Reprinted from revcom.us
On November 20, the trial of six people arrested last January 20 during a defiant protest against Donald Trump’s inauguration began in District of Columbia Superior Court, a federal court. This is the first of a series of trials expected to go on through 2018. There are nearly 200 defendants in all, manyfacing 60 years in jail. They are known as the J20 Defendants.
This prosecution is an act of revenge against the protests that erupted as Trump took office, showing the whole world that there were millions in the U.S. who hate Trump and everything he stands for. The regime was deeply stung by the fact that its “big day” was covered on “split screen”—one showing a disgusting fascist spectacle (with relatively small crowds) and the other showing determined protesters in the streets at several demonstrations, including a march from McPherson Square led by Refuse Fascism that grew to 4,000 people, and another of about 700 people that was attacked by the police in Franklin Square. This rebuke to Trump continued the next day as millions took part in the Women’s Marches in D.C. and around the country.
But these trials are more than just revenge—they are a major escalation of fascist repression, with extremely ominous implications.
The government claims that these defendants are being prosecuted because shop windows were broken. But in her opening argument, U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff said (according to journalist Chip Gibbons, who was in the courtroom): “I’ll be very clear. We don’t believe any of the defendants personally engaged in property destruction.” [Our emphasis.]
So if the defendants didn’t damage any property, why are they facing 60 years in jail? “Kerkhoff argued that the defendants were as guilty as those who actually vandalized the businesses because they continued to walk with the group through the city.… It was their choice to stay.” (Washington Post, November 20)
As preparation for the danger of brutal attacks by the police or by fascist supporters of Trump (both of which are common occurrences), medics took part in the march—and they too were arrested. By the logic of the U.S. Attorney, their presence was further evidence that the whole protest was a criminal enterprise—Kerkhoff said, “Oh, these medics, they’re not your first aid technician at a charity walk. Oh, no. They had tourniquets and gauze.” Tourniquets and gauze??
One of the people on trial now was there as a journalist, taking pictures and streaming the event. But supposedly because his voiceover showed sympathywith the demonstration, his act of reporting is also treated as a major crime.
According to the federal government, every single person at a protest is 100 percent responsible for any action that any individual or group takes or is alleged to take. Here the government is forging a legal tool that could severely criminalize even peaceful participation in any tumultuous protest. And it is not just targeting those who participate—the government is trying to obtain the URLs (web addresses) of over one million people who simply went to the protest organizers’ website! So even thinking about joining this protest is being criminalized.
What Actually Happened on January 20, 2017
Not only is the legal logic of the prosecution’s case straight-up fascist but their factual argument turns reality upside down. The U.S. Attorney showed brief snippets of video focused on people breaking windows, as if this characterizedthe protest. (She also showed and referred to a limousine that was set on fire—but didn’t mention that this occurred five hours after the defendants were taken into police custody.)
By contrast, the defense showed extensive footage of the march when it set off. Describing the footage, Chip Gibbons said, “… [I]t was just a normal march. There was one person with a dog. There was one person who their leg was injured up on a scooter. So, clearly not a violent mob, a normal march. A handful of people broke some trashcans and a parking meter. But beyond that, it was very clearly a protest based on the video I saw during opening evidence.”
And it should be noted that a massive force of heavily armed DC police (who had purchased $300,000 worth of military equipment in preparation) violently attacked the protesters! According to the National Lawyers Guild, not long after the march set off, “The police, without warning, fired pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets and flashbombs at protesters. The police tactics including kettling a large group of protesters, including at least one NLG Legal Observer, and spraying them with chemicals.” (Kettling refers to bottling in a large number of people and then arresting them en masse.)
Resistance by the protesters in self-defense against this brutal police attack is completely legitimate!
Several hundred people were held in police custody on the street for nine hours, without food, water, bathrooms, or medical care. There is footage of cops wantonly dousing people with pepper spray, including elderly and disabled people. Then over 200 were arrested and jailed for another 24 hours, with many still denied food or medical care. Four are suing the DC police for sexual assault while in custody.
Support the J20 Defendants, Oppose the Trump/Pence Regime’s Fascist Repression
A lot is at stake in these trials. The J20 Defendants should be vigorously defended and supported. And their spirit of determination to struggle and sacrifice in the interests of humanity should be called forth from thousands and millions who need to act with ever more defiance and determination to drive this regime from power.