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Defense Attorneys Representing Capitol Riot Defendants Are Receiving Threats


The lawyers defending people who are accused of participating in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6 have been very busy. There are court hearings, legal filings, meetings with prosecutors. Some of them have also gotten a lot of public attention, and along with that, nasty emails, late-night phone calls, even death threats. Here's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Attorney Nabeel Kibria represents one-half of a Virginia couple, Jessica and Joshua Bustle, who were among the first defendants in the sprawling Capitol riot investigation to plead guilty. Soon after, Kibria says, the calls and emails came rolling in.

NABEEL KIBRIA: I received death threats 48 hours after the Bustles' plea deal from people - from, you know, who you would think were on a whole different spectrum than what the Bustles are in terms of political ideology or the people of the January 6 riots.

LUCAS: Kibria is not alone. NPR has spoken to around a dozen lawyers who represent Capitol clients, and about a quarter of them have received blowback from the public in one form or another.

HEATHER SHANER: I'm getting phone calls and emails and letters from both sides.

LUCAS: Heather Shaner represents several defendants charged in the Capitol riot, including the first person to be sentenced in the investigation, an Indiana grandmother who pleaded guilty and received three years of probation.

SHANER: I get phone calls about once a day. I answer the phone, and I get [expletive] you. That's usually from the right. From the left, I get, she needed to go to jail for the rest of her life.

LUCAS: Shaner says she's received about eight or nine nasty calls, often around 3 o'clock in the morning. One message, she forwarded the FBI out of an abundance of caution.

SHANER: It's kind of sad that people take this so personally and go to the trouble to either send me a mean email or find my phone number and call me and harangue me.

LUCAS: Shaner says she's never experienced anything like this before, despite representing clients in high-profile cases in the past. For Patrick Leduc, the nasty-grams began piling up shortly before his client, Paul Hodgkins, became the first defendant to be sentenced for a felony in the Capitol investigation.

PATRICK LEDUC: They've called me a traitor. They've called me - oh, man, there's so many.

LUCAS: Leduc is a colonel in the Army Reserves JAG Corps, and while we're on the phone, he starts digging through his emails.

LEDUC: My wife's good at this. Pat, don't even read them. Don't dwell on them. It's like, no, I won't, love. Let me see here if I can find a few.

LUCAS: He pulls several up and reads them out loud. One opens...

LEDUC: As lawyers go, you are the lowest.

LUCAS: Several of the messages lump Leduc in with those who stormed the Capitol. Here's Leduc again, reading from another email.

LEDUC: I personally would like to see all of these traitors lose their citizenship and spend the rest of their lives without a country. And he included me in that (laughter). That's awesome. I've spent 34 years in the United States Army.

LUCAS: Leduc points out that within days of his client's sentencing, Leduc was deploying overseas again with the U.S. military. Only a few of the messages any of the lawyers received sparked concern. Mainly, they say, the vitriol is a reflection of the political climate and the partisan strife that runs increasingly deep in this country. There were also a few bright spots, though. Shaner says she's received a couple of nice calls, one from a former prosecutor living in Alaska, another from an older gentleman in Virginia, and a third from a librarian and schoolteacher who wants to help get more books into prisons.

Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.