NEW YORK (AP) — A social media agitator was convicted Wednesday on federal charges of threatening to kill members of Congress, a verdict that rejected his claims it was harmless rhetoric.
A jury found Brendan Hunt guilty at the close of a weeklong trial in federal court in Brooklyn.
Testifying in his own defense on Tuesday, the 37-year-old Hunt did not deny creating a series of menacing-sounding posts. But he the jury that they were often put together while impaired from smoking pot with a bong and drinking beer, and never thought they would be taken seriously.
“I wrote a lot of things I didn’t mean,” Hunt said, calling himself “immature” and “very irresponsible.”
He added: “I just feel terrible about how I expressed myself.”
A U.S. Capitol Police officer had testified at the trial, as prosecutors sought to link Hunt to the siege at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to his brand of extremism. He wasn’t there, but admitted posting videos and other materials expressing support for the violent mob.
Hunt — a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, avid comic book collector and an analyst for the New York court system — had pleaded not guilty to charges alleging, in part, that he called for the “public execution” of Democratic U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. Prosecutors say it was part of a monthlong online campaign to urge violence against members of Congress that culminated with a Jan. 8 video titled “Kill your senators. Slaughter them all.”
Defense attorneys had called the charges overblown. They argued Hunt’s posts and texts used as evidence, some containing racial slurs, were protected free speech and that there was no proof that he was dangerous.
The jury found that the video posed a real threat supporting the conviction. It decided a Facebook post referencing Pelosi, Ocasio-Cortez and Schumer did not rise to that level.
“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,” Acting U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko said in a statement.
Prosecutors said Hunt faces up to 10 years in prison at sentencing on June 22. A message was left with one of his lawyers on Wednesday.