Brendan Hunt’s online comments about killing “high value target” representatives sparked concern among staffers in the wake of the U.S. Capitol riots.
BROOKLYN (CN) — When the office of U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez learned about a Queens man’s posts calling for the Congresswoman to be publicly executed, staffers documented the threats internally and shared details with law enforcement, a staff member told a Brooklyn federal courtroom on Monday.
Brendan Hunt, 37, is accused of threatening to murder House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, in addition to Ocasio-Cortez, who is popularly known as AOC.
“Trump, we want actual revenge on democrats. Meaning, we want you to hold a public execution of pelosi aoc schumer etc. And if you dont do it, the citizenry will,” Hunt wrote on Facebook on December 6. “We’re not voting in another rigged election. Start up the firing squads, mow down these commies, and lets take america back!”
In a separate post, Hunt wrote, “If you’re going to shoot someone tho, go after a high value target like pelosi schumer or AOC. They really need to be put down.”
At trial on Monday, Daniel Bonthius, the deputy district director of operations for Ocasio-Cortez’s office in Jackson Heights, Queens, told the court that when he learned of Hunt’s arrest on Jan. 19, he circulated a document internally with Hunt’s name, photo and information.
The sheet was placed in the office’s “active threats folder,” Bonthius testified, which “denotes the most current and high-risk threats that we get.”
The folder is used to alert staffers and law enforcement ahead of public events, Bonthius told the court.
Bonthius said that references to publicly executing specific officials were especially concerning in the aftermath of the Capitol riots on Jan. 6, which he described as a “very difficult day for our office.”
“On that day, I saw part of what happened was the threat of public execution, and targeting specific elected officials,” Bonthius said. Seeing the posts by Hunt, he said, “makes it more real than it ever would have been previously.”
FBI officials had alerted AOC’s staff to Hunt’s post at the time of his arrest at his Queens apartment, located 15 or 20 minutes by car from the district office.
The fact that Hunt had been detained did not put Bonthius at ease.
“We’ve had people be arrested and still come back and threaten us again,” he said.
In a video Hunt posted two days after the Capitol riots titled “Kill Your Senators,” Hunt made a call to “take up arms” against the government.
“We need to go back to the U.S. Capitol when all of the Senators and a lot of the Representatives are back there, and this time we have to show up with our guns,” Hunt said in the video. “And we need to slaughter these motherfuckers.”
That reaction to the Capitol attacks stood out to Bonthius.
“Unlike most of us,” Bonthius testified, “he saw those events and said that they needed to go farther, and that the job wasn’t done.”
Hunt’s is the first case to go to federal trial over the attempted insurrection by supporters of former president Donald Trump. Hunt, a former employee of the New York court system, did not attend the riots in person, and there is no evidence that he owned or tried to purchase firearms.
Earlier on Monday, Hunt’s attorneys cross-examined a witness from the Anti-Defamation League, who on Friday explained symbols and language Hunt used online — like referring to the U.S. government as a “ZOG,” a term used by white supremacists to mean Zionist-Occupied Government.
Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL Center on Extremism, explained how the term “Zionist” changes meaning based on context.
“‘Zionist’ often replaces the word ‘Jew’ when somebody who’s an anti-Semite or a white supremacist wants to talk about them,” Segal said Friday. The term “ZOG,” he explained, is a way of “trying to convince people that Jews are controlling and manipulating the government.”
In text messages read aloud at trial, Hunt told his girlfriend he had been reading “Mein Kampf,” and compared Trump to Adolf Hitler in messages Hunt sent to his father.
“Trump should just declare martial law, cancel the transfer of power, and round up the domestic enemies of our republic,” Hunt’s texts said, as read out by an FBI agent last week.
“During Hitlers’s first term in office, circumstances were such that it was necessary for him to override the democratic process and become the absolute leader of his country,” Hunt’s message to his father, a retired family court judge, continued. “Trump should prob do the same if necessary, or they will throw his family in jail and destroy the country.”
Hunt also told his father that “previous generations were right to be suspicious of immigrants.”
It will be up to the jury whether Hunt’s public statements constitute true threats.
In opening arguments, Hunt’s attorneys called his comments “political hyperbole,” and said that while the posts were a mistake, Hunt did not commit a crime.
With the government at rest as of Monday afternoon, Hunt’s attorneys are expected to present their case on Tuesday.