become a popular way for small businesses and startups to raise money.

President Obama signs the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act in 2012. Crowdfunding, long used by charities, could become a popular way for small businesses and startups to raise money. Carolyn Kaster/AP hide caption

toggle caption Carolyn Kaster/AP

Starting today, small companies can raise up to $1 million from ordinary investors through what are called “crowdfunding portals.” These portals are different from sites like Kickstarter. As one of the portal sites SeedInvest explains on its website:

“Kickstarter promises rewards for successful projects in the form of anything that is not monetary, whereas equity crowdfunding, as its name suggests, promises a financial slice of the pie when it comes to startup and small-business investment.”

So in other words, instead of just getting, say, a t-shirt, by investing through one of these portals, you get an actual equity stake in a small company that’s looking to raise money and grow. You own a piece of the company. And you can make money by selling that stake down the road if it appreciates in value.

It used to be that to buy shares in a company that’s too small or young to be publicly traded, you needed to be what’s called an “accredited investor.” That means you had to be pretty wealthy.

But as part of the JOBS Act in 2012, Congress decided there should be a way for ordinary Americans to invest in small businesses or startups too. To protect investors though, there are new rules surrounding the process.

If you’re a small business owner looking to raise money this way, you have to go through a registered broker dealer or a funding portal that’s been approved by regulators. Some of these new portals include NextSeed, SeedInvest, and Wefunder.

Of course there are risks for investors. The self-regulatory industry group FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) has posted advice for ordinary people interested in investing in an early-stage company through crowdfunding here.

For businesses, crowd-funding promises to expand the world of options for raising capital. It’s possible that businesses could raise money more cheaply and/or easily by crowdfunding than through traditional bank loans or professional investors. But, fees appear to be a question mark at this point. If the fees are too high, either for investors or businesses, that might stop crowdfunding from really taking off.

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Baby Bison That Was Placed In A Van By Tourists In Yellowstone Is Euthanized

A story that started off as viral catnip highlighting the thoughtlessness of tourists took a dark turn on Monday.

The National Park Service announced that a bison calf, which was put in the back of a van by tourists who thought it looked cold at Yellowstone National Park, had to be euthanized.

The story of the tourists went viral over the weekend after a picture of the baby bison on the van was posted on the Internet.

Tourists ‘rescue’ bison calf from the cold of Yellowstone (pic: Karen Olsen Richardson)

— NBC DFW (@NBCDFW) May 16, 2016

East Idaho News reported:

“[Karen Richardson of Victor, who posted the picture,] says on Monday, as students were being taught at Lamar Buffalo Ranch, a father and son pulled up at the ranger station with a bison calf in their SUV.

“‘They were demanding to speak with a ranger,’ Richardson tells “They were seriously worried that the calf was freezing and dying.”

“Rob Heusevelet, a father of a student, told the men to remove the bison from their car and warned they could be in trouble for having the animal.

“‘They didn’t care,’ Heusevelet says. ‘They sincerely thought they were doing a service and helping that calf by trying to save it from the cold.'”

The tourists were ticketed but today the park service said that following the incident, the baby bison was rejected by its family.

“Interference by people can cause mothers to reject their offspring,” the Park service wrote in a statement. “In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed. The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.”

The bison, by the way, just became the U.S. national mammal.

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'People Want These Stories': Women Win Big At The Nebula Awards

Nebula promo image

Korionov Igor/

The wave of conversation about diversity and representation in fiction is about to crest again: Women swept this year’s Nebula Awards, handed out this past weekend in Chicago.

All of the fiction awards — for short story, novelette, novella, novel, and the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult novels — went to women authors, and Mad Max: Fury Road (a film NPR’s Chris Kilmek called a “boldly feminist chase flick“) won the Ray Bradbury Award for dramatic presentation. (The Solstice Award — given occasionally at the discretion of the SFWA board to people who’ve made a big impact in the field — did go to a man, the late Terry Pratchett.) In some ways the winners, and the full nominating ballot they were chosen from, represent a local, genre-specific eddy of change in the larger ocean of literature.

“I think it is a product of our time that great stories, diverse stories, are appearing and being celebrated,” says Sarah Pinsker, whose story “Our Lady of the Open Road” won best novelette.

