Brendan Hunt, that evidence suggests, was fixated on extremist ideas and conspiracy theories — including that Democrats falsely portrayed covid-19 as a deadly epidemic to gain political advantage over Trump — when on Jan. 8 he posted a video titled “KILL YOUR SENATORS: Slaughter them all.”
Hunt’s trial is believed to be the first related to the insurrection since the Justice Department opened its sweeping investigation into the attack and the domestic-extremist threats suspected of fueling the bid by hundreds of Trump supporters to prevent Congress from counting the electoral college votes affirming his defeat. It is seen as a test of how far free speech can go before it violates constitutional protections.
Hunt is charged with threatening to assault and murder a U.S. official. His targets, prosecutors say, included Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
During her opening arguments Wednesday, Hunt’s defense lawyer, Jan Rostal, said that her client’s Internet rants amounted to constitutionally protected speech and were not intended to be serious. Rostal sought to distance Hunt from the hundreds of other Trump supporters whom the Justice Department has charged in connection with the insurrection. Hunt was not present at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Hunt’s alleged obsession with Nazism was evident in text messages presented to the jury Thursday during the testimony of FBI Special Agent Jacqueline Smith.
“Trump should just declare martial law, cancel the transfer of power and round up the domestic enemies of our Republic,” Hunt told his father, John Hunt, a retired Queens family court judge, in one text message in November while the election result was not yet final. “The military and the American people will back him.”
In the same conversation, he told his father that Hitler took over Germany because “it was necessary” and said Trump needed to overtake the government to keep Democrats from taking power “or they will throw his family in jail and destroy the country.”
His father offered measured responses, according to evidence presented in court.
“All of these election issues have to and will be resolved through the legal process,” the elder Hunt said, according to messages that Smith and the prosecutor read aloud during her testimony.
In a video discussing the Capitol riot, Hunt called the elected officials whose lives were in danger “cowards” and in a mocking tone asked why “if this covid stuff was so deadly” they weren’t “evacuated in full-body condoms or something like that?”
Hunt, 37, filmed and posted heavily slanted amateur news analysis videos the day of the riot. In one clip, he opined on footage from the scene, describing it as “apparently documenting the shooting of an unarmed peaceful female Trump supporter by the D.C. police.”
Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she attempted to breach barricaded doors inside the Capitol during the insurrection. Federal prosecutors in Washington said earlier this month that the officer who shot Babbitt would not be charged.
Hunt’s postings encouraged an armed militia to return to Washington on Jan. 20, the day President Biden was inaugurated, to challenge the transfer of power by violently overthrowing the government, according to prosecutors.
“It’d be funny if Pence got a nice fat bullet to the head,” he wrote on social media Jan. 18, a macabre reference to the former vice president, who oversaw the election certification process that the insurrectionists attempted to stop.
Hunt posted his extremist views on Facebook as well as social media platforms specifically catering to conservatives and individuals on the far right.
At least one fellow user warned Hunt that his comments would get him arrested, according to an exchange presented at the trial. The user also criticized Hunt for “giving them warning of when you might attack” in his Inauguration Day call to arms.
That event transpired peacefully, with Washington heavily secured.
At the time of his arrest, Hunt was an employee of New York’s state court system but has since been fired. He also purported to be an actor and a filmmaker.
Hunt’s attorney argued in her opening statements that his comments did not amount to real threats and noted that he did not possess any weapons. The lawmakers targeted by her client’s alleged threats did not even know about his social media posts, she said Wednesday.
Hunt was arrested on Jan. 18.
Smith, the FBI witness, testified that investigators saw a Ninja Turtles sweatshirt, toys and beer bottles in his apartment as they looked for the electronic devices they were authorized to seize.