WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday convicted a Confederate flag-toting man and his son of charges that they stormed the US Capitol together during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, to obstruct Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
US District Judge Trevor McFadden delivered the verdict from the bench after hearing two days of testimony without a jury for the trial of Kevin Seefried and his adult son, Hunter.
McFadden convicted both Delaware men of a felony count: obstruction of an official proceeding, the joint session of Congress for certifying the Electoral College that day.
The judge also convicted the Seefrieds of misdemeanor charges that they engaged in disorderly conduct and illegally demonstrated inside the building. But he acquitted Hunter Seefried of other misdemeanor charges for clearing a shard of glass from a broken window at the Capitol.
They will remain free pending separate sentencing hearings in September.
McFadden, whom President Donald Trump nominated for the court in 2017, presided over two previous bench trials for Capitol riot defendants. He acquitted one of all charges and partially acquitted another.
Widely published photographs showed Kevin Seefried carrying a Confederate battle flag inside the Capitol after he and Hunter Seefried, then 22, entered the building through a broken window.
McFadden rejected the defense argument that Kevin Seefried never intended to interfere with the congressional proceedings.
“I find that he knew what he was doing,” McFadden said.
The judge described Kevin Seefreid as the “prime mover” in their decision to go to Washington on Jan. 6. McFadden said Hunter Seefried’s guilt on the obstruction charge was a “closer question,” but the judge ultimately concluded that the son engaged in “aggravated conduct” that supported a conviction.
“Hunter Seefried showed a pattern of deception and minimization of his actions” when an FBI agent interviewed him after the riot, McFadden said.
FBI agents said they did not find any evidence linking Kevin Seefried or his son to any far-right extremist groups. Kevin Seefried told an agent that he did not view the Confederate flag as a symbol of racist hate.
The trial included the first public testimony of Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman, who has been lauded for his bravery during the Jan. 6 attack by a mob of Trump supporters. Goodman led a group of rioters away from the Senate chamber as senators and then-Vice President Mike Pence were being evacuated. He also directed Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to turn around and head away from the mob.
Goodman met Kevin Seefried before the mob chased the officer up a set of stairs, a harrowing episode captured on video. The officer said the elder Seefried cursed at him and jabbed at him with the base end of his flagpole three or four times without making contact with him.
Another Capitol police officer who confronted the mob near the Senate chamber recalled that Kevin Seefried asked, “Why are you protecting them?”
“I assumed he was talking about Congress,” Officer Brian Morgan testified.
The Seefrieds were not charged with assaulting any officers.
Neither defendant tested at their trial.
The father and son traveled to Washington from their home in Laurel, Delaware, to hear Trump’s speech at the “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. They were among the first rioters to approach the building near the Senate Wing Door, according to prosecutors.
After watching other rioters use a police shield and a wooden plank to break a window, Hunter Seefried used a gloved fist to clear a shard of glass in one of the broken windowpanes, prosecutors said. But the judge found that two other rioters had destroyed the window before Seefried cleared the shard.
McFadden convicted the Seefrieds of four misdemeanor charges: entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a Capitol building or grounds, and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
The judge acquitted Hunter Seefried of three other misdemeanor counts: destruction of government property, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with physical violence against property, and acts of physical violence in the Capitol grounds or building.
The Seefrieds, who waived their right to jury trial, were the first Capitol riot defendants to get a bench trial on a felony charge.
In April, McFadden acquitted New Mexico resident Matthew Martin of misdemeanor charges that he illegally entered the Capitol and engaged in disorderly conduct after he walked into the building.
In March, McFadden acquitted a New Mexico elected official, Couy Griffin, of engaging in disorderly conduct but convicted him of illegally entering restricted Capitol grounds. McFadden is scheduled to sentence Griffin on Friday.
Also on Wednesday, a bench trial concluded for Jesus Rivera, a Pensacola, Florida, man charged with four riot-related misdemeanors. US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said she intends to issue a written verdict later this week, according to Guy Womack, an attorney for Rivera.
McFadden has criticized prosecutors’ handling of Capitol riot cases. He suggested that the Justice Department has been unjustly tougher on Capitol riot defendants compared with people arrested at protests against police brutality and racial injustice after George Floyd’s 2020 murder by a Minneapolis police officer.
More than 800 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack. Juries have unanimously convicted five Capitol riot defendants of all charges. More than 300 other defendants have pleaded guilty to riot offences, mostly misdemeanors. Approximately 100 others have trial dates in 2022 or 2023.