After a one-week trial that featured testimony from a staffer for Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Trump supporter was found guilty Wednesday of threatening to assault and murder members of U.S. Congress in online statements he made before and after the January 6 Capitol attack.and a
Brendan Hunt, 37, is scheduled to be sentenced on June 22, and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, the Justice Department said.
Hunt's was believed to be the first criminal trial in a case connected to the Capitol riot, though he did not participate in the siege in D.C. He was charged instead for statements he made online. A video that prosecutors said he posted two days after the Capitol riot on the video-sharing site Bitchute was titled "KILL YOUR SENATORS" and urged viewers to return to the Capitol with guns to "slaughter" members of Congress.
Hunt was convicted only for that 88-second video, according to the jury verdict. The jury did not find that his other comments — a series of posts on social media websites between December 6, 2020 and January 21, 2021 — were illegal threats. In those posts, which prosecutors highlighted during the trial, Hunt said he would not vote in "another rigged election" and advocated for violence, including calls to murder Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Hunt did not deny posting the statements when he testified in his own defense Tuesday, but he said he never thought the "online blather" would be taken seriously.
"I wrote a lot of things I didn't mean," Hunt said.
The Associated Press reports he told the jury he often posted online while impaired from smoking pot from a bong and drinking beer, and called himself "immature" and "very irresponsible."
On Monday, prosecutors called to the stand Daniel Bonthius, a deputy district director of operations for Ocasio-Cortez's office in Jackson Heights, Queens. He testified about how the office treated the threats, and said that Hunt's language was particularly concerning because his comments specifically targeted the congresswoman and characterized her as a high-value target.
Prosecutors said that in the 88-second video posted January 8, Hunt told viewers, "We need to go back to the U.S. Capitol when all of the Senators and a lot of the Representatives are back there, and this time we have to show up with our guns. And we need to slaughter these motherf******."
Prosecutors said he added that "probably the best time to do this" would be during the inauguration of President Joe Biden, and said, "If anybody has a gun, give me it, I'll go there myself and shoot them and kill them."
Special Agent Christopher Desrosiers, who works in the Threat Assessment Section of the Capitol police, testified Friday that a Capitol police officer embedded with the FBI made the Capitol police force aware of the Brendan Hunt investigation two days after the Capitol siege, as they were preparing for the upcoming inauguration, which was scheduled just two weeks later.
"Post January 6th, our resources were completely maxed out, both on the Hill preparing for any future incidents that may be coming up and trying to prepare for the inauguration," Desrosiers said. "We had an influx of cases coming in and we were leaning heavily, especially on the FBI, to assist us with processing through those cases to include threats towards members of Congress."
Hunt, who prosecutors said uses the online alias "X-Ray Ultra," is a resident of Ridgewood, Queens, and at the time of his arrest worked full-time at the New York State Office of Court Administration and part time as an actor and filmmaker.
During the proceedings, Hunt's attorneys submitted evidence from his website and social media channels in an effort to contextualize his intent in making the threats. His attorneys note that his YouTube channel says he is known for documenting topics that "explore the sometimes uncomfortable truths of our society through art and activism."
Mark Lesko, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said Wednesday, "With today's verdict, the defendant is now a convicted felon, not for his repugnant, racist rants, but because he threatened to attack and kill members of Congress to prevent them from carrying out their constitutional duties, and that is a federal crime," he said. "This Office will not tolerate threats of violence against public officials who are entrusted with upholding the Constitution."
Erica Brown contributed to this report.