Wednesday, June 16, 2021
June 16, 2021

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Courtroom defense for some Capitol rioters: I was fed misinformation

Lawyers for at least three of those charged say that’s their strategy

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Falsehoods about the election helped bring insurrectionists to the Capitol on Jan. 6, and now some who are facing criminal charges for their actions during the riot hope their gullibility might save them, or at least engender some sympathy.

Lawyers for at least three defendants charged in connection with the violent siege said they will blame election misinformation and conspiracy theories, much of it pushed by then-President Donald Trump, for misleading their clients. The attorneys say those who spread that misinformation bear as much responsibility for the violence as do those who participated in the actual breach of the Capitol.

“I kind of sound like an idiot now saying it, but my faith was in him,” defendant Anthony Antonio said, speaking of Trump. Antonio said he wasn’t interested in politics before pandemic boredom led him to conservative cable news and right-wing social media. “I think they did a great job of convincing people.”

After Joe Biden’s victory in last year’s presidential election, Trump and his allies repeatedly claimed that the race was stolen, even though the claims have been repeatedly debunked by officials from both parties, outside experts, courts in several states and Trump’s own attorney general. In many cases, the baseless claims about vote dumps, ballot fraud and corrupt election officials were amplified on social media, building Trump’s campaign to undermine faith in the election long before November.

The tide of misinformation continues to spread, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote Wednesday in a decision denying the release of a man accused of threatening to kill U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“The steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away,” Berman wrote in her ruling ordering Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. to remain in custody. “Six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near-daily fulminations of the former president.”

More than 400 people have been charged in the attempt to disrupt the certification of Biden’s victory.

Albert Watkins — the St. Louis attorney representing Jacob Chansley, the so-called QAnon shaman — likened the process to brainwashing. Repeated exposure to falsehood and incendiary rhetoric, Watkins said, ultimately overwhelmed his client’s ability to discern reality.

“He is not crazy,” Watkins said.

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