Now that more than 140 pro-Trump rioters have been charged with crimes for their part in the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol, many of the participants in the day’s crimes are now groping for excuses to explain why they were present at an insurrection. For the many thousands of people on the Mall that day, it has been uniquely hard to deny that they were there because the siege has to be the most photographed mass crime ever committed. The rioters snapped pics and recorded themselves, streamed and tweeted one another, all the while creating a trove of damning evidence for prosecutors once the dust settled.
And it’s settled! Now that the potential prison time is rolling in, the excuses for being inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 are coming hot and heavy. Here are the main strands of responsibility shifting (so far):
Trump sent me. This is a popular one that is going to be problematic for the former president. It’s so popular, in fact, that the most recognizable face (and clothing) of the insurrection, “QAnon Shaman” Jacob Chansley, is now blaming Donald Trump. “He listened to him,” Chansley’s lawyer explained. “He felt like he was answering the call of our president.”
“Let’s roll the tape. Let’s roll the months of lies and misrepresentations and horrific innuendo and hyperbolic speech by our president designed to inflame, enrage, motivate,” Chansley’s lawyer said. “What’s really curious is the reality that our president, as a matter of public record, invited these individuals, as president, to walk down to the Capitol with him.”
I thought forcibly storming the Capitol was allowed. This line of defense dovetails nicely with the “Trump sent/invited me to the Capitol.” “There was absolutely no indication that we were anything but welcome to check out certain places,” Thomas Robertson, a member of Virginia’s Rocky Mount Police Department, told WSET about why he participated in the siege.
I was actually a journalist, not a bigot. That’s the line Nick Ochs, a founder of Proud Boys Hawaii, is toeing. “We didn’t have to break in,” Ochs told CNN. “I just walked in and filmed.” Earlier, Ochs tweeted a picture of himself smoking a cigarette in the Capitol with the tagline “Hello from the Capital lol.”
I do what the bullhorn tells me. So say Kevin and Hunter Seefried. CNN reports the “father-son duo had come to the Capitol on January 6 to hear Trump speak and they marched to the Capitol following a person with a bullhorn, they told the FBI.”
Where am I again? “I was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” explained Brad Rukstales, the CEO of a Chicago-area marketing technology firm.
I like art. And then there’s now–former Houston police Officer Tam Dinh Pham. When questioned by investigators shortly after returning home to Texas, Pham deployed the “who, me?” defense, denying that he had been present. When an agent asked to browse through Pham’s phone, the agent didn’t find any pictures dated from the insurrection. That is, until “the agent checked Pham’s ‘deleted’ folder and found videos and images of him inside the Rotunda, including one shot of him posing in front of a statue of former president Gerald Ford affixed with a ‘Trump 2020’ flag,” federal officials told the Washington Post. “Faced with the photo evidence, Pham then allegedly admitted to climbing over torn-down fences to get inside. But still, he insisted his reasons were benign: He just wanted the rare opportunity to view ‘historical art,’ investigators said.”
The historical art defense. Classic.