Social media figure gets house arrest in Capitol riot case | Radio WGN 720

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A pro-Trump social media influencer who posted a video of himself at the US Capitol during last year’s riot was sentenced to three months of house arrest on Monday after a federal prosecutor found him accused of abusing his online platform to stir up the crowd.

U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said she found it “deeply disturbing” that Brandon Straka, 45, used his social media influence to encourage and defend the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

“Election challenges are fought in court, not by storming the Capitol,” Friedrich said.

The judge also sentenced Straka to three years probation and ordered him to pay a $5,000 fine.

Straka’s personal Twitter account has nearly 500,000 followers. Using his “significant public profile,” Straka encouraged others to storm the Capitol, take a protective shield from a police officer, and “hold the line” even after leaving the Capitol, a prosecutor said in a criminal record.

“Even though he did not personally engage in violence or property destruction during the riot, Straka encouraged and celebrated the violence that day,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brittany Reed wrote. .

Straka, a former hairstylist, founded the “#WalkAway Campaign” after posting a video that went viral in 2018. The video, titled “Why I Quit the Democratic Party”, has nearly 900,000 views on YouTube. He also chairs a tax-exempt nonprofit — the #WalkAway Foundation in Fairfax, Va. — which reported more than $600,000 in income in 2019.

Straka told the judge that he and his social media followers do not condone violence.

“It’s not who they are, and it’s not who I am, that’s why they love our movement,” he said. “My relationship with my fans and followers isn’t just about politics. It’s about love.

Prosecutors had recommended four months of house arrest for Straka, a longtime New York resident. The Nebraska native pleaded guilty in October to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison.

More than 720 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Unlike most riot defendants, Straka is not charged with entering the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021 or engaging in violent or destructive behavior.

His attorney, Bilal Essayli, accused prosecutors of attacking Straka’s constitutionally protected political speech and “attempting to make a public example of a prominent Trump-supporting influencer.”

The judge, however, said Straka was not prosecuted or punished for his political views or personal beliefs.

“None of the criminal behavior recognized by Mr. Straka is covered by the First Amendment,” Friedrich said.

Essayli also said that when federal authorities questioned Straka, they were “focused on establishing an organized conspiracy” between Straka, former President Donald Trump and Trump allies to disrupt the joint session of Congress on 6 January.

Straka “answered all questions honestly and denied the existence of any such conspiracy,” his attorney wrote in a court filing.

After President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election, Straka frequently told his supporters it was time to “rise up” in a “civil war”, according to Reed, the prosecutor.

“Many of these posts contain rhetorical flourishes that are common in political discourse. However, some of Straka’s references to concrete planning and action could reasonably have been interpreted by some readers as a call for more than just a figurative struggle,” Reed wrote.

Straka was scheduled to speak at a rally near the Capitol on January 6, following Trump’s speech near the White House. Straka learned that the Capitol had been breached before arriving at the building.

Video captured Straka telling rioters to “go, go, go” as they attempted to enter the Capitol. Straka can also be heard saying “take it, take it” as rioters grabbed a shield from an officer.

Straka tweeted: “Patriots on Capitol Hill – WAIT. THE. LINE!!!!” after leaving the area. Thousands of Twitter users liked or retweeted the post.

“Straka did nothing to show these supporters that his conduct was disgraceful. He even bragged about his conduct by posting about the riot the next day,” Reed wrote.

Straka made statements on social media that were “retrospectively irresponsible and potentially inflammatory,” but he hadn’t witnessed some of the worst violence on the west side of the Capitol, Essayli wrote.

“Once he understood the full context of events, Brandon recanted and deleted his prior statements,” Straka’s attorney added.

Straka was jailed for two days after his arrest in Omaha, Nebraska last January.

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