An Ohio man accused of storming the US Capitol and stealing a coat rack said on Wednesday he joined thousands of protesters in trashing the building last year on what he believed to be orders from President Donald Trump.
Dustin Byron Thompson, 38, of Columbus, Ohio, said he searched websites and the internet after being fired from his job as an exterminator in March 2020 and in his pandemic slump fell under the grip of Trump as he embraced conspiracy theories and “went down the rabbit hole on the internet.
During his trial in U.S. District Court in Washington, Thompson said the claim that the election was stolen seemed credible to him because it came from the president. His defense team is the first to claim that Trump and those close to him were responsible for the mob’s actions that day.
“It seems like everyone was attacking him (Trump). He needed someone to defend him, and I was trying to do that,” Thompson said.
Questioned by the prosecution, Thompson admitted he ignored signs he shouldn’t be in the Capitol — broken glass, alarms, chemical irritants in the air — and said he stole the coat rack. to prevent others from using it as a weapon. He also said he witnessed heavy fighting between police and rioters outside the building and then fled from the officers. He said he realized weeks later that what he had done was wrong and now feels shame for his actions.
Thompson’s jury trial is the third in hundreds of Capitol Riot lawsuits. The first two ended with jurors convicting both defendants on all counts. Thompson’s defense team is the first to claim that Trump and those close to him were responsible for the mob’s actions that day.
“If the president almost orders you to do something, I felt compelled to do it,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s attorney requested subpoenas to call Trump and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as witnesses, but U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton denied that request. On Wednesday, jurors began listening to recordings of speeches Trump and Giuliani gave at a pre-riot rally. They were to finish listening to the tapes Thursday morning and begin deliberations later in the day.
Thompson’s wife, Sarah Thompson, said she voted for Democrat Joe Biden, as well as Democratic presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. She said her husband’s views were more moderate at the time, but had changed over the Trump years as he began to encounter conspiracy theories. She said she didn’t share his views but helped arrange his trip to Washington for the “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House because he had the right to protest and that she liked to have a quiet home.
Much of the prosecution case was built around the testimony of several Capitol Police officers placing Thompson at the scene, wearing a body armor he said he found, and carrying a coat rack that he took to the office of the Senate parliamentarian.
More than 770 people have been charged with federal crimes stemming from the January 6, 2021 riot. More than 250 of them have pleaded guilty, most to misdemeanors. Thompson is the fifth person to stand trial on charges related to the riots.
A jury on Monday found former Virginia police officer Thomas Robertson guilty of storming the Capitol with another off-duty officer to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s 2020 election victory. Last month , a jury convicted a Texas man, Guy Reffitt, of storming the Capitol with a holstered handgun.
A judge hearing evidence without a jury decided cases against two other Capitol riot defendants in separate trials. U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden acquitted one of all charges and partially acquitted the other.
Thompson is charged with six counts: obstructing the joint session of Congress to certify the Electoral College vote, stealing government property, entering or staying in a restricted building or property, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted-access building or land, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a Capitol building, and marching, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
A co-defendant, Robert Lyon, 27, pleaded guilty in March to theft of state property and disorderly conduct. Both counts are misdemeanors punishable by up to one year in prison. Walton is due to sentence Lyon on June 3.