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Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Another Insurrectionist Tries the Autism Defense

There is no evidence linking autism to planned violence, but in recent years, mass shootings by young men have led commentators in the mainstream media and on the Internet to suggest such a connectionAfter the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, for instance, news reports said that the shooter was on the spectrum. The speculation made little sense to anyone who understood autism. Whereas autistic people have language delays and deficits, the killer had learned English as a second language — and learned it well enough to major in the subject in college. Later on, it turned out that he had an entirely different problem, a social anxiety disorder. Adam Lanza, who committed the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, may have had an Asperger’s diagnosis, but his father emphasized that his behavior stemmed from the psychiatric illnesses that he also had. Nevertheless, the media speculated about Lanza’s place on the spectrum, which worried autism parents. One mother of an autistic child wrote: “This is the first time I'm truly afraid for him. Afraid of what may happen to my son with autism at the hands of a stranger; a stranger who has chosen to buy into the media-fueled misinformation that individuals diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder are dangerous and capable of horrendous acts of terror and violence.”

Daniel Barnes and Ryan J. Reilly at NBC News:
 A Jan. 6 defendant, in opening arguments at his trial before a jury Wednesday, compared himself to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and said he liked that members of Congress were fearing for their lives during the Capitol attack.Brandon Fellows at the U.S. Capitol in 2021.U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Brandon Fellows was initially arrested 10 days after the Capitol riot in January 2021. He first faced misdemeanor charges but was later indicted on a felony charge of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting.

Fellows had been held in pretrial custody since mid-2021. He was detained because, while he was on pretrial release in his Jan. 6 case, he called his probation officer’s mother and reportedly harassed a former girlfriend, in violation of a state protection order. In recent court filings, he called U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden corrupt and biased.

Jury selection took place Tuesday, and opening arguments began Wednesday, with Fellows representing himself before jurors.

Fellows told jurors that he believes Jan. 6 "was a beautiful day." He said he’s on the autism spectrum and had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, as well as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Fellows referred Elon Musk, calling the owner of the social media platform X, previously known as Twitter, a "high-functioning person" he looked up to, and he said people with Asperger's "are more susceptible to manipulation." He told jurors that he would express beliefs they would find abhorrent.

“I truly do like the fact that those senators and congressman were in fear for their lives,” Fellows told jurors near the end of his roughly 19-minute opening statement, doubling down on statements he had made on social media in the wake of the riot.

AJ McDougall at The Daily Beast:

A Jan. 6 defendant who represented himself in court after being accused of smoking marijuana in a senator’s office during the Capitol attack was held in criminal contempt on Tuesday, with the judge overseeing his trial smacking him with a five-month jail sentence before jury deliberations in the case were even set to begin. Brandon Fellows, 29, has been in custody since June 2021 on a federal felony charge of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, as well as a number of other misdemeanors. As his trial, which began last week, wrapped up on Tuesday, Fellows took the stand. Asked about sitting down in the office that belonged to Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Fellows remarked, “I didn’t know it was a senator’s desk. It felt very comfy.” He also insisted that the rioters “had the right to overthrow” the government on Jan. 6. Later, as U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden explained to Fellows that he had forfeited his right to a rebuttal, Fellows replied, “I would expect nothing less from a kangaroo court,” according to NBC News. His contempt sentence was first reported by a Politico journalist. The jury is expected to begin deliberating on Fellows’ charges on Wednesday morning.