2015 Nebula Award Winners

Best Novel: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Best Novella: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Best Novelette: “Our Lady of the Open Road” by Sarah Pinsker

Best Short Story: “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” by Alyssa Wong

Andre Norton Award for Best Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy: Updraft by Fran Wilde

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation: Mad Max: Fury Road Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nick Lathouris

Solstice Award: Terry Pratchett

The Nebulas are nominated by and voted on by the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), an organization made up of working writers, editors, and other publishing professionals. They’re given out during the group’s annual conference, which is dedicated to celebrating, educating, and supporting genre writers.

This year’s celebration started with the presentation of the SFWA Grand Master award to C. J. Cherryh, honoring her lifetime contributions to the science fiction and fantasy field. Then, in category after category, authors like Alyssa Wong, Nnedi Okorafor, and Naomi Novik took home glittering nebulae and planet replicas encased in clear Lucite.

To some observers, this might signal a dramatic shift in the science fiction and fantasy genres, which are often perceived as being a (white) boys’ club that’s only recently begun to diversify. But that’s not the whole picture, as the Nebulas themselves prove. This isn’t the first time women have swept the awards; you have to go back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, the very beginning of the Nebulas, to find a group of years dominated by men — and even then the list of nominees included women and one of the men consistently winning was African-American author Samuel R Delany.

This weekend’s winners reflect many different types of diversity beyond gender. Half are women of color, half are self-identified queer women – which mirrors the overall diversity of the ballot. 24 out of the 34 works nominated for the award were written by women from multiple racial and cultural backgrounds and a spectrum of sexual orientations. Of the 10 works by men, five of them were written by people of color and queer authors.

“The Nebula ballot is everything a ballot should be in this community,” said Brooke Bolander, author of the nominated story “And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead.” “It’s diverse, it’s wide-ranging, and it includes amazing stories by amazing authors.”

That’s an important point, given the ongoing conversation about diversity happening now in speculative fiction circles. The Hugos — the other major awards in the genre — are nominated by fans. Last year and again this year, Hugo nominations have been affected by the Sad and Rabid Puppies groups, who campaign against what they see as affirmative action-based nominating and voting in the Hugo and Nebula awards.

But “people want these stories,” says Alyssa Wong. She was the first Filipino author to be nominated for the Nebula award last year and is now the first to win it for her 2015 short story “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers.” Though she says she’s seen some Puppy-style criticism of her success, most of the reaction has been positive.

Readers “want to read stories from the points of view of people who have been historically been locked out of the genre,” Wong says. “‘Hungry Daughters’ is about a group of women who are all Asian-American and all from very different backgrounds, all of whom feel isolated in some way … But clearly this is not just Asian-American audiences who this is resonating with. I’m appreciative that people are reading more widely now. It means more opportunities — not just to be published, but to be seen.”

Tempest Bradford is a speculative fiction author, media critic, podcaster, vlogger, and issuer of the Tempest Challenge.

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He Was Caught Trying To Join ISIS, Now He's In Jihadi Rehab

Protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis where three young Somali-Americans are on trial for allegedly planning to go to Syria to join the Islamic State. The demonstrators say the FBI and local law enforcement is targeting and entrapping Somali-Americans in terrorism cases. Six men have already pleaded guilty.

Protesters gathered outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis where three young Somali-Americans are on trial for allegedly planning to go to Syria to join the Islamic State. The demonstrators say the FBI and local law enforcement is targeting and entrapping Somali-Americans in terrorism cases. Six men have already pleaded guilty. Dina Temple-Raston / NPR hide caption

toggle caption Dina Temple-Raston / NPR

All eyes were on 20-year-old Abdullahi Yusuf when he stepped on the stand in federal court last week in Minneapolis to testify for the prosecution in America’s largest ISIS recruitment trial.

As Yusuf began to speak, his words provided a rare, behind-the-scenes look at how more than a dozen young men convinced themselves that the way to prove they were good Muslims was to travel to Syria and fight for ISIS.

The radicalization process in this case was frightening simple. It began with a meal at a Somali restaurant and a pickup game of basketball. Then, he testified, smart phones came out of their pockets and the young men began watching ISIS videos on a YouTube channel called “Enter the Truth.”

They stayed up until 2 a.m., Yusuf said, talking about the killing in Syria and watching ISIS videos.

“The channel is saying that the West is corrupt and you can follow religion perfectly over there [in Syria],” Yusuf told the court. “And you don’t have to conform to anyone else’s traditions.”

