NY man who urged Trump supporters to murder members of Congress sentenced to 19 months in prison
First posted June 1, 2022 3:18pm EDT
Last updated June 1, 2022 3:18pm EDT
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- Hate Speech
- Legal Action
- National Security
- Professional Consequences
- Social Media
- Violence / Threats
A 37-year-old man from Queens was convicted and sentenced to 19 months in prison after threatening to “slaughter” members of Congress in a video he posted online two days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Brendan Hunt, a former assistant analyst in the New York state court system and aspiring actor, had shared a series of violent posts on Facebook; Parler, a conservative social media platform; and BitChute, a video hosting site popular with the far-right.
Hunt had long promoted conspiracy theories and misinformation online, including that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax, according to The New York Times.
On Dec. 6, 2020, Hunt used Facebook to call for the execution of then-Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), encouraging supporters to “Start up the firing squads, mow down these commies, and lets take america back!”
On Jan. 8, 2021, two days after the Capitol attack, Hunt posted an 88-second video to BitChute entitled “KILL YOUR SENATORS: Slaughter them all,” calling for people to arm themselves and return to Washington, D.C., for President Joe Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, according to The Times.
“Get your guns, show up to D.C., and literally just spray these motherfuckers,” Hunt said in the video. “Like, you know, that’s the only option. They’re gonna kill us. So we have to kill them first. So get your guns. Show up to D.C.; put some bullets in their fucking heads,” he continued. “If anybody has a gun, give me it, I will go there myself and shoot them and kill them. We have to take out these senators and replace them with actual patriots.”
Eleven days later, federal law enforcement arrested and charged Hunt with threatening to assault and murder members of Congress, The Washington Post reported. During his April 2021 trial, prosecutors stressed his threatening statements and portrayed him as having white supremacist and Nazi sympathies.
Hunt testified that he did not intend to intimidate lawmakers or “galvanize a militia,” but was rather “playing along with this sort of rhetoric that was going around at the time.”
“I wasn’t sending this message out to anybody,” he said. “I was letting off steam and it was more online blathering than anything.” He also said he believed the November 2020 presidential election was “stolen” and “rigged” and called both Democrats and Republicans “treasonists.”
After a six-day trial in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, jurors convicted Hunt, based on his “KILL YOUR SENATORS” statement, of a sole criminal count. Other charges in his indictment, growing out of three other statements he made, were found not to be “true threats.”
Hunt’s attorneys sought to overturn his conviction under the First Amendment, urging the court to “enter a judgment of acquittal here even though it means tolerating ideas that hurt, offend, and may even tempt others to violence.” According to The Post, one of Hunt’s lawyers, Jan Rostel, said Hunt’s prosecution was part of a “war on discourse,” suggesting her client’s Free Speech rights had been violated.
U.S. District Judge Pamela K. Chen, who was nominated by former President Barack Obama in 2013, rejected that motion. “Defendant’s invocation of free speech and fair justice principles does not alter, and should not obscure, the simple fact that, in this case, the jury rationally found that Defendant violated a federal law,” Chen wrote.
Court sentences Hunt to 19 months in prison
On Nov. 22, 2021, Chen sentenced Hunt to just over one-and-a-half years in prison.
“The defendant was not convicted of, nor is he going to be sentenced for, committing a thought crime, or for simply exercising his First Amendment rights,” Chen said. “It was not simply outlandish political expression. The defendant here crossed the free speech line when he threatened members of Congress.”
Chen also highlighted the Supreme Court’s ruling in Virginia v. Black, in which true threats — “statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals” — were ruled not to be constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.
Hunt apologized for his actions, according to The Post, but rejected the government’s characterization that he was a white supremacist or held antisemitic beliefs.
“The government’s claim that I was motivated to make this video because I’m some kind of neo-Nazi white supremacist is just an ugly, untrue and unfair lie,” he said. “Associating someone with Nazis is a standard of evil which lazy rhetoric resorts to when it’s groping for negatives.”