On November 29, Donald Trump threatened: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail.”
Gregory “Joey” Johnson and others from the Revolution Club burned the American flag in Cleveland at the entrance of the Republican National Convention on July 20, 2016, the night Trump was nominated. Joey Johnson and other flag burners were violently assaulted by the police and pro-Trump fascist thugs associated with Alex Jones and InfoWars. Joey Johnson is the same Johnson in the U.S. Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson (1989) that established flag burning as protected speech. Johnson and 15 others—the RNC 16—currently face serious criminal charges in Cleveland. (The defense has filed motions to discover the role of federal and other authorities in the assault on the RNC 16.)
The prosecution of the RNC 16 case looms even larger in light of the president-elect and next commander in chief of the United States having just decreed, without legal justification, that flag burning—an act of political dissent and free speech—should result in people going to jail, or even becoming stateless people without citizenship and any legal protections at all. This is one of the first legal challenges to the dangerous and deadly regime Trump intends to impose.
On December 1, Trump declared from his bully pulpit at a rally in Ohio (the state where the RNC 16 cases are being prosecuted): “And do you agree with my stance, that if people burn the American flag, there should be consequences. Think so. I think so.” This was followed by chants from the crowd of “USA, USA, USA.”
The fact that the president-elect is declaring that people don’t have the right to burn the American flag and should be punished for doing so (contrary to the reality that burning the flag is legal), in addition to his whipping up fascist mobs across the country to terrorize, threaten, and intimidate anyone from carrying out a constitutionally protected free speech act—all this has serious implications for the RNC 16 case. Trump is poisoning public opinion, including the jury pool, and this raises the question of whether the RNC 16 can get a fair and impartial jury, if this case goes to trial.
On December 1, more than 20 attorneys for the RNC defendants appeared at a pre-trial hearing held in Cleveland. They were prepared to make clear to the new judge, assigned to preside over the cases against all the 14 defendants now facing criminal misdemeanor charges, that the RNC 16 are determined to fight these charges and put the authorities and their system on trial. (Two other RNC 16 defendants are facing five serious felony charges and two misdemeanor charges before the Cuyahoga County Court.) Even though this hearing was intended by the judge to address procedural and logistical issues of the cases before him, the attorneys put before the court why they have filed motions to dismiss—that the defendants were attacked and are now being prosecuted for carrying out the constitutionally protected act of flag burning. They also brought to the light of day and to the judge further evidence relating to why the charges should be dismissed immediately. At this hearing, two important hearings were set for January 11 and January 26, 2017, on the defendants’ motions to dismiss the charges against those facing misdemeanor charges.
Further Arguments and New Evidence Exposed in Court
The attorneys for the defendants presented to the judge that the only charge against Joey Johnson and one of the other RNC 16 is assault on two Alex Jones/InfoWars/Trump operatives who claimed to have been burned by the flag burning. The court was informed that these so-called “victims” posted a video the night of July 20 where they bragged in an interview with Alex Jones that they went to the protest to attack Johnson—and actually attacked Johnson—to try to stop him from carrying out the flag burning. It was also pointed out that this video was provided by defense counsel to the prosecutor in August. This was evidence enough to show the charges against Joey and the other RNC defendant were bogus and should have been dropped immediately by the prosecutor. The attorneys for the two defendants charged with arson also filed motions to dismiss in September and October, which the prosecutor opposed.
In early November, the lead prosecutor of these cases, Kimberly Barnett-Mills, admitted in letters to the defense attorneys that her office had “misplaced” the evidence in this case—the statements and the video provided by the so-called “victims,” which are the basis of the assault charges. And she said that she could not verify the replacement video again provided by the so-called “victims”! The defense counsel argued before the judge that all this was further grounds for the charges being dropped.
In addition, the RNC 16 attorneys have been fighting to force authorities to turn over evidence that will reveal how a whole slew of government agencies and fascists collaborated and conspired to attack them when they exercised what is supposed to be a constitutionally protected form of free speech. Specifically, they are trying to uncover the relationship of Alex Jones to the U.S. Secret Service, which was the lead agency responsible for security at the RNC, along with other federal agencies, in order to expose what collaborating and conspiring went into the pre-planned assault and continues with the prosecution of the RNC 16. Alex Jones had a special guest credential to the RNC. In October, the prosecutor opposed a subpoena served on Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams and refused to order him to turn over such documents, arguing that any “plans, strategies, tactics, methods of intelligence gatherings or briefings” are confidential. (For more, see “We did nothing wrong—we have right on our side: RNC Flag Burners Go On the Offensive.”) Since the election, the special and close relationship that Alex Jones had with Trump before the election—and continues to have with him—has been all over the news.
At the December 1 hearing, the prosecutor backed off from refusing to turn over the documents demanded by the defense, and told the court that they would turn over those documents by December 15. The defense attorneys are prepared to file further motions to the court if ALL the documents demanded are not turned over on that date.
After hearing the arguments presented, the court set January 11 at 1:30 pm for an evidentiary hearing on the motion to dismiss the charges of assault against Joey Johnson and another Revolution Club member. Witnesses, including the two so-called “victims,” will be subpoenaed to appear in court. And the attorneys will present evidence exposing the illegal assault and outrageousness of the continued prosecution of these and all the defendants.
The court also set January 26 at 10 am for a hearing on the motion to dismiss all the misdemeanor charges against the other RNC defendants. One of the attorneys for the RNC 16 made the point to the judge that the court should make arrangements for the hearing to be in a larger courtroom to allow the public, including supporters of the RNC 16 and the media, to attend and observe.
This case can and must be part of setting different terms in society for the storms to come and for all those who refuse to accept a fascist America. People must demand that the prosecutors drop the charges NOW and pledge to pack the courtroom for the upcoming hearings on January 11 and 26 if the charges are not dropped.
DROP THE CHARGES ON JOEY JOHNSON AND THE RNC 16!
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Demand that Prosecutor Kimberly Barnett-Mills drop the charges on Gregory “Joey” Johnson and the RNC 16. Phone: 216-664-4850; Fax: 216-664-439.
Demand that prosecutor Timothy McGinty drop the charges on the two members of the RNC 16 facing felony charges. Phone: 216-443-7800; Twitter: @Pros_TimMcGinty
Funds are needed to defray the costs of the defense, and to make speakers available on this case. To donate, go here.
To contact the RNC 16 and to request Joey Johnson or one of the other RNC 16 to speak at your school, email: firstname.lastname@example.org