Richard ‘Bigo’ Barnett, who backed into Pelosi’s office, testifies

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Richard “Bigo” Barnett’s first brush with fame, his viral moment, came during the riot at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, when, he says, he was “pushed” into the building by a growing crowd. and started wandering. , finally finding themselves in the deserted office suite of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Dressed in jeans and a baseball cap and carrying a high-voltage stun device around his waist, he leaned back in a swivel chair and placed his left foot, clad in a size-11 work boot, on top of a staff member’s desk.

Barnett, 60 at the time, was a sales employee for a construction company who had driven from rural Arkansas to DC to help save the country from “liberals,” he later told FBI agents. In the mayor’s outer sanctum, he reclined at the table with an air of nonchalance, like the head of the company, smiling and holding on as a photojournalist snapped one of the most widely viewed images of that day’s tumultuous attack on a joint session of Congress.

A presumed invader, at rest.

“Nancy, Bigo was here, you bitch,” he said in a note, leaving it on the table before leaving with an item that didn’t belong to him: an empty envelope addressed to a House Democrat and bearing Pelosi’s digital signature. (D-Calif.). “I put a quarter on the table, even though it’s not worth it,” he shouted hoarsely outside the Capitol, holding up his souvenir for the video cameras.

On Thursday, Barnett, charged with eight crimes related to the raid, including theft of government property (namely, an envelope), sat on the witness stand in federal court in Washington, where he was tried this month. Now he wore a charcoal blazer and dark slacks and kept his feet in black loafers on the carpet. His head was shaved and he wore a gray goatee thick enough to cover the knot in his tie. In a moderate accent, he said he “regrets it”.

“Because of all the controversies,” he testified. “I probably shouldn’t have put my feet up on the table. And my language. While he still suspects that former President Donald Trump was fraudulently denied re-election and that “nefarious characters” on the political left intend to destroy the Constitution, he told the jury he would personally apologize to Pelosi if he could.

“I am a Christian,” he said. “It just wasn’t good. It wasn’t who I am.”

As the Justice Department continues its extensive investigation into the January 6 mayhem, in which thousands of protesters stormed the Capitol as Congress gathered to confirm President Biden’s 2020 election victory, Barnett’s low-attended trial has hardly been this week’s main event in the US District Court. Elsewhere in the building, two separate, arguably more high-profile cases are underway against nine members of the right-wing extremist groups Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, all accused of seditious conspiracy stemming from the riot.

However, authorities are not taking Barnett lightly. In addition to robbery, he is accused of carrying a dangerous weapon on Capitol Hill, as well as half a dozen crimes involving civil disorder, illegal entry, illegal demonstration, and obstruction of congressional proceedings. He could spend significant time in prison if convicted on what his lawyers have suggested was a vindictive indictment, with a pile of thinly substantiated charges filed over the effrontery of their client’s notorious pose in the speaker’s suite.

“The most famous trespassing case of all time,” attorney Joseph D. McBride said sarcastically on Wednesday in his delayed opening statement, after the administration finished presenting its evidence.

“This case is about a photo taken by a journalist who was scouting the Capitol looking for the perfect shot and boy did he get it,” McBride said. He described Barnett as “this crazy Arkansas redneck” given to “booing and screaming” who “got shoved into the Capitol and put his foot on the wrong person’s desk”.

McBride said the evidence in the case is insufficient to prove the legal elements of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt. More broadly, though, he cast Barnett as a harmless braggart – “that crazy uncle” who “has no sense of boundaries” or “social norms”, who “doesn’t necessarily fit into today’s world” and “routinely offends others”. with political incorrectness.

Hoping to bridge the cultural gap between his client and the DC judges, McBride asked the panelists to think of a fearful braggart, beloved but barely tolerated, in their families in cosmopolitan Washington. “Take him out of that urban sophistication and leave him in the western Arkansas hills,” McBride said, “and now you have Bigo Barnett.”

On the witness stand in Judge Christopher R. Cooper’s courtroom, Barnett, with a wry smile, admitted that he “is sometimes a loudmouth.” He is also a “loving father and husband”, he told the jury, and an ardent “patriot”.

In Gravette, Ark., his small hometown in the Ozarks, he gets most of his news from the Internet, he said. Amidst the racial unrest of 2020, he feared the country was in ruins, with protesters “burning down buildings and pulling people out of cars and killing people”. That was the story he got from the sites he visited. And he said he was angry that Washington’s politicians seemed more beholden to special interests than “us the people.”

Then came “the stolen election”. Barnett said he felt compelled to attend Trump’s January 6 incendiary rally at the Ellipse that preceded the Capitol riot. Before leaving for Washington, he stopped at a Bass Pro Shops to get kitted out, buying six walkie-talkies, a few cans of pepper spray, and a retractable cane called the ZAP Hike ‘n Strike, equipped at one end with a fountain. 950,000 volt power supply. stun device.

“I bought it for protection,” he testified. In DC, “I knew that at night antifa could be roaming around killing and stabbing people. I wanted to be prepared.”

Antifa (short for antifascist) is an amorphous movement of far-left activists, some violent and some not, with a host of radical ideals and no coherent organizational structure, according to people who have studied the group. But Barnett thinks otherwise. “Apparently they have chapters everywhere,” he learned in chatrooms and elsewhere online.

Carrying his Hike ‘n Strike and an American flag affixed to a 10-pound metal pole, Barnett said, he was in a crowd of Trump supporters outside the massive Columbia Doors on the east front of the Capitol when the crowd entered the entrance. The tide carried him into the building, he said, and he wandered until he ended up in Pelosi’s suite while looking for a bathroom.

Two photojournalists arrived at the same time. “They said, ‘Do you mind if we take your picture?’” Barnett recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, I think so.’ So they said, ‘Why don’t you just sit back and be natural?’ … I’m just going with the flow at this point. … I just sat in the chair and threw my legs up because they said to act natural. The photo of Barnett with his boot on the table, his flag on a sideboard next to him, is credited to Saul Loeb of Agence France-Presse.

It has always been his “natural” habit to lean back and stomp his feet on the table, at home and at work, Barnett said. He even sat like this during an FBI interview after his arrest. (“Sound familiar?” he told the agents.) But this time it altered his future, leaving him grounded.

“Two years of wasted life, misery for my family,” he said of his legal situation.

Ending his direct examination on Thursday, McBride asked Barnett again about the now former Speaker of the House.

“I mean, I can’t turn around and honestly say that I think Nancy Pelosi is a good person,” he responded. “But I shouldn’t have called her a bitch. This is not right.”

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