We recently discussed the release of photos of suspects by the FBI of individuals connected to the attack on the statue of Andrew Jackson outside of the White House. One of those arrested is Jason Charter who is described as the “ringleader.” He is also a George Washington University student and a professed supporter of Antifa. Charter is likely to be a priority prosecution for the Administration. However, his criminal case could raise some challenging issues on admissibility of evidence of his affiliations and political views.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a long-standing critic of Antifa due to its profoundly anti-free speech views and its history of violence against those with opposing views, though I have opposed declaring Antifa a terrorist organization. They have a history of attacking journalists, academics, and others. Indeed, I have been critical of Democratic leaders who have supported Antifa despite this history. Some professors openly support the group, including its violence.
Notably, one of the Antifa attacks on our own campus was covered by our university newspaper, The Hatchet, and one of those interviewed at the scene was Charter. It has a surprising connection to an incident referenced in the current controversy.
However, my interest in this case (other than the connection to GWU) is as a criminal defense attorney and how such political views can be admitted into evidence. There is always a concern that prosecutors will use political views to taint a case, particularly when you have an association with an extremist group like Antifa.
Charter was arrested at his home and charged with destruction of federal property. He is connected to not just the attack on the Jackson statue but the destruction of the statue of Confederate leader Albert Pike in Washington on June 19. The FBI states that news coverage shows Charter “standing over the toppled Pike Statue, pouring an unknown liquid onto the statue.” It also says that he is seen “waving others away from the statue, and squatting down behind the statue where his hands are not visible. Seconds later, the statue catches fire. Charter is said to be ‘seen standing over the flames as it burns.”
That description could be attacked by the defense as incomplete and lacking direct evidence that he was the one who set the fire. However, if he faces a single trial on both statues, a jury may be more inclined to rely on circumstantial proof in one due to the direct proof in the other. The FBI reportedly has pictures of Charter on the statue and actively engaged in the effort to topple the statue.
What could also be interesting is the fight over the admissibility of Charter’s express association and support for Antifa. As defense counsel, I would fight any effort at admissibility due to its potential prejudicial impact. However, the government can make a strong case for the evidence on a couple of levels. First, it goes to his intent and belief in violent action. Second, it goes to the organizing of these efforts through Antifa and antifascist groups. For example the complaint states that his Twitter account included a statement that “Tearing down statues of traitors to the nation is a service to this nation not a crime.” Charter praises the antifa movement repeatedly in social media posts and his Twitter bio includes the hashtag “#IAmAntifa.”
Various sites indicate that Charter has a background in programming and IT, including possible web design at GWU.
The FBI identified Charter as wearing Rose colored goggles and then alleged that they had other pictures of him without the googles.
One of the pictures shows the harassment of a conservative journalist, Jack Posobiec on June 26, 2020. He is shown being yelled at by someone wearing the same rose colored ski goggles. The man has been identified as Charter though his counsel may challenge that identification.
If it is Charter, it does not appear to be the first encounter between the two men.
The incident in 2017 involved an alleged Antifa supporter Sydney Ramsey-LaRee, 24, who was charged with simple assault after allegedly biking up and hitting Jack Posobiec, the Washington bureau chief of Rebel Media, a conservative group. The incident occurred near our Lisner Auditorium. Charter was part of the D.C. Anti-Fascist Coalition demonstration and there is no indication that Ramsey-LaRee was part of the group. However, Posobiec said that the masked members of the D.C. Anti-Fascist Coalition were calling him a “Nazi” when Ramsey-LaRee rode up and screamed “Where’s the Nazi? Where’s the Nazi?” Posobiec said that the group pointed at him and said “He’s the Nazi. He’s the Nazi” and Ramsey-LaRee attacked him. (“Punching Nazis” is a common theme of Antifa).
Any competent defense counsel would argue that the Posobiec encounter in 2020 should be excluded. However, the government again has an argument for admissibility in showing Charter wearing the same outfit as seen at the statue incidents.
The government could also seek to put on expert testimony that the googles and face coverings are viewed as signature characteristics of Antifa activists. Again, this would call for a pre-trial motion in limine to keep out such evidence as prejudicial. While Charter has praised the antifa movement repeatedly in social media posts and his Twitter bio includes the hashtag “#IAmAntifa,” the affidavit notably does not state that he was an active member or carrying out these actions as part of the group. Absent a direct connection, I would argue that this does not meet the threshold for admissibility under Rule 403.
Rule 403. Exclusion of Relevant Evidence on Grounds of Prejudice, Confusion, or Waste of Time
Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
The greatest problem is that, with a growing number of arrests, there will likely be much more evidence seized, including computer records, social media postings, and other items. There may also be cooperating witnesses. By identifying Charter as the “ringleader,” he is the least likely to be able to cut a deal as opposed to be the target of other deals on cooperation. The fact that they have him at the scene of two scenes of destruction makes his case the most likely to generate a significant sentence if convicted.
Even with these motions in limine, Charter is in a very poor legal position. A court is likely to allow in some of this evidence and the photos from the scene are quite damning. The defense could try to challenge the allegation that he cause the requisite level of damage. As discussed earlier, the government is likely to proceed under 18 U.S.C. §1361 for any damage exceeding $1000.
1361. Government property or contracts
Whoever willfully injures or commits any depredation against any property of the United States, or of any department or agency thereof, or any property which has been or is being manufactured or constructed for the United States, or any department or agency thereof, or attempts to commit any of the foregoing offenses, shall be punished as follows:
If the damage or attempted damage to such property exceeds the sum of $1,000, by a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or both; if the damage or attempted damage to such property does not exceed the sum of $1,000, by a fine under this title or by imprisonment for not more than one year, or both.
Jason Charter@JasonRCharterI am innocent and the fact @realDonaldTrump is tweeting at and prosecuting a crippled 25 year old activist shows how desperate his is to creates false narratives. Please support my legal defense