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Olathe Proud Boy’s attorneys argue Trump to blame for deadly Capitol insurrection

By Judy L. Thomas Updated February 17, 2021 06:41 PM

Former President Donald Trump — not the rioters — was responsible for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, attorneys for a Kansas City-area Proud Boy argued in federal court Wednesday.

At a hearing on the government’s request that William “Billy” Chrestman remain incarcerated pending trial, his attorneys said the Olathe man was not a serious flight risk, chances were slim that he would attempt to obstruct the prosecution and he was not a danger to the community.

“It is an astounding thing to imagine storming the United States Capitol with sticks and flags and bear spray, arrayed against armed and highly trained law enforcement,” Chrestman’s attorneys said in a court filing opposing the prosecutors’ request. “Only someone who thought that they had an official endorsement would even attempt such a thing.

“And a Proud Boy who had been paying attention would very much believe he did.”

That endorsement, Chrestman’s defense contended, came from Trump.

Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge James O’Hara said he would rule within a few days on whether to release Chrestman pending trial.

He told Chrestman that “the charges involve overthrowing the United States government. … That is a very serious matter, and that factor weighs heavily in favor of detention.”

But the judge also said other factors, including lack of a serious criminal history and strong family ties in the area, weigh in favor of his release.

Chrestman and two other Kansas City-area Proud Boys — Christopher Kuehne of Olathe and Louis Enrique Colon of Blue Springs — were charged last week with conspiracy, civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

Chrestman, an Army veteran, also is charged with threatening to assault a federal law enforcement officer and using and carrying a dangerous weapon during the commission of the offense. He could be seen on numerous videos alongside other Proud Boys during the insurrection, dressed in tactical gear, leading chants and wielding an ax handle inside the Capitol.

“The government’s evidence against you is very strong, if not overwhelming,” O’Hara said.

The judge told Chrestman that what the rioters did on Jan 6 “was incredibly stupid and dangerous, and it led to the deaths of five individuals. And that’s on you, and nobody else.”

O’Hara also said he was particularly concerned about a statement Chrestman allegedly made to Capitol Police officers who were attempting to guard the Capitol. According to the probable cause affidavit, Chrestman yelled at them, ‘You shoot and I’ll take your f—— ass out!’”

Chrestman appeared in court in a dark green jumpsuit with his hands and legs shackled. Several of his family members watched the proceeding, some in tears.

Chrestman, Kuehne and Colon — along with siblings Felicia and Cory Konold of Arizona — are accused of conspiring to “corruptly obstruct, influence or impede an official proceeding before Congress” and “to obstruct, impede or interfere with a law enforcement officer during the commission of a civil disorder.”

Colon, 44, is a former Blue Springs police officer and Kuehne, 47, is a retired Marine Corps officer. The two were released on their own recognizance last week and are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Feb. 26.

Chrestman isn’t the first to claim that Trump was to blame for the deadly Capitol invasion. Others, including Jacob Chansley — also known as the “QAnon Shaman” and the most visible figure in the riot — have cited Trump’s encouragement.

At Wednesday’s hearing — held in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas — federal prosecutors argued that Chrestman, 47, was a flight risk and a danger to society and should remain locked up. In a Feb. 12 court motion, they alleged that he was the leader of a cell of Kansas City-area Proud Boys that breached the Capitol.

“Releasing Defendant Chrestman to rejoin their fold and plan their next attack poses a potentially catastrophic risk of danger to the community,” the motion said.

“Defendant Chrestman, a member of a right-wing militia, knowingly and willfully participated in a riot that was designed to prevent the United States Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 Presidential election,” the filing said. “Not only did Defendant Chrestman participate in the riot, he assumed a leadership role by shouting ‘Whose house is this?’ and encouraging the crowd to ‘Take it!’”

In their filing, prosecutors said there was no reason to believe that Chrestman or any of his Proud Boy associates were “any less interested in fomenting rebellion than they were on January 5.”

If nothing else, they said, the events of Jan. 6 “have exposed the size and determination of right-wing fringe groups in the United States, and their willingness to place themselves and others in danger to further their political ideology.”

But Chrestman’s attorneys — public defenders Kirk Redmond and Chekasha Ramsey — said he was not a threat and laid much of the blame at Trump’s feet.

