The attorneys who are defending the insurrectionists of January 6 are required to come up with a defense for their clients’ actions. That’s one of the provisions of being a lawyer: you have to do everything you can to give the best possible chance of acquittal and let the prosecution prove them guilty. That is leading to some pretty inventive strategies, but it seems that the one that is making the rounds is that the rioters were being fed so much propaganda by TFG that they couldn’t see that what they were doing was wrong.
A few weeks after his arrest for allegedly storming the Capitol on Jan. 6, the man known as the “QAnon Shaman,” Jacob Chansley, floated an idea that dozens of others have tried — that Trump himself deserved some of the blame for his actions.
Chansley’s attorney wrote that his client had been consistent “in his assertion that but for the actions and the words of the President, he would not have appeared in Washington, DC to support the President and, but for the specific words of the then-President during his January 6, 2021 speech, the Defendant would not have walked down Pennsylvania Avenue and would not have gone into the U.S. Capitol Building.”
That argument did not work.
In a memo explaining his order to keep Chansley detained pending trial, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said it wasn’t necessary to question Chansley’s sincerity.
“Even taking defendant’s claim at face value, it does not persuade the Court that defendant would not pose a danger to others if released,” Lamberth wrote. “If defendant truly believes that the only reason he participated in an assault on the U.S. Capitol was to comply with President Trump’s orders, this shows defendant’s inability (or refusal) to exercise his independent judgment and conform his behavior to the law.”
Nonetheless, the so-called “Trump defense” continues to resurface as alleged participants in the Capitol riot wend their way through the legal system.
And even though the tactic may not get the defendants entirely off the hook, lawyers with whom TPM spoke, including defense attorneys for the accused, say there’s an upside to roping Trump into the case — including, potentially, a lighter sentence.
“Legally, these are unprecedented cases,” Chansley’s attorney, Albert Watkins, told TPM last week. “And as a result, while the judge may not be compelled to emotionally embrace, as a matter of opinion, the effect or the impact of the words and actions of the former President as being a cause, there is going to necessarily be a legal compulsion to address that reality as part of an evaluation of culpability.”
If that won’t work, the attorney can also say that his client is, to put it delicately, not all there.
Watkins, the “Q Shaman” Jacob Chansley’s attorney, said his client had Asperger’s syndrome and indicated that Chansley’s mental state — and the impact of Trump’s “propaganda” efforts — would play a role in his case.
“A lot of these defendants — and I’m going to use this colloquial term, perhaps disrespectfully — but they’re all fucking short-bus people,” Watkins told TPM. “These are people with brain damage, they’re fucking retarded, they’re on the goddamn spectrum.”
“But they’re our brothers, our sisters, our neighbors, our coworkers — they’re part of our country. These aren’t bad people, they don’t have prior criminal history. Fuck, they were subjected to four-plus years of goddamn propaganda the likes of which the world has not seen since fucking Hitler.”
Like I said at the top, an attorney is bound by the legal canon of ethics to try every possible legal way to get his client off. I wonder if that’s what TFG will use whenever he actually faces justice. Somehow I doubt it.