In a stunning repudiation of Democratic politicians and a news media howling about terrorism and “insurrection,” a federal judge on April 6 found that a New Mexico man “reasonably believed” that police were standing aside and allowing him into the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 protest.
Defendant Matthew Martin, who went inside the Capitol building carrying his Trump flag, was found not guilty of all charges and released.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden said that although prosecutors argued Martin must have known he wasn’t allowed on Capitol grounds or inside the building, that was outweighed by Martin’s “plausible” belief that he had permission because officers didn’t try to stop him from entering.
McFadden called Martin’s conduct “minimal and non-serious” despite his having ventured into the Capitol on Jan. 6 with hundreds of other Americans. The judge characterized Martin as a “silent observer” at the event who didn’t crowd the police, protest, or even wave the “Trump” flag that he was carrying. Martin was described as “quiet” and “orderly” as he walked inside the building, filmed video inside the Rotunda as a member of the media would, and didn’t appear to interfere with officers as he filmed a clash with rioters later in the afternoon on a north terrace of the building.
Other judges presiding over Jan. 6 cases aren’t bound by McFadden’s findings, but future defendants may now point to his analysis of what it would take to find a nonviolent participant in Capitol protest guilty of federal crimes.
McFadden, confirmed under former president Donald Trump, has proven skeptical about the Justice Department’s charging decisions in Jan. 6 cases. In other cases he has questioned whether prosecutors were “even-handed” in their charges against people involved with the Capitol invasion as compared to previous protests, a comment that prompted public disagreement from a colleague and fellow U.S. district judge.
Martin testified in his own defense and the case was decided at a bench trial and not by a jury. He was unapologetic about being part of the crowd that flooded into the building as lawmakers gathered to certify the results of the irregularity-ridden 2020 election and put Joe Biden in the White House amid concrete barriers, wire fencing and hundreds of armed troops.
He described Jan. 6 as “magical” even if some “bad things” had happened, and said that he didn’t regret coming to Washington although he might better have stayed away from the Capitol.