More than 250 people have been charged thus far as a result of the January 6th riot on Capitol Hill. Most are facing multiple, serious felony charges that could result in lengthy jail terms. More are expected to be arrested as the investigation continues. One thing that most of the suspects have in common is a serious problem when it comes to attempting to mount a legal defense. There are literally hundreds of videos that have been gleaned from social media providing damning evidence of their actions on that day. Defense attorneys representing many of the rioters have come up with one tactic to try to clear their clients of wrongdoing. They’re blaming former President Trump, saying that he was the one who “summoned” them to the White House and “instructed” them to shut down the count of the electors. Unfortunately for them, judges don’t seem to be buying that defense so far. (Associated Press)
The “Trump-made-me-do-it” defense is already looking like a longshot.
Facing damning evidence in the deadly Capitol siege last month — including social media posts flaunting their actions — rioters are arguing in court they were following then-President Donald Trump’s instructions on Jan. 6. But the legal strategy has already been shot down by at least one judge and experts believe the argument is not likely to get anyone off the hook for the insurrection where five people died, including a police officer.
“This purported defense, if recognized, would undermine the rule of law because then, just like a king or a dictator, the president could dictate what’s illegal and what isn’t in this country,” U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said recently in ordering pretrial detention of William Chrestman, a suspected member of the Kansas City-area chapter of the Proud Boys. “And that is not how we operate here.”
I would first note that there’s something rather strange about a group of people so dedicated and loyal to Donald Trump that they would travel across the country to attend his rally outside the White House, now turning around and trying to throw him under the bus. People so dedicated to the idea of “stopping the steal” that they were willing to risk injury or death (in at least one case) to defend the President are now casting the blame on him in an effort to avoid jail time.
Heck, even the QAnon Shaman is getting in on the act. According to the linked report, Jacob Chansley’s attorney submitted an annotated transcript of the speech Trump gave that day, with highlighted passages purportedly showing how the President “instructed” them to stop the electoral college count.
Legal experts seem to be in agreement that this defense strategy is pretty much dead on arrival. These were not current military members obeying their Commander-in-Chief. These were civilian demonstrators who were clearly there to support the President. Even if you believe that Donald Trump wanted them to attack (absent any specific instructions in the speech to that effect), nobody can order you to break the law. Every one of the people who broke down those doors and entered the Capitol Building did so of their own volition.
That’s not going to stop some of them from trying, however. The attorney for one rioter who was filmed stealing a coat rack from inside the chambers is quoted as asking what better defense is available when your client is starring in a video of himself in the midst of committing the crime. So he’s claiming that his client honestly believed that the President had “summoned” him to Washington to save Democracy.
Prosecutors shouldn’t have too tough of a job ahead of them in terms of swatting that argument down. All they’ll need to do is play the tape of the latter portion of Donald Trump’s speech where he says, “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.”
As a closing side note, I will just point out that the emphasized excerpt from Trump’s speech that I just quoted has probably been the least-heard portion on cable news since the day of the riot. I wonder why that is, don’t you?