The Defense Strategy of a Trial of an Accused Capitol Rioter: Blame Trump

  • An accused Capitol rioter said he was following “presidential orders” on Jan. 6.
  • Dustin Thompson’s defense attorney previously argued that Trump authorized the attack on the Capitol.
  • A prosecutor pushed to undermine the defense, asking Thompson if he was a “child.”

The latest criminal trial related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol tests a legal defense strategy: blaming the day’s violence from individual rioters on former President Donald Trump himself.

On Wednesday, accused Capitol rioter Dustin Thompson took the witness stand in his own defense and testified before jurors that he was “following presidential orders” on Jan. 6. He also said he was swept away by the spirit of the pro-Trump crowd after nearly a year of isolation and unemployment caused by COVID-19.

Thompson, 38, was charged last year with obstructing Congress’ certification of the 2020 election results and stealing a coat from a Senate office, among other allegations related to the Capitol riot . On Wednesday, he recalled attending Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally with a friend on Jan. 6 and hearing the then-president tell his supporters, “We’re fighting like hell. , and if you don’t fight like hell, you ain’t gonna have no more country.”

Recalling the atmosphere of that day, Thompson said “it was an us versus them mentality for sure.”

“We are going to lose our country today if we don’t put an end to the election results,” he said, summing up his feelings that day.

Thompson’s testimony on Wednesday marked the moment his defense team had been waiting for — and even chasing. His attorney, Samuel Shamansky, had reviewed witnesses called by the Justice Department, declining to cross-examine a police officer and an FBI agent who took the stand earlier Wednesday.

In his opening remarks to the jury on Tuesday, Shamansky laid out his defense strategy, laying the groundwork for an argument that Trump provoked Thompson and other supporters into a frenzy that snowballed into the takeover. assault on the Capitol. Shamansky said in his opening argument that Trump authorized the attack on the Capitol, and on Wednesday the defense attorney sounded almost like a federal prosecutor as he asked pointed questions of Thompson and called the attack the Shameful capitol.

Federal prosecutors allege Thompson donned a tactical vest Jan. 6 before entering the Capitol, where he reached the Senate Congressman’s office and grabbed a coat and a bottle of bourbon.

After questioning Thompson about the stolen coat, Shamansky turned to the bottle of bourbon.

“And you took a bottle of liquor,” the defense attorney said. “That liquor wasn’t yours, was it?”

When Shamansky asked what Thompson had learned from the “perfect storm” of January 6, his client replied, “Crowd mentality, groupthink is very real, very dangerous.”

Shamansky’s strategy is, for the first time, to present directly to jurors a defense that others have raised in public statements and documents filed in court — but not at trial.

In civil lawsuits, Democratic lawmakers and Capitol police accused the former president and his other political allies, including Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, of inciting the mob. Other defendants in connection with Jan. 6 have argued in court documents that they believe Trump approved of the attack on the Capitol, but judges have largely dismissed those claims and said the accused rioters should be held accountable for their actions.

In the two previous jury trials related to the Jan. 6 attack, defense attorneys have attempted to dismiss at least some of the charges. Both of these trials resulted in guilty verdicts.

But Shamansky did little to challenge the Justice Department’s allegations, instead focusing his defense on who bore responsibility for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

On Wednesday, Thompson testified that he lost his job as an exterminator in March 2020 as COVID-19 caused mass layoffs and fell down an “internet rabbit hole.” Watching YouTube videos and other online content, Thompson said he came to believe that if Trump didn’t win the election, “he was going to be robbed.”

Under damning cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Dreher sought to dismiss responsibility for Thompson’s Jan. 6 conduct on his feet.

“You’re not a child, are you?” Dreher asked.

On the morning of January 6, “Did you get dressed by yourself? he asked later.

“Yes,” Thompson answered.

“Nobody told you what to wear,” Dreher continued.

“Yes,” Thompson answered.

In the final part of Wednesday’s proceedings, Shamansky played a video of Trump’s Jan. 6 speech for jurors.

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