“I’m not going to try to prove to you that he’s not a racist,” Brendan Hunt’s attorney said during closing arguments.
BROOKLYN (CN) — After Brendan Hunt took the stand, attorneys delivered closing arguments on Tuesday in the trial of the Queens man accused of threatening to kill federal officials before, and in the days that followed, the Jan. 6 riots at the United States Capitol.
Leading up to the attacks on Congress in Washington, D.C., Hunt posted on Facebook calling for the public execution by firing squad of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Two days after the riots, Hunt, 37, posted a video titled “Kill Your Senators,” in which he said: “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. And we need to slaughter these motherfuckers.”
Whether those posts constitute true threats is up to the jury, which is expected to begin deliberations on Wednesday.
Hunt’s is the first federal trial involving the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. During the weeklong trial in federal court in Brooklyn, testimony focused on the defendant’s mindset and the intent behind his online posts.
FBI agents found anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant text messages on Hunt’s devices — evidence Hunt’s attorneys fought to limit at trial — many of which were sent to Hunt’s father, a retired Queens family court judge. In his “Kill Your Senators” video, Hunt refers to the U.S. government as a “ZOG,” a term used by white supremacists to mean Zionist-Occupied Government.
In her closing arguments, Leticia Olivera of the Federal Defenders of New York reminded the jury that, despite messages and videos likely to upset, offend or disgust listeners, Hunt’s apparent white supremacist leanings do not make him guilty of the threats charge against him.
“We certainly don’t have a burden to prove to you that Brendan is a good guy,” Olivera said. “I’m not going to try to prove to you that he’s not a racist.”
Olivera noted several times that the messages were posted online, not sent directly to members of Congress.
The First Amendment protects “mere advocacy” of the use of force or violence, Olivera argued, reminding the jury that Hunt is not charged with a hate crime, or incitement of violence.
“If he has a right to say it,” Olivera said, “then it cannot be a crime.”
In his “Kill Your Senators” video, posted on the video platform BitChute, Hunt said, “if anybody has a gun, give me it, I’ll go there myself and shoot them and kill them.”
Hunt did not travel to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, and after an FBI raid of his Queens apartment, there was no evidence he owned or planned to buy a gun.
Instead, Olivera argued, Hunt “wanted to pretend like he was part of the action,” making videos about the Capitol riots.
“Then, he made one that would change his life forever,” Olivera said.
“I know this video is hard to watch. I know it probably makes at least some of you feel uncomfortable,” Olivera said. “Some of you may be disgusted, troubled by the fact that he’s encouraging a slaughter. Probably all of you. That’s fair.”
However, Olivera said, the government would have a hard time proving that Hunt’s comments and videos were “criminal threats instead of nonsense rants.”
Closing for the prosecution, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Richardson called Hunt’s posts true threats.
“He threatened to murder senators and representatives in vivid and violent language,” in order to make the officials afraid, and to retaliate against them for taking part in the transfer of power between presidents, Richardson said.
In text messages presented to the jury, Hunt told his father that “previous generations were right to be suspicious of immigrants,” and criticized his family for remaining in what he called “Jew York Shitty” instead of moving to a red state. Hunt discussed reading “Mein Kampf” in messages to his girlfriend, and FBI agents found that he had downloaded the white supremacist manifesto of mass murder Dylann Roof.
Richardson pointed out that Hunt is not on trial for his beliefs.
“It is not a crime to hold offensive beliefs or to say offensive things. The defendant is charged with making threats,” Richardson said. “As you’ve learned during this trial, his beliefs help to explain his intent in making those threats.”
He said that “there is a line” for officials working for the U.S. government: “They need to know that when people threaten their safety, that there will be consequences for the people who do that.”
“This isn’t political speech,” Richardson said. “This is a crime.”
In a December Facebook post, Hunt referred to the named members of Congress as “high value targets,” writing that, “[t]hese commies will see death before they see us surrender!”
In that message, Hunt was part of the “us,” Richardson argued. “He was one of the people making this threat, threatening this violence.”
Prosecutors are expected to give a rebuttal to Olivera’s closing arguments on Wednesday before the jury’s charge.