A January 6 rioter who claimed he was following “presidential orders” when he stormed the US Capitol and stole liquor and a coat rack was convicted Thursday on all charges by a jury in Washington, DC.
Dustin Thompson, a 38-year-old exterminator from Ohio, faced six charges – obstructing an official proceeding, theft of government property, illegally entering the Capitol, illegally protesting in the Capitol, and two counts of disorderly conduct in the Capitol.
After the verdict, federal Judge Reggie Walton blasted former President Donald Trump’s conduct.
“The insurgency, and it was in effect that, is very troubling,” Walton said. “I think our democracy is in trouble because unfortunately we have charlatans, like the former President, in my view, who don’t care about democracy and only care about power.”
The trial marked the first time a Capitol riot defendant tried to convince a jury that Trump was responsible for the violence on January 6, 2021. Thompson’s lawyer told the jury Trump was an “evil and sinister man” who had incited the riot with his incendiary speech at the Ellipse, where he told his supporters to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell.”
Thompson had testified that he believed he was acting at the behest of Trump.
“Besides being ordered by the President to go to the Capitol, I don’t know what I was thinking,” Thompson told the jury Wednesday. “I was caught up in the moment.”
“If the President is giving you almost an order to do something, I felt obligated to do that,” Thompson said.
Prosecutors ridiculed this idea, arguing that Thompson is an adult capable of making his own decisions, and told the jury that Trump was not the one on trial.
“This is not President Trump’s criminal trial,” prosecutor William Dreher said Thursday. “This sideshow about the defense attorney trying to make you mad” at Trump “is just that, a sideshow.”
One juror told CNN after the verdict that jurors only considered whether Thompson was a “willing participant.”
“The one thing that we were discussing was the willingness, was he a willing participant” the juror said. “Lots of people were there and then went home. Dustin Thompson did not, and that’s the difference.”
The juror added that they “were just judging the case on its merits. I don’t think anyone thought about Donald Trump, even though clearly a lot of people have feelings.”
Impact on future cases
The guilty verdict could have major implications for the numerous other defendants who have attempted to shift blame onto the former President. Judges have been largely skeptical of Trump-made-me-do-it arguments from defendants, but this is the first time a jury has formally rejected it as well.
It could also reverberate into Trump’s own legal challenges. Trump is facing numerous civil lawsuits for allegedly inciting the mob. A federal judge in California said last month that it was “more likely than not” that Trump had committed a crime by trying to influence then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject Electoral College votes.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for less than three hours on Thursday.
As he sent Thompson immediately to jail pending sentencing, Walton said, “You make your bed, you lie in it.” Thompson then took off his tie, belt and jacket, and was handcuffed behind his back by a deputy US marshal and escorted out of the courtroom.
The most severe charge that Thompson was convicted of – obstruction of an official proceeding, a felony – carries up to 20 years in prison. He will be sentenced in July.
Nearly 800 people have been arrested in connection to January 6, and more than 250 people have pleaded guilty to federal charges. Three people have been convicted by juries so far, with several more trials scheduled this spring.
This story has been updated with additional details.