A judge has acquitted six people who faced as much as 50 years in prison over seven charges stemming from a Jan. 20 anti-Trump protest in Washington, D.C., Peter Sterne of the Freedom of the Press Foundation reports. The so-called "J20 defendants," including activists and an independent journalist, were found not guilty on all counts, including rioting and property destruction. Free speech groups are hailing the decision as a major win for "First Amendment rights in the age of [President] Trump," The Independent writes.
The prosecution's case was not built on evidence that the defendants actually destroyed property themselves, but that they participated in a march that was known to have turned violent and caused some $100,000 in damages. "Under the government's theory of the case, in which anyone arrested in the group is part of a conspiracy and is responsible for any actions taken by others, the lack of individualized wrongdoing doesn't matter," The Huffington Post writes in its summary of the case.
More than 230 people were mass-arrested at the Disrupt J20 protest and of those, more than 190 — including medics, journalists, and bystanders — still face some charges. "Hopefully [Thursday's acquittal] will send a very persuasive message to prosecutors everywhere that they're not going to get away with criminalizing protest organizing," a member of a defense group for the J20 protesters, Jude Ortiz, told The Independent.