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December 14

Judge Dismisses “Inciting a Riot” Charge against All Six Defendants; More Connections Between Pemberton and far-Right

Prosecution and defense rest, closing arguments scheduled for 10am Thursday in widely watched trial

Washington, DC – Yesterday, DC Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz dismissed the felony charge of inciting a riot against six defendants currently on trial in a widely watched case involving 194 people arrested at Inauguration Day protests on January 20. Defendants Jennifer Armento, Oliver Harris, Britt Lawson, Michelle “Miel” Macchio, Christina Simmons, and Alexei Wood are being tried on five felonies and two misdemeanors stemming from a mass arrest orchestrated by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). Each defendant is still facing more than 50 years in prison if convicted.

“The dismissal of a felony charge against these trial defendants is a victory and shows the weakness of the federal government’s prosecution,” said Betty Rothstein of Defend J20 Resistance. “But, it’s important to recognize that these defendants, along with nearly 200 others, are still facing serious felony charges and still need our support.” Yesterday’s dismissal on a singular charge does not apply to any of the defendants set to go to trial next year.

The prosecution rested its case on Tuesday after calling more than two dozen witnesses and showing extensive video footage of the same broken windows again and again, yet admitting that none of the defendants personally engaged in property destruction.

On Wednesday, in a customary trial proceeding called a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, Judge Leibovitz characterized the role of “street medic” as aiding and abetting the alleged riot. Further, Leibovitz claimed that by providing such a service to protesters, street medics are considered “co-conspirators,” establishing a dangerous precedent for an important role at mass protests. Two trial defendants, Britt Lawson and Miel Macchio, have been identified by the prosecution as street medics.

Judge Leibovitz also claimed Wednesday that a person’s “mere presence” at the anti-Trump march was “aiding in the riot” and that covering one’s face is something “greater than mere expression,” despite masks being ubiquitously used for political reasons as well as a guard against alt-right harassment.

In the same trial proceeding, livestreamer Alexei Wood was accused of trying to “recruit” viewers to join what Judge Leibovitz is calling a riot, alleging that shouting out and narrating what was happening to his viewers constituted “aiding and abetting.” All this despite the presence of other journalists who were broadcasting live coverage but are not being prosecuted. For instance, right wing livestreamer Lauren Southern was allowed by police to leave the area, whereas Wood and another journalist, Aaron Cantu, are still being prosecuted.

Earlier in the week, MPD Detective Greggory Pemberton testified on Monday how he’s worked full-time since Inauguration Day to build a case against the roughly 200 people being prosecuted. Notably, the evidence gathered by Pemberton includes video footage from right wing groups like Project VeritasRebel MediaOath Keepers, and Media Research Center, whose “sole mission is to expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the Left.”

On Friday, media outlet Unicorn Riot posted a screenshot from Pemberton’s twitter indicating that he followed /pol/ News Network, a white supremacist news-sharing platform, causing Pemberton to lock his Twitter account. Pemberton’s twitter was also found to contain tweets and retweets promoting far-right conspiracy theories, including a tweet that suggested “police shootings of unarmed black youth” was a funded “myth.”

On cross-examination, Pemberton admitted Tuesday that he also follows white nationalist media outlet Breitbart News Network and far-right Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe, all pointing to a bias against the defendants on trial. Pemberton was also questioned about a 2016 interview with right wing media outlet One America News Network about which presidential candidate would get endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, during which he speaks favorably of Trump’s law-and-order policy platform.

Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled to begin on Thursday at 10am, followed by jury instructions and deliberations which could extend into next week.

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Defend J20 Resistance

On January 20th, 230 people were mass arrested during demonstrations against Donald Trump's Inauguration. The arrests were made by use of a "kettle" technique of individuals on the corners of L and 12th Street, without orders to disperse. 214 of these arrestees were charged under the Federal Riot Statute. On April 27th, multiple additional felony charges were added. The 211 remaining defendants could now face up to 75 years in prison.

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