NEW YORK – A lawyer accused of conspiring to help terrorists testified at her trial that she believes only violence and a "popular revolution" can combat the evils of capitalism in the United States.
Under questioning in federal court, Lynne Stewart (search) said violence was necessary to reverse an "entrenched ferocious type of capitalism" that breeds sexism and racism. She said civilians must not be targeted, but left unclear what kind of violence she meant.
"I'm talking about a popular revolution," Stewart said. "I'm talking about institutions being changed and that will not be changed without violence."
Stewart, 65, has been charged with providing material support to terrorists by letting her one-time client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman (search), deliver messages to followers after his 1995 conviction for plotting to blow up New York City landmarks.
She faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted.
Throughout the trial, Stewart's lawyers have portrayed her as a zealous advocate for the blind Egyptian cleric, whom she represented at trial and after he was sentenced to life in prison. But they say she acted only as a lawyer.
Prosecutors contend she became a conduit for the sheik to communicate with members of the Islamic Group, an Egyptian terrorist organization that advocated violence, sometimes as part of an effort to free the sheik.
When U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember pressed Stewart to explain what types of institutions she believed must be attacked, Stewart said the American Revolution was accomplished through violence and that the Civil War brought about an end to slavery in the U.S.
"We're not in those times yet," she said. "People will make the right decision about which to attack."
The former school teacher and librarian added, "The New York City Board of Education could be one to attack." The remark received chuckles around the courtroom.
Stewart said violence that harms innocent people sometimes is unavoidable, even in Iraq.
"You can't always separate out the combatants from the noncombatants," she said.
Stewart's lawyer, Michael Tigar, objected during the questioning to what he called attempts to review his client's "abstract political views."
"We're getting perilously close to bridges, buildings and tunnels and which I suggest are irrelevant," Tigar told U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl.
Koeltl said the testimony was relevant because it touched on violence as it related to the charges in the case.
Stewart is charged along with Ahmed Abdel Sattar, a U.S. postal worker and former paralegal for the sheik, and Mohamed Yousry, an Arabic translator.
Sattar, accused of conspiring to kidnap and kill people in a foreign country, could face life in prison if convicted. Yousry, charged with providing material support to terrorists, faces up to 18 years in prison. All have denied wrongdoing.