Capitol Rioter May Claim Trump Authorized His Tasing Of Officer Michael Fanone
In the last year, many of those who attacked the Capitol on January 6 have claimed, in their defenses, that they should be found innocent because they were just following Donald Trump's orders. Perhaps most famously, the lawyer for the QAnon shaman argued that his client was not only "just following orders" but was also brainwashed by Trump. A defense that, notably, did not even work for Patty Hearst.
Now, the public defenders representing Daniel Rodriguez, one of the accused Capitol rioters who allegedly attacked Officer Michael Fanone — indeed, the one charged with tasing him with a stun gun, causing him to have a mild heart attack — are putting forth a similar but even more specific defense. According to recently filed court papers, they may pursue a defense of "public authority," meaning that they would argue that the attack on Fanone was legal because Rodriguez believed he was acting on behalf of a "law enforcement agency or federal intelligence agency," meaning Trump.
The defense relies on United States v. Barker, in which the appeals court reversed the convictions of two Watergate burglars, Bernard Barker and Eugenio Martinez, on the grounds that they legitimately believed breaking into and burglarizing Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office was legal and part of a covert intelligence assignment for the United States Government, because the guy who told them to do it was E. Howard Hunt, a Nixon White House official they had worked under at the CIA. While (duh) Barker and Martinez and the rest of the White House Plumbers were all convicted of other things, the appeals court determined, fairly, that in that particular instance they had every reason to believe what they were doing was legal.
While it's a clever defense, it doesn't translate very well to this situation. Barker was a former undercover CIA agent and Martinez was, at that time, a CIA asset, and they were personally recruited to do a specific crime by a White House official they knew from the CIA. Rodriguez, as close as he may have felt to Trump emotionally, was not recruited by him or told, specifically, to tase Officer Michael Fanone in the neck.
The papers include a 145-page transcript of the interview in which Rodriguez confessed to tasing Fanone, which FBI agents conducted without properly Mirandizing Rodriguez. Which, you know, was not great of them. Naturally, his attorneys are requesting the confession be thrown out.
In the transcript, Rodriguez tries to suggest he thought he was helping Fanone by tasing him, which is certainly a take.
Q. And you chose to assault him while he's struggling?
A. Well, I just felt that, like -- I didn't know what they were going to do to him.
Q. And so, you tasered him to protect him?
A. I mean, that sounds stupid. I don't know if I tasered him to protect him, but maybe just to, like -- so he wouldn't struggle and get hurt, maybe. If they're going to beat him up or injury him or, like -- I don't know if they're going to -- I don't know what was going to happen to him. And, honestly, I didn't think very much about it because, when I did it, I was like, oh, my God. What did I just do? And I got out of there. I left. I did it and I left. [...]
Q. Then, tell us what happened. Don't leave the story be this crappy story that you're telling us right now, that you were just there to help him and taser him.
A. No, I wasn't — I was —
A. I'm not smart.
Q. Think about your mom.
A. No. I'm just not smart. I'm not lying to you guys. I'm not lying (indiscernible).
It's really worth reading, in that it is basically an extended real-life reenactment of the Mitchell and Webb "Are we the baddies?" sketch. While much of Rodriguez's personal defense in the interview relies on his claims that he not all that swift, he does seem to be incredibly aware that while he thought he was the "good guy," it turned out he was actually the bad guy the whole time.
Like, what are the consequences of, like, trying to overthrow a President or something, you know? And then I find myself in that position like that. Like, first I'm trying to be the good guy. I think I'm the good guy. I want to be the good guy. Now I'm, like, the bad guy.
And now it's like I just went after the President of the United States? Like, that is not a joke. That's something, like -- hello? Like, what was I thinking? What am I doing? Like, snap out of it. Like, you're going after the highest office out there. Like, you're delusional. What is -- what was wrong with you?
Like, FBI, CIA, Secret Service, like all these agencies and marshals and whatever's -- whoever's out there, it's like now I'm on their -- the enemy list of all them. I didn't -- that's how stupid I am. I didn't realize -- I don't know. I just didn't think it was going to turn out like this. I thought the good -- I thought was -- who I thought the good guys were, the good guys were going to win. And I thought I was a good guy. Wanted to be a good guy.
His story is basically that he had a rough life, was involved with criminal activities of varying kinds, and then got really into Alex Jones and InfoWars and Trump and pretty much dedicated his life to that "cause" -- that he thought of Trump as more friend than president. His reasoning for what he thought was going on that day are bizarre.
The preparations were for BLM and Antifa. We thought that they were going to go -- we thought we were going to hit it like a civil war. There was going to be a big battle. This is what I thought. [...]
I thought there was going to be a big battle in -- I thought that there was going to be battles across the country. I thought that there was going to be fighting, for some reason, in different cities and I thought that the main fight, the main battle, was going to be in D.C. because Trump called everyone there. And then I thought that that was going to bring BLM and Antifa there, and it was going to be, like, a big battle. That's what I really thought. They didn't -- that's not what happened.
Clearly, he was living in some kind of alternate universe. When asked what his thoughts were during the interview, he said:
I thought that we were going to save this -- I thought we were going to do something. I thought that it was not going to end -- happen like that. I thought that Trump was going to stay President and they were going to find all this crooked stuff and were going to -- I mean, we found out that -- we thought that we did something good.
We were getting Nancy -- somebody was -- it was rumored that Nancy Pelosi got her laptop stolen and that they found all this evidence on it and it was a secret plan. We were, like -- it was, like, a -- it was a -- were a distraction. We were put there to go distract and so somebody can go get Pelosi's laptop and then get all the intel.
And then we could just bust everything and find the truth and it'll be all exposed and we'll see that she's corrupt or some kind of evidence. And we thought we were being a -- we were part of a bigger thing. We thought we were being used as a part of a plan to save the country, to save America, save The Constitution, and the election, the integrity.
There's an instinct to want to believe that the people who invaded the Capitol that day were bad people who knew they were doing bad things. Anything else, to some degree, feels like it's excusing their behavior or giving them pity or humanization they don't deserve. The point is supposed to be that it doesn't matter.
But it does matter. People who do crimes knowing that what they are doing is wrong are one thing. People who do them thinking they are the hero of the story are, historically, a whole lot more dangerous.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse