Closing arguments begin in first trial of Inauguration Day protesters

WASHINGTON — Jurors were told that protesters charged with rioting during the Jan. 20 inauguration were alternatively destroying the city or demonstrating First Amendment-protected actions in closing arguments Thursday.

Closing arguments in the nearly monthlong trial were expected to continue through Friday afternoon in D.C. Superior Court.

Defense attorney Steven McCool, representing Oliver Harris, told jurors that the prosecution’s case is an attack on the First Amendment.

“The government wants to criminalize Mr. Harris’s First Amendment right to walk in protest of Mr. Trump. He didn’t break anything. And what does the government say? ‘He didn’t leave.’ Well, he gets to stay,” McCool said.

“The First Amendment isn’t solely about speech. It’s also about freedom to associate. Freedom to speak out against Donald Trump and his message of hate,” said McCool. “I have no tolerance or interest to stand with anyone who would destroy that limo or Starbucks, but the government has to prove (Harris’) guilt.”

McCool said the government’s case “is riddled with reasonable doubt.”

Comparing the protesters’ black attire to football fans who wear opposing teams’ colors at Redskins games, McCool said if “a few knuckleheads” made trouble at FedEx Field, under the government’s argument, all fans wearing the same colored sports gear would be arrested.

“He can think what he wants about Donald Trump — that’s not criminal,” said McCool. He argued that the people who broke windows and committed more than $100,000 worth of damage weren’t on trial. “Those people are responsible for their own misconduct.”

Prosecutors have said that the protesters’ alignment with so-called “black bloc tactics” such as dressing in black and wearing masks to avoid being identified makes them guilty.

Prosecutors showed jurors photos and video of the rioting as protesters broke windows and storefronts. They said that the six people on trial chose to be there and participate in the chaos.

Jurors were told that the protesters were “destroying your city.”

More than 200 protesters were arrested on Jan. 20. About 20 of those charged in connection with the riots have pleaded guilty and prosecutors have dropped the charges in almost two dozen cases.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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