Jury Convicts Man for Social Media Posts Threatening U.S. Elected Officials
A U.S. federal jury found Brendan Hunt guilty of threatening to murder U.S. legislators, despite his insistence that the statements were made in jest.
Hunt, also known as “X-Ray Ultra,” posted a video two days after the 6 January riot in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C. In the video, Hunt called on his viewers to commit violence against senators and congress members, specifically to “slaughter” them. The video was part of a social media series beginning on at least 6 December 2020, during which Hunt called for the “public execution” of legislators.
The jury deliberated for approximately three hours before returning with a guilty verdict. They found that the statements Hunt made in the video were a genuine threat.
Hunt specifically mentioned U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), then minority leader in the Senate, and U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), as well as U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in separate social media posts. However, the jury determined that these posts were not criminal.
On Wednesday, after a weeklong trial in Brooklyn, a jury concluded that Brendan Hunt’s words in his conspiracy theory videos were not protected by the First Amendment. He was found guilty of making a threat to kill members of Congress. https://t.co/QACxibDkq6— NYT Metro (@NYTMetro) April 29, 2021
During the trial, Hunt claimed that his comments were not made seriously when he spoke about opening fire on members of Congress, but were instead part of the larger online “rhetoric going on at the time.” His trial has been seen as a litmus test on the point at which violent speech becomes a criminal act.
Hunt's sentencing hearing is scheduled for June. For the charge of making a threat to assault and murder a U.S. official, Hunt faces a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison. (United States v. Brendan Hunt, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 21-MJ-57, 2021)