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Prosecutors tell jury Capitol rioter is ‘not the victim’

Video evidence of the Capitol riot shows former NYPD officer Thomas Webster swinging a flagpole at police. He says a D.C. officer stoked the violence.

WASHINGTON (CN) — “Hostile," "chaotic," "violent.” Those were some of the words government witnesses used to describe last year's Capitol riot. Federal prosecutors offered another during closing arguments Friday in their case against a veteran member of the New York City Police Department who joined the insurrection and struck a Washington police officer.

“Another word that describes it is rage,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said. “That’s what this case is about: Thomas Webster’s rage.”

Kelly said Thomas Webster was an “obvious threat” from the moment he approached the police line because he was “pushing” people and carrying a metal flagpole. After yelling that the police are “commie motherfuckers,” Webster pushed a bicycle rack barrier into Metropolitan Police Department Officer Noah Rathbun — that happened “not once, but twice,” Kelly emphasized.

And when Rathbun pushed Webster back to keep him from breaching the barriers and the police line, “the defendant responded by violently swinging a metal flagpole like a club.”

After Rathbun wrestled the pole away from Webster, he and the other officers had “no choice but to retreat” — and that’s when Webster charged at Rathbun with his hands raised, pinned him to the ground and tried to rip off his face mask.

Tear gas was flooding into Rathbun’s mask, Brown said, making it “hard for him to breathe.”

“You saw Thomas Webster assault Officer Rathbun with your own eyes,” Brown continued, referring to video footage that captured parts of the incident and was introduced as evidence.

Webster has tried to blame Officer Rathbun for what happened, the prosecutor explained, but he only “said that because he needs it to be true.”

“But it isn’t true — the defendant isn’t the victim here,” he said.

Webster had served the NYPD from 1991 to 2011 — a career that included stint on then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s private security detail. Before that, he was in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1985 to 1989.

Defense attorney James Monroe began closing arguments Friday by saying that their team came into the trial “armed with one weapon, and that’s the truth.” Monroe only “bothered with evidence” that he could back up with the “whole truth,” he said.

“That being said, in today’s society, when are we going to accept acts of police misconduct?” he asked the jury.

On Friday and throughout the trial, Monroe has repeatedly insisted that Rathbun instigated the incident by waving at Webster, who testified on Thursday that he interpreted the wave as an invitation to fight. 

“In Mr. Webster’s passion, he’s responding to this taunt,” Monroe said, adding that, as an “old cop,” Webster knew what a “bad cop” looks like.

He told jurors that they can see in the video evidence that is what happened because the other officers around Rathbun are “ignoring” the crowd and “making sure they maintain a professional barrier.” Rathbun testified Wednesday, however, that he was waving at Webster to signal that he should back up.

Monroe also brought up Rathbun’s testimony that he did not report the encounter as a use-of-force incident — or the bruises he claims to have sustained during it — to the police department. But Rathbun did report a separate incident involving a different rioter in the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, 2021, after which he had to get stitches.

“Why would you report a cut on your finger and not being taken to the ground by Mr. Webster?” Monroe asked.

The defense attorney insisted that it is because Rathbun did not “want it to be known that he had any involvement with Mr. Webster — because he started it.”

“The truth — the whole truth, just permeates, just engulfs this case,” Monroe said.

He told the jury that they obtained the evidence that Rathbun did not “want them to have,” namely, the video footage that he claims shows Rathbun punching Webster so hard it was like “getting hit by a freight train.”

Monroe concluded by telling the jurors to “acquit this man.”

“Send him back to New York,” he said.

On rebuttal, Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Nielsen reminded jurors that both Webster and Rathbun took the police oath to protect and serve at some point in their lives.

“But only one of them upheld it on Jan. 6 … and that was Officer Rathbun,” she said.  

Jurors are expected to begin deliberating on Monday. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama appointee, is presiding over the case.

Webster, 56, of Goshen, New York, was arrested on Feb. 22, 2021, and was released to home detention in June. He is the fourth person charged in connection with the Capitol riot to take his case before a jury. 

He has pleaded not guilty to the six charges against him: assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon; civil disorder; entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon; disorderly conduct within the Capitol grounds or buildings and an act of physical violence within the Capitol grounds or buildings.

Also on Friday, Judge Mehta accepted a guilty plea from Brian Ulrich, the second of 11 members of the Oath Keepers to strike a plea deal in the government’s seditious conspiracy case against them.

As of April 6, nearly 800 people have been charged in connection with the Capitol riot.

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