On January 20th, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. Following his inaugural address, as the upper echelons of the American political establishment mingled on the National Mall, several blocks away, a riot was breaking out. A black bloc several hundred strong was wreaking havoc on the streets. The bloc was part of the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march, one component of a broader day of protests organized under the umbrella #DisruptJ20. Armed with spray paint, crowbars and rocks, this mob smashed windows, clashed with police and redecorated a limo that would eventually be put to the torch. The police repression was swift. Amidst the haze of pepper spray and flashbangs, over two hundred protesters were kettled, and arrested by DC’s Metro Police.
So began one of the most important political trials in recent history. In an effort to set a chilling precedent for anti-Trump resistance, the US Department of Justice charged over 200 people with eight separate felony charges, threatening them with upwards of 80 years in prison. In her crusade to paint the J20 black bloc as one giant conspiracy to riot, federal Prosecutor Jennifer Kerkhoff filed warrants to seize people’s digital data, and entered into an alliance with discredited far-right media outfits peddling doctored evidence. Faced with this repressive array of state power, J20 defendants responded with unflinching solidarity, setting a new standard for political defense in the age of Trump. This is their story.