As punishment for protesting Donald Trump’s 2017 Presidential Inauguration in January, 196 people faced up to sixty years in prison each, accused of various charges ranging from breaking windows, throwing rocks and destroying a government vehicle. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colombia originally pushed jurors to convict defendants based solely on their participation in the inauguration protests, which predictably drew the ire of the ACLU.

Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Washington D.C. branch tells The Independent, “There is a serious potential that these prosecutions will have a chilling effect on future protestors who will be scared to use their First Amendments rights”

In addition to the ACLU, the Defend J20 group which formed in response to the charges and in support of the defendants issued a statement from organizer Kris Hermes: “We remain staunchly opposed to these prosecutions – period, full stop – and will do everything in our power to push back against these politically motivated prosecutions… It’s clear from [the prosecution’s] efforts so far that this is a case not about a few broken windows, but about an attempt to stifle dissent.”

The Justice Department now claims that it will focus its efforts on those whom they believe committed identifiable acts of violence or destruction, or defendants who planned those activities. A jury has also cleared the first seven defendants to stand trial against all charges filed against them late last month, according to reports by The Independent.

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