'They were not misled': Federal judge suggests Donald Trump 'encouraged' Capitol rioters to break the law

'They were not misled': Federal judge suggests Donald Trump 'encouraged' Capitol rioters to break the law
Image via Creative Commons.

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a January 6 defendant's claim that then-President Donald Trump's exhortation to march to the U.S. Capitol on the day of the deadly right-wing attack should shield the alleged insurrectionist from legal responsibility for his actions.

Alex Sheppard, 22, of Ohio is charged with six federal offenses in connection with the Capitol attack. He has pleaded not guilty to all of them, arguing that he believed Trump ordered patriots to enter the Capitol and "fight like hell" to "stop the steal."

Shortly before right-wing rioters invaded the Capitol last year and briefly delayed the certification of the 2020 presidential election results, Trump delivered a rally speech reiterating his "Big Lie" that the contest was stolen from him.

U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, wrote Wednesday that "Trump's words only encourage those at the rally to march to the Capitol—nothing more—and do not address legality at all."

"Although his express words only mention walking down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, one might conclude that the context implies that he was urging protestors to do something more, perhaps to enter the Capitol building and stop the [election's] certification," he added. "But even if so, there is simply no indication that Trump informed the protestors that doing so would be legal."

Citing the final report from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, Bates elaborated in a footnote that "Trump's instruction in his speech to, for instance, 'fight like hell'... could signal to protesters that entering the Capitol and stopping the certification would be unlawful."

Bates added that "the conclusions reached here—that even if protesters believed they were following orders, they were not misled about the legality of their actions and thus fall outside the scope of any public authority defense—is consistent with the select committee's findings."

Politico's Kyle Cheney wrote:

Bates' ruling is the first to reckon with the select committee's finding that Trump violated at least four federal laws in his crusade to subvert the 2020 election. And it is an early window into how the judiciary might interpret the unusual findings of criminal violations by a congressional committee.
A slew of January 6 defendants have sought to argue that Trump somehow blessed their decision to breach the Capitol, saying they were misled into believing their actions were legal. Though Trump has no power to permit others to violate federal laws, many in the crowd might have viewed his instructions as legal permission, they've argued.

"Those defenses have largely failed in courts," Cheney added, "and the one jury to hear that claim—in the case of Dustin Thompson—rejected it, finding Thompson guilty on all charges."

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