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Internet troll faces trial after Capitol riot plea fizzles

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A federal judge has scheduled a trial next year for a far-right internet troll after the man, known to his social media followers as ‘Baked Alaska’, balked at pleading guilty on Wednesday to a criminal charge stemming from the US Capitol riot.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan refused to accept a guilty plea from Anthime Gionet after claiming his innocence at the start of what was to be a plea deal hearing. Instead, the judge set a March 2023 trial date for Gionet, who is charged with one misdemeanor count of marching, demonstrating or picketing inside a Capitol building.

“If he wants a trial, he’ll get a fair trial,” Sullivan said.

After speaking privately with Gionet’s attorneys, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi said prosecutors would leave the plea offer open for 60 days. The judge has scheduled a hearing on the status of the case for July 22.

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Gionet would have faced a maximum sentence of six months in prison if he pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor.

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During the January 6, 2021 riot, Gionet broadcast live video showing himself inside the Capitol and repeatedly encouraging other rioters to stay there. He joined others in chanting, “Patriots in control” and “Whose house is this?” Our house!” Before leaving, he rudely called a police officer an “oath breaker,” the FBI said.

Gionet told the judge he wanted a trial, but claimed prosecutors had threatened to “hit” him with an additional felony charge.

“So I think that’s probably the best path,” he added.

“Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty? asked Sullivan.

“I believe I am innocent, your honor,” Gionet replied.

“I can’t accept your guilty plea if you tell me you’re innocent,” the judge said.

Aloi said prosecutors never threatened to charge Gionet with a crime if he didn’t accept the plea deal.

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“We said the matter would continue to be investigated and the facts would lead to where the charges ultimately lead,” she said.

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“I accept this representation,” the judge said. “Your office went very honourably.”

Gionet’s attorney claimed he only went to Washington, DC to document what happened that day. Prosecutors disputed Gionet’s claim that he is a member of the news media.

Other riot defendants have argued that they simply went to the Capitol as reporters to document what happened on Jan. 6. protest, speak freely and report the news.

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Federal authorities used Gionet’s video to prosecute other rioters, including three New York men. Antonio Ferrigno, Francis Connor and Anton Lunyk pleaded guilty on April 28 to charges related to the riots. Gionet’s livestream showed them in Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office, according to court documents accompanying their plea agreements.

Gionet was arrested in Houston less than two weeks after the riot. He has moved from Arizona to Florida since his arrest.

Gionet, who grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, has used social media to build a following in far-right political circles. He has become known for posting videos in which he attempts to troll or prank his targets. He was due to speak at the white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, before it erupted in violence and bloodshed in 2017.

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BuzzFeed, where Gionet once worked, reported that Twitter permanently banned him from its platform after the Charlottesville rally.

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In January, Gionet was sentenced to 30 days in jail for misdemeanor convictions stemming from a December 2020 encounter in which authorities said he fired pepper spray at a Scottsdale bar worker. , Arizona.

More than 790 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Over 280 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors, and over 170 have been sentenced. About 100 more have trial dates.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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