DePaul University student at center of unusual terrorism trial at Chicago’s US courthouse
Prosecutors say Thomas Osadzinski designed a computer program to help disseminate terrorist propaganda on social media. Defense attorneys say the case raises serious First Amendment issues.
Despite his online puffery, Thomas Osadzinski possessed little more than basic, college-level computer skills and “might very well be considered an ‘Internet troll,’ ” his lawyers say.
The 22-year-old Park Ridge native failed a computer class at DePaul University, struggled with his identity and sought acceptance from others, they’ve insisted.
But now, Osadzinski finds himself at the center of an unusual terrorism trial that kicked off in earnest Tuesday at Chicago’s federal courthouse. Prosecutors there have charged Osadzinski with attempting to provide material support to the Islamic State through a computer program he created to help disseminate terrorist propaganda on social media.
“The defendant’s process worked,” Alexandra Hughes, a Justice Department trial attorney, told a jury during opening statements. “It did what it was supposed to do.”
The case against Osadzinski was believed to be the first of its kind when he was first charged in November 2019 — a terrorism case brought against a U.S.-based defendant involving computer code.
But Osadzinski’s defense attorneys have argued prosecutors not only got the evidence wrong, they stretched the law used to charge Osadzinski “beyond its bounds and, quite dangerously, in a manner that raises serious First Amendment concerns.”
Defense attorney Steve Greenberg insisted to jurors Tuesday that, no matter how distasteful the material in question, Osadzinski “is entitled as a citizen to independently advocate on behalf of anyone he wants to advocate on behalf of.”
Prosecutors say Osadzinski designed a process that uses a computer script to make Islamic State propaganda more conveniently accessed and disseminated by users on the social media platform Telegram.
Osadzinski allegedly told an online undercover fed that he planned to spread Islamic State propaganda everywhere and make sure nobody could take it down. He also allegedly told another person cooperating with the feds he believed his work represented the “highest form of jihad” and that “no more than 10 brothers know how to do this kind of jihad.”
Prosecutors say Osadzinski appeared ready to resort to violence and had fixated on a federal agent who worked another terrorism case that went to trial in the Dirksen Federal Courthouse. Prosecutors said a copy of the criminal complaint against two Zion men, Edward Schimenti and Joseph Jones, was found in Osadzinski’s apartment.
A jury found Jones and Schimenti guilty of a conspiracy to provide material support to the Islamic State. The verdict came down in June 2019, five months before Osadzinski’s arrest.
Finally, prosecutors say they found a drawing in Osadzinski’s desk of what appeared to be a person killing a federal agent who had said “stop there terrorist.”
Greenberg and his fellow defense attorney Joshua Herman argued last year that, though the feds “dangled opportunities” in front of Osadzinski, he “did not provide funds to ISIS, plan violent activity, acquire weapons, or take any tangible steps to causing real-world harm.”
And rather than create a sophisticated code, they argued that Osadzinski simply identified and organized “already available videos” by their resolution to create an offline archive. “Significantly,” they wrote, “the media that was allegedly organized is not alleged to be inherently illegal.”
“Independently organizing these files for personal viewing or even for uploading on other websites is easily seen as protected First Amendment activity,” they wrote.