Six ‘J20’ Protesters Acquitted–But Brace For More 1st Amendment Attacks (Video)

Apparently simply reporting the news today can get someone a criminal conspiracy charge.

That is according to D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz, who presided over the recent “J20” case.

On January 20, 2017, during Donald Trump’s inauguration, 194 people were arrested and charged under the federal Riot Act.

Many of them were peaceful demonstrators and journalists simply in the vicinity of a handful of violent protesters who concealed their identities and smashed shop windows and pelted police officers with bricks, hammers, and crowbars.

Journalist Alex Stokes, one of those arrested, observed:

“The cops didn’t seem to have any control over the situation.”

Stokes stated the crowd advanced through the city “with no real coordination” until they arrived at the intersection of L and 12th streets. Police, without ordering the crowd to disperse, then employed a tactic known as “kettling” to trap protesters before rounding them up for arrest.

Stokes said:

“The cops blocked one end of the street and then followed us in from the other side.”

Stokes, Alexei Wood, and other journalists and observers, were caught in the kettle, and got swept up in arrests.

Wood said:

“It was indiscriminate. Journalists, lawyers, the average protester: Those are the people they kettled, arrested, and charged with felony riot.”

After 36 hours in lockup, Wood faced a felony charge. While detained, he heard the government possessed a list of misdemeanors with which the protesters were going to be charged.

On April 27, a grand jury handed down a new indictment that added an additional 13 counts.

In November, the trail began for Wood and five other defendants who faced up to 70 years in prison if they had been convicted.

Last week they were acquitted.

But Alexei Wood’s acquittal comes with a cost.

Judge Lynn Leibovitz singled out Wood, who live-streamed the protests, stating:

A reasonable juror could find that he was a principal and an aider and abettor of the riot. Yes, he was there filming. There is no evidence in the record that that was for a purpose inconsistent with participation in the riot. He played a role that furthered the purposes both of the conspiracy and of the riot itself, which was to advertise it, to broadcast it, to live-stream it such that other could be recruited to join in. For all these reasons, a reasonable juror could find Mr. Wood guilty of destruction of property. And persons hearing his livestream could be recruited, were being kept abreast and informed of the events.

So Judge Leibovitz made an example of Alexei Wood for simply fulfilling his responsibility as a journalist to chronicle events, no matter how illegal they may have been.

This matters because, although the first six defendants, including Wood, were acquitted, 188 remain.

The next seven face three misdemeanor charges for rioting, conspiracy to riot, and property destruction.

No trial date is yet scheduled.

Judge Leibovitz will hold a status hearing January 19.

The third wave of protesters facing the same felony and misdemeanor charges is scheduled for March 5.

A defendant who spoke anonymously with The Intercept said:

“The challenge going forward will be to ensure that everybody else walks free, even the alleged window-breakers. A conviction for any defendant, no matter how allegedly culpable of vandalism, will send a signal that this whole fascist effort by the state and their auxiliaries in the far right was worth it. We can’t let them do that.”

This is definitely a positive blow against an administration overtly hostile toward our first amendment rights to a free press and to peacefully redress our grievances.

But it’s far from over.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.