Yusuf said he had never seen videos like that before and when he got home that night, he stayed up for another couple of hours watching the videos on his own.

In retrospect, Yusuf said that it was that Friday night in 2014 that his ISIS recruitment began.

Testifying Against His ‘Former Friends’

He testified he was introduced to radical Islam by the three men now on trial, Guled Omar, 22, Abdirahman Daud, 22, and Adnan Farah, 21.

“My former friends,” he called them. Asked why he was testifying against them, Yusuf stopped for a moment and said, “Because I realize what I did was wrong … and I am thinking for myself for once.”

Yusuf is not only a key witness in this case. He’s also the charter member of America’s first jihadi rehabilitation program. He was arrested last year, months after the FBI stopped him from boarding a flight that would eventually have taken him to ISIS in Syria.

He pleaded guilty in February to providing material support – essentially himself, as a fighter – to a terrorist organization. While he awaits sentencing, he is getting counseling so he can better understand what lead him to embrace ISIS.

His counselor is a local high school social studies teacher named Ahmed Amin. Amin was born in Somalia and his family moved to the U.S. when he was 12. His English is unaccented. He wears designer shirts. He the kind of teacher with the creative lesson plans who holds classes outside on sunny days.

He teaches at Roosevelt High School during the day and began working with a Minneapolis group called Heartland Democracy that has created a counseling program for young men like Yusuf.

“I understand the difficulties of identity that lead people to join organizations like ISIS,” Amin told NPR in an interview. “It is hard trying to live in two worlds. From 9 to 5 these kids have to live one way when they are at school, they are socialized to be American. And then they go home, learn to be religious and are trying to cope with that. It is harder than you’d think.”

A Lengthy Reading List

Abdullahi Yusuf was just 18 years old when he decided he would go to Syria to fight with ISIS. Amin is trying to help him understand why he made that choice.

“Initially, I wanted him to read some texts that would get him to really question his own personal views, to question his understanding of the world,” said Amin. “One of the first things I had him read was Sherman Alexie’s Reservation Blues.”

The 1995 novel is about the difficulties of navigating two worlds at once, in this case, the life of an American Indian off the reservation. Amin also had Yusuf writing papers about French philosopher Michel Foucault’s ideas about prisons and power and society.

“I’m introducing him to many different texts that could really challenge how he thinks and sees the world,” Amin said.

“We try to give him as much work that gets him to be critical in hopes of finding out what really led him to do this,” Amin added. “I think that’s the first step, for him to really have an answer as to why he did what he did.”

In his testimony, Yusuf said the three defendants in the trial helped goad their friends into joining a complicated plan to go to Syria.

Commotion In The Courtroom

This ISIS case has rocked Minneapolis. The courtroom gallery erupted last week during Yusuf’s testimony after some young Somalis on the back benches told Yusuf’s mother that her son was a spy.

U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Davis ended up throwing some people out of the courtroom to restore order. Yusuf was subjected to blistering cross-examination on Monday as defense attorneys claimed there were inconsistencies in his story.

The prosecution plans to call two other young men who say they were involved in the alleged conspiracy. One of them backed out of the plan, told the FBI about the plot, and became a confidential informant.

Defense attorneys say the FBI used him to entrap their clients and that has sparked protests outside the courthouse.

“Somali youth are under attack,” one chant begins. “Stand up, fight back.”

Because all the men involved in the case are all in their early 20s, there has been a push to develop a program that helps young men like Yusuf who have pleaded guilty to terrorism charges.

Amin says watching this happen in Minneapolis is heartbreaking and brings back painful memories. The Twin Cities struggled with young men from the Somali community leaving to join al-Qaeda’s arm in Somalia, al-Shabab, nearly 10 years ago.

“You know, these are really young kids,” Amin said, “and in my heart I really believe that they fell for something. They need a chance to correct, to undo, what they did.”

Judge Davis has appointed a German radicalization expert, Daniel Koehler, to assess the men who have already pleaded guilty in the case. Koehler runs the German Institute on Radicalization and de-Radicalization Studies. He wouldn’t discuss the individual assessments he’s made of the young men in Minneapolis, though he did tell NPR that he thought that some of the young men who pleaded guilty, though not all of them, could be helped with counseling.

Koehler is in negotiations with six states, including Minnesota, to set up de-radicalization programs.

“There’s a real desire to figure something out to fix this,” he said.

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