Alleged rioter Dustin Thompson took the stand in his trial on Wednesday and told a Washington, DC, jury that he believed he had received “presidential orders” to go to the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.
“Besides being ordered by the President to go to the Capitol, I don’t know what I was thinking,” Thompson told the jury. “I was caught up in the moment.”
Thompson has contested almost none of what the government alleged he did at the Capitol: breaking into the Senate parliamentarian’s office twice, stealing a bottle of bourbon and a coat rack, watching one of the most violent scenes of the riot unfold and then fleeing from a Capitol Police officer attempting to question to him.
Instead, Thompson has claimed that he believed he was acting at the behest of then-President Donald Trump, who told the crowd at a rally that afternoon to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” The trial is a major test of that defense, which dozens of riot suspects have adopted so far, and could influence how others argue in court.
Thompson’s defense lawyer had previously asked Judge Reggie Walton, who is presiding over the case, for permission to ask the former President to testify during the trial. Walton denied that request, saying, “I don’t think we want individuals to feel they can listen to anybody and go out and commit a criminal act.”
During his testimony, Thompson said he had been laid off from his job as an exterminator at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. He said he was “isolated” and “stuck at home,” and eventually “fell down the rabbit hole” into online conspiracy theories
When Joe Biden took the lead in the 2020 presidential election, Thompson testified, he “didn’t think it was possible” and believed Trump when the then-President claimed the election had been stolen. Over the subsequent weeks, Thompson’s embrace of conspiracy theories grew stronger, he told the jury, and he decided to attend the January 6 rally after Trump tweeted about it.
Thompson said he had listened to every speaker during the “Stop the Steal” rally that served as a prelude to the riot and that the speakers had relitigated allegations of fraud.
Thompson testified that after a year without work, he had felt good when Trump told the crowd they were “stronger” and “smarter” than anybody. He then went to the Capitol, Thompson said, because he “felt like I had to do something to gain his respect, his approval.”
Justice Department lawyers sought to undercut Thompson’s argument by portraying the 38-year-old defendant as an adult who can make his own decisions.
Prosecutor William Dreher asked Thompson whether “on the morning of January 6, 2021, you got yourself dressed, all by yourself” and if “no one told you what to wear?”
“Yes,” Thompson responded. He also confirmed he had gotten to court by himself on Wednesday morning.
Dreher also argued that Trump wasn’t “standing right there next to” Thompson when he entered the Capitol, nor did the then-President say during his speech that day that “it is now legal to steal from the United States Capitol building.”