Even just talking about a protest you didn’t attend on a podcast is enough to face criminal charges, according to Trump’s Department of Justice.
While there was a small group of protesters who damaged property on January 20 in protest of the Trump presidency, the large majority of protesters in Washington, DC that day were peaceful. However, Jeff Sessions’ Department of Justice nonetheless used a catch-all anti-riot law (conspiracy to riot) to prosecute everyone present for the crimes of a few, including journalists and even a man who wasn’t even there.
The Real News Network reported on the case of Dylan Petrohilos, who wasn’t present at the #J20 protests but was nonetheless charged with conspiracy to riot following a podcast episode in which he talked about the protests. The prosecution is also justifying Petrohilos’ conspiracy charges by pointing to video of him at protest planning meetings recorded by undercover police and members of James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas (which was recently busted by the Washington Post for making up fake rape allegations):
Prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff cited statements made on the It’s Going Down podcast as evidence of conspiracy. At one point, the judge, Lynn Leibovitz, surmised that appearing on a podcast required planning, so if Petrohilos was going on the podcast to talk about the protests perhaps the existence of the podcast could be evidence of conspiring.
In order to justify conspiracy charges, Department of Justice prosecutors only need to find evidence to point to conspiracy to commit any crime, including the vague charge of “conspiracy to disrupt public congress.”
“This is a fundamental attack on the right to organize,” Petrohilos told the Real News Network.
More than 200 people were rounded up following the #J20 Inauguration Day protests and charged with felony rioting — including legal observers with the National Lawyers Guild. Journalist Alexei Wood, who was arrested while taking pictures and video of the protests, was also charged with felony rioting, and faces 70 years in prison if convicted of all the charges he’s facing.
Court proceedings for #J20 protesters are ongoing. None of the participants have been convicted as of this writing.
Jordan Shaw is a New Jersey-based freelancer specializing in national and state government issues. When he’s not writing, you can find him volunteering in Camden, New Jersey, or hiking the Wissahickon Valley Park.