Long before Jan. 6, they argued in a court filing, the Proud Boys had gained entry into the Republican mainstream. They saw their leader, Enrique Tarrio, become the Florida state director of Latinos for Trump and watched as the Trump campaign allowed Proud Boys rallies to merge into Trump events. And, the defense said, “they watched when then-President Trump, given an opportunity to disavow the Proud Boys, instead told them to ‘stand back and stand by.’”

“Having seen enough,” the defense filing said, “the Proud Boys (and many others who heard the same message) acted on January 6.”

But their calculations were wrong, Chrestman’s attorneys said.

“The five weeks since January 6 have broken the fever dream,” they said in the court filing. The Proud Boys are in disarray and leaders are bickering about the direction they should now take.

“And not insubstantially, a number of their members have been arrested for their roles in the January 6 attack.”

The government’s assertion that releasing Chrestman would be dangerous to society is off base, his attorneys argued.

“The world is a much different place since January 6,” the filing said. “The Proud Boys are enfeebled. President Trump is now former President Trump. And Mr. Chrestman has experienced the clarity of perspective sometimes imparted by a federal prosecution and associated incarceration.”

If convicted of all charges, Chrestman faces a maximum 46 years and six months in prison and more than $1 million in fines.

Chrestman’s attorneys also said the court should consider Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s explanation of his vote in Trump’s impeachment trial last week. They noted that McConnell, who voted not to convict Trump, called the former president’s actions preceding the riot “a disgraceful dereliction of duty” and said that “the people who stormed this building believed they were acting on the wishes and instructions of their President.”

The rioters were “actively misled” by Trump, Chrestman’s attorneys said in their filing.

“Trump told the assembled rabble what they must do; they followed his instructions. Then, he ratified their actions, cementing his symbiotic relationship with the rioters.”

O’Hara wanted to know if Chrestman actually agreed that Trump misled the rioters.

Redmond talked briefly with Chrestman, then told the judge that Chrestman believed at the time that they would be allowed into the Capitol, “but at this point understands that that’s no longer the case.”

In their motion, prosecutors noted several examples of what they described as Chrestman’s “concerning behavior” since returning from the riot. When agents executed a search warrant at Chrestman’s home on Feb. 11, they said, Chrestman’s cellphone was found in his young child’s dresser drawer. And they couldn’t find any of the camouflage clothing or tactical gear similar to what Chrestman wore during the Capitol riot, or any firearms — even though Chrestman had repeatedly displayed a rifle on social media posts.

The absence of those items, prosecutors argued, suggest he removed evidence linking him to the crimes.

Chrestman’s attorneys countered that if he had gotten rid of his firearms, “that’s precisely the kind of responsible behavior this Court should encourage.”

“With knowledge that the FBI might arrest him at this home and search the premises (as the FBI did), removing firearms from the home operated to potentially de-escalate the situation,” they said in their filing.

During the hearing, Redmond told the judge that the rifle Chrestman had posted on social media “is not his firearm.”

Chrestman’s attorneys also noted that after being contacted last month by a Star reporter about multiple sources identifying him as a participant in the Capitol breach, he did not flee but contacted an attorney.

“Despite his looming arrest, the FBI found Mr. Chrestman at his home,” they said.

In their Feb. 12 motion, prosecutors also said that Chrestman had removed the street address numbers from his home after returning from Washington, D.C. But at Wednesday’s hearing, assistant U.S. attorney Scott Rask corrected that assertion, saying “there’s a lack of certainty” as to whether the agent who surveilled Chrestman’s house on Jan. 19 actually saw the numbers.

The Star, which published a story Feb. 4 about Chrestman’s involvement in the riot, spoke to him on the phone three times since Jan. 24. He repeatedly responded, “I’ve got no comment at this time” when asked about the Capitol invasion and declined to say whether he was involved with the Proud Boys.

Chrestman’s attorneys said he is a military veteran, union sheet metal worker and long-time Olathe resident — characteristics they said weigh in favor of his release.

“He has a family that loves him,” they said in the court filing. “He does not abuse drugs or alcohol, and does not suffer from any mental health condition. He was not on probation, parole, or any other kind of supervision at the time of the charged offense.”