BROOKLYN (CN) — Prosecutors called a United States Capitol police officer to testify Friday in the Brooklyn federal trial of a Queens man charged with threatening to murder members of Congress before, and in the days following, the Jan. 6 riots in Washington.
Special Agent Christopher Desrosiers had been working from home that day due to the Covid-19 pandemic, when he got notice that there had been a security breach and officers may need backup.
Having turned on the TV and seen demonstrations underway, Desrosiers was already in his car by the time he got confirmation that help was needed.
Rioters had already gotten inside the building by the time Desrosiers arrived on the scene. The mood was “very uneasy,” as he put on his bulletproof vest, he testified Friday.
“Thinking back on that day, a word that I would use for myself,” Desrosiers said, “'surreal' comes to mind.”
He had worked at a number of demonstrations, “some more contentious than others,” but said he never thought he’d see something on the scale of the attempted insurrection by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, who sought to interrupt the official election-counting efforts at a joint session of Congress.
On police radio channels, there was “definitely heightened concern,” Desrosiers said.
“People were yelling for help,” he said. “It was clear that the force in the building was being overwhelmed.”
Desrosiers would later be assigned to investigate Brendan Hunt, charged with threatening to kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, calling for them to be publicly executed by firing squad.
In the days following the storming of the Capitol, Hunt, 27, posted a video online titled “Kill Your Senators.”
“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,” said Hunt, 37, facing the camera. “And we need to slaughter these motherfuckers.”
Hunt did not attend the Capitol riots, and there’s no evidence he bought a gun or planned to follow through on calls to "mow down" elected officials. But the words Hunt typed and spoke from his apartment in Queens are ones that Capitol police and the FBI saw need to follow up on.
"We can’t, on its face, take any threat less seriously” before investigating, Desrosiers, who was assigned to Hunt's case following his Jan. 19 arrest, testified. “Online communication is becoming more and more of a prominent method of communication for people.”
Hunt’s trial indeed centers on his online activity — both those allegedly threatening posts and evidence shown this week illustrating anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant views.
In a video found on Hunt’s desktop that was shown to the jury Friday, Hunt explained how to use code words to disguise his true messages. He offered an example: using the phrase “handy shook,” an apparent reference to the shooting Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut --- a topic on which Hunt posted videos, according to his YouTube page.
“If I want to talk about who runs the world,” Hunt continued, holding up a container, he calls that “juice.”
“Now that’s some juice right there,” Hunt said, taking a sip. “I don’t want to kill the juice just yet. It’s just too good, you’ve gotta savor it.”
Text messages introduced as evidence on Thursday include Hunt telling his girlfriend about reading Mein Kampf, and saying to his father that “previous generations were right to be suspicious of immigrants.”
“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 texted his father, as read by an FBI agent in court. “Trump should prob do the same if necessary.”
Other testimony showed that Hunt had downloaded mass murderer Dylann Roof’s white supremacist manifesto. Hunt’s attorneys made note that it wasn’t clear how much time Hunt had spent reading the document.
On Friday afternoon, prosecutors called a witness from the Anti-Defamation League to explain symbols and language Hunt used — like referring in one video to the U.S. government as a “ZOG,” a term used by white supremacists meaning Zionist-Occupied Government.
“‘Zionist’ often replaces the word ‘Jew’ when somebody who’s an anti-Semite or a white supremacist wants to talk about them,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the ADL Center on Extremism.
The term “ZOG” is a way of “trying to convince people that Jews are controlling and manipulating the government,” Segal said.
Segal’s work includes educating the public about white supremacist and anti-Semitic movements, groups and symbols. He suggested that exposing issues and educating the public can help to dispel extremism.
“We believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Segal said.
Hunt’s trial will resume Monday with Segal on the stand for cross-examination.
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