Trevor Aaronson writes about those people who in the past have been inspired by Trump’s rhetoric to commit or plot to commit violent acts, and then tried to use Trump’s incitements as a defense when they were on trial. Judges didn’t seem to buy it.
James R. Pratt, a defense lawyer in Kansas, represented a man who was inspired to violence by Trump in 2016. Patrick Stein conspired with a couple of friends, as well as a pushy FBI informant, in a plot to bomb Somalis who lived in their community. “Number one, the cockroaches got to go, period,” Stein said of the Somalis. Stein had believed Trump’s rhetoric from the 2016 presidential campaign: that the Obama administration was allowing Muslims, and possibly terrorists, into the country without background checks.
Stein was convicted at trial of conspiring to detonate a bomb. Pratt, his lawyer, asked the judge for leniency in sentencing, describing how Stein saw “Trump’s appeal as the voice of a lost and ignored white, working-class set of voters.” Pratt argued that Trump’s “rough-and-tumble verbal pummeling” persuaded Stein that terrorists were being allowed in and that he could do something to protect the country.
U.S. District Judge Eric F. Melgren, a George W. Bush appointee, was unmoved by the argument. “This kind of conversation is endemic in the history of our country,” Melgren said in court, referring to Trump’s heated rhetoric. “And it’s not just coming from the right. The left has incredible attacks on conservative Christians. You can listen to that on MSNBC and other outlets that they have. But none of that explains or justifies anything remotely like what we’re dealing with here.” Melgren sentenced Stein to 30 years in prison.
“Our point about Trump was that he made what they believed seem legitimate,” Pratt said in an interview Monday.
Last week, Trump was very explicit in urging the mob to march on to the Capitol building to overturn the certification process and promised that he would be there with them though, of course, he instead went back to the White House where he was reportedly ‘delighted’ and ‘excited’ by what he saw of the unfolding riot from the safety of his perch.
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said Friday that he heard from senior White House officials that President Trump was “delighted” to hear that his supporters were breaking into the Capitol building in a riot Wednesday that turned deadly.
“As this was unfolding on television, Donald Trump was walking around the White House confused about why other people on his team weren’t as excited as he was as you had rioters pushing against Capitol Police trying to get into the building,” Sasse told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt in an interview. “That was happening. He was delighted.”
As a result, you can expect that some of those charged with the riots will try to invoke that ‘Trump said it was ok’ defense too. This video that splices Trump’s speech with the actions of the rioters will be the kind of thing that the defense might try to use.
A defense lawyer thinks that this will be tried.
Pratt said that he expects lawyers representing the alleged insurrectionists to request leniency at sentencing by arguing that their clients were inspired to act by the sitting president of the United States.
“Certainly, I don’t think it’s going to play [well] for whoever killed that police officer,” Pratt said, referring to the Capitol Police officer who was beaten to death during the insurrection. “But if it’s someone who went into the rotunda and yelled at cops for a little bit and turned around and went out, I don’t know — it could work. I would make that argument.”
Will it work? They may have no other choice but to try.