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Prosecutors Ask Ninth Circuit to Reinstate Arson Charges Against George Floyd Protesters

Federal prosecutors on Monday asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a judge’s ruling dismissing an indictment against two men accused of torching a police car during the 2020 George Floyd protests as the defendants accused the government in turn of selective prosecution.

“Being a left-wing extremist doesn’t give one the right to burn a police car or, for that matter, to attack people physically at a protest,” Alexander Robbins, a lawyer with the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, told the appellate panel. “Nor does being a right-wing extremist.”

Robbins said the judge who threw out the case two years ago incorrectly inferred a discriminatory intent behind the prosecution of the two men because of a summer of 2020 memorandum from then-U.S. Attorney General William Barr instructing prosecutors to prioritize bringing charges over politically motivated violence.

That memorandum, he said, made a clear distinction between rioting and violence, which should be prosecuted, and protesting, which is protected by the First Amendment.

“It was the district court,” Robbins said, “that repeatedly conflated rioting and violence with protected First Amendment activity.”

U.S. District Judge Fernando Olguin, a Barack Obama appointee, had agreed with the two defendants, Nathan Wilson and Christopher Beasley, that were entitled to seek evidence from the government to support their argument that they had been singled out for prosecution because of their anti-government views.


Wilson and Beasley attended a George Floyd protest in Santa Monica, California, on May 31, 2020, where they were filmed setting a police car on fire in a video that was posted on social media.

The FBI identified Beasley quickly from the video, but Wilson, who was wearing sunglasses and an American flag bandana to cover his face, took longer to track down, according to the Justice Department’s appeal.

Beasley, turned out to be a longtime member of the Westside Crips street gang, and shortly after the George Floyd protest, he posted a video on Twitter in which he said that the solution to cops killing Black people was “to kill cops.”

Law enforcement found Wilson three months later when his girlfriend called the police because he had set her car on fire after a fight. Wilson had previously been investigated for making online threats {snip}