BROOKLYN (CN) — After three hours of deliberation, a jury found Brendan Hunt guilty of threatening to murder members of Congress in a video posted online in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot at the United States Capitol.
Hunt, 37, faces up to 10 years in prison. Up until his arrest, he had worked for the New York state court system.
In the days following the Washington, D.C. insurrection, Hunt posted a video titled “Kill Your Senators” on the streaming platform BitChute. In the video, he advocated for an armed return to the scene during President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony.
“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.”
After a weeklong trial, the jury found that Hunt’s posts to Facebook, which targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — all elected Democrats — did not constitute "true threats."
Referring to the officials as “high value target[s],” Hunt had called for their public execution by firing squad in Facebook posts in December 2020.
In the “Kill Your Senators” video, the basis for the conviction, Hunt refers to the U.S. government as a “ZOG,” a term used by white supremacists to mean “Zionist-Occupied Government.”
Trial testimony gave further evidence of Hunt’s anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant leanings, including text messages Hunt sent his father, a retired Queens family court judge, in which he used racial slurs, stated that “previous generations were right to be suspicious of immigrants” and referred New York City as “Jew York Shitty.”
FBI agents found a video on Hunt’s laptop in which he referenced killing “juice,” a comment Hunt characterized as a joke about killing Jewish people during his testimony on Tuesday.
Hunt’s attorneys argued that being racist and holding offensive views didn’t make Hunt guilty of making true threats. The First Amendment protects “mere advocacy” of using force or violence, argued Leticia Olivera of the Federal Defenders of New York.
“If he has a right to say it,” Olivera said, “then it cannot be a crime.”
Prosecutors said that while Hunt wasn’t on trial for his beliefs, his apparent dispositions helped to explain his intent.
Jurors ultimately determined that the government had sufficiently made its case.
“It was explicit and clear. We didn’t have to hesitate to make the decision,” said a woman named Mubassira, who was juror number two, and said it was her first time serving on a jury.
“We were very considerate,” Mubassira said. “We took account of all the evidence, and we only gave our decision based on the evidence, not based on any emotional [reaction] or based on empathy.”
Another juror, Wendy, said the jury was “on the same page” in reaching their verdict.
When Hunt testified, “I think that showed more of him — the kind of person he is,” said Wendy, a 57-year-old hospital worker who lives in Brooklyn. “It bothered me to see that he was racist.”
Hunt's sentencing is scheduled for June.
Mark J. Lesko, acting United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said on Wednesday that his office "will not tolerate threats of violence against public officials who are entrusted with upholding the Constitution.”
“With today’s verdict, the defendant is now a convicted felon, not for his repugnant, racist rants, but because he threatened to attack and kill members of Congress to prevent them from carrying out their constitutional duties, and that is a federal crime,” Lesko said in a statement.
Attorneys for Hunt did not immediately reply to a request for comment.Follow @NinaPullano
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