- The January 6 defendants have begun going to trial, with some taking the stand to testify recently.
- His testimony has lacked credibility before juries, with one judge saying one of the defendants “lacked candor”.
- Another accused Capitol troublemaker pleaded “not guilty” at a plea deal hearing this week.
Anthime Gionet, the far-right video blogger known as “Baked Alaska,” made the announcement shortly before 10 p.m. Monday: “No broadcasts tonight!”
“I get into legal shit as I prepare for the hearing on Wednesday, January 6,” Gionet told his followers on Telegram, two days before pleading guilty to a lesser charge stemming from his role in the Capitol attack.
The hearing might have marked the beginning of the end of Gionet’s legal troubles as of January 6, but there was more to come. Instead of pleading guilty Wednesday to a relatively low-level charge of illegally picketing or parading the Capitol, Gionet said, “I wanted to go to trial, but the prosecutor said if I didn’t go to trial I would be charged with a felony.” . me, so I think this is probably the best route. I think I’m innocent.”
The comment blew up his plea deal hearing almost as soon as it began. Gionet emerged from the virtual hearing with a 2023 trial date and the possibility of facing more severe charges, but with 60 days to reconsider accepting the plea deal from prosecutors.
It was just the latest case of an accused Capitol troublemaker speaking in federal court, perhaps to the detriment of his own legal defense.
In recent weeks, as the Jan. 6 trials began, two other accused Capitol protesters took the stand to testify in their own defense. Both were found guilty after just hours of jury deliberations.
After each of those trials, jurors told Insider that the testimony lacked credibility and couldn’t stand up to a veritable mountain of evidence from federal prosecutors.
The Justice Department said Thursday that, in the 16 months since the attack on Capitol Hill, more than 800 people have been arrested on charges related to Jan. 6. Nearly 300 have pleaded guilty to federal charges, “many of whom faced or will face incarceration at the time of sentencing.” ”, the Department of Justice said.
The Capitol Troublemaker and the Coat Tree
One of the defendant’s testimonies appeared to backfire with particular force.
On January 6, 2021, Dustin Thompson walked out of the Senate with a coat rack — a “trophy,” as his friend described it in a text message that day — for his part in the attack on Capitol Hill.
But more than a year later, accused of stealing government property and other charges stemming from the Jan. 6 insurrection, Thompson tried to apply a different veneer to his decision to take the wooden memento. “He was just taking it out,” Thompson testified, claiming he only took the coat rack down to prevent other members of the pro-Trump mob from using it as a weapon.
The comment left a federal prosecutor in disbelief. Thompson’s own defense attorney called the claim silly. Speaking to reporters after Thompson was convicted of the six counts he faced, a juror said he had to restrain himself from laughing at the testimony.
After dismissing the jury, a federal judge appeared to share doubts about Thompson’s credibility in ordering him detained before sentencing.
“From my point of view, I don’t think he was truthful when he testified,” Judge Reggie Walton said, calling Thompson’s conduct “reprehensible.” Walton said Thompson will likely face prison time and set his sentence for July 20.
In each of the previous two jury trials, the Jan. 6 defendants chose not to testify. Judges instruct jurors not to make that decision against defendants and point to the constitutional right not to testify at the trial itself.
For Thompson, the decision to testify was necessitated by a defense strategy of blaming his role in the attack on Capitol Hill on former President Donald Trump and his false claims of voter fraud. One juror said she sympathized with people who go down “rabbit holes” and “get caught” in conspiracy theories.
But that juror, who identified himself as a 40-year-old business owner but declined to give his name, said he was upset by what he saw as a lack of remorse on Thompson’s part.
“At no time did Dustin say that what he did was disgraceful,” the jury said after the trial.
The retired police officer and the claim of legitimate defense
For the last January 6 defendant to stand trial, the decision to testify was similarly driven by the need to have the jury inside his mind on January 6.
Facing charges that he attacked a Washington, DC, police officer outside the Capitol, retired New York City police officer Thomas Webster argued that he acted in self-defense on January 6 after the officer hit him in the face like a “freight train”. On the witness stand, the Washington DC police officer testified that he “incidentally” touched Webster’s face with his open hand while motioning for him to back off.
But Webster said he was “seeing stars.”
Prosecutors showed video footage of Webster confronting the officer in a bike rack outside the Capitol and pushing the metal barrier toward him. Video footage showed Webster backing up and swinging a metal flagpole, bearing the Marine Corps flag, down on the bike rack.
Webster then broke the bike rack and knocked the police officer to the ground, where he tried to remove his helmet and gas mask. On the witness stand, Webster said he put his hands on the officer’s gas mask so he could “see my hands,” as if to de-escalate the confrontation.
But, after trial, jurors said the video belied Webster’s claims of self-defense.
“There was a lot of evidence from every conceivable angle,” said one juror, who identified himself as a Washington, DC, hospital worker who was asked to stay late on Jan. 6 for a possible casualty event. massive. “There are so many video images that are presented in front of us in a really complete way.”
Another juror, Doris Spruell, was more forthright about Webster’s testimony.
“I didn’t think it was believable,” he said.