WASHINGTON — Anthime “Tim” Gionet, a far-right internet troll known as “Baked Alaska” who livestreamed inside the US Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, torched his own plea hearing almost immediately after it began, proclaiming his innocence and prompting the judge to set a trial date instead.
Gionet had been set to plead guilty to one of the lowest-level charges brought in connection with Jan. 6 — parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol, a misdemeanor with a maximum sentence of six months in prison. Nearly 200 rioters have pleaded guilty to the same charge, and the sentences handed down in these cases so far have featured far less time behind bars than the maximum, or periods of probation and home detention instead.
But when US District Judge Emmet Sullivan kicked off the hearing by asking Gionet, “Why do you wish to plead guilty,” Gionet paused. He then said that he’d wanted to go to trial, but that the prosecutor had told him that he’d face felony charges if he did — a claim the government disputed — so he believed that taking the plea deal was the “better route.”
“I believe I’m innocent,” Gionet said.
Sullivan, who has served as a judge for nearly 40 years, including 28 years on the federal bench in Washington, DC, didn’t need to hear more. He couldn’t accept a guilty plea from a defendant proclaiming innocence. “Well fine,” he told Gionet, “pick a trial date.”
Sullivan set Gionet’s trial for March 7, 2023. Later in the hearing, the prosecutor said that they’d agreed to keep the original misdemeanor plea offer open for another 60 days, giving Gionet another chance to plead guilty to the lower stakes offense. The delay not only leaves Gionet’s fate unsettled, but means that he’ll continue to be on pretrial release and under court supervision. He got in trouble last year for filmed encounters with police that Gionet described as a “prank”; a judge warned that the incident seemed to skirt the line of violating his release conditions.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Gionet seemed to briefly waver when Sullivan immediately moved to set a trial date once he waffled on admitting guilt. Gionet asked Sullivan if it was fair for the prosecutor to hold the threat of a felony over him. Sullivan directed Gionet to consult with his lawyers. Assistant US Attorney Elizabeth Aloi told the judge that the government had not told Gionet that he’d face felonies if he chose to go to trial, but had represented that the investigation into his conduct in connection with Jan. 6 would continue, leaving open the possibility of additional charges.
Sullivan gave Gionet a chance to talk with his lawyers before deciding whether or not to plead guilty as planned. The judge said he would never force anyone to plead guilty and that Gionet shouldn’t do so to please him.
“I want Mr. Gionet to understand: You want a trial, you’ll get a fair trial sir,” Sullivan said. “You hear me?” Gionet replied: “Yes sir.”
Gionet and his lawyers spoke privately for roughly 30 minutes. Near the end, his lawyers also had a private meeting with Aloi. Aloi then announced to the judge that the government had agreed to keep the misdemeanor plea offer open for another 60 days. Gionet is due back before Sullivan on July 22 for an update on whether he’ll go forward with that agreement or proceed to trial.
Gionet (a former BuzzFeed employee) had streamed video from inside the Capitol on the platform DLive; the site suspended Gionet’s account, but his charging papers featured excerpts from the stream, and members of the public archived copies of the footage and screenshotted images to share. He was recorded making comments like “We are in the Capitol Building, 1776 will commence again”; “Occupy the Capitol, let’s go. We ain’t leaving this bitch”; and, to a police officer, “You’re a fucking oathbreaker, you piece of shit.”
Prosecutors filed charges against Gionet the day after the Capitol attack and he was arrested a week later. His case lingered for nearly a year and a half as his attorney and prosecutors repeatedly asked for deadline extensions as they negotiated a potential agreement.
Gionet is one of the most high-profile far-right personalities charged in connection with Jan. 6, and his stream appeared to capture him encouraging the mob’s breach of the building. But prosecutors didn’t pursue some of the more serious charges that other defendants have faced for allegedly playing a more active role in disrupting Congress’s activities that day.
Leading up to what was supposed to be his plea hearing, Gionet had defended potentially taking a deal on his Telegram channel. He derided critics who might think a guilty plea meant he was a government informant, writing on April 22, “A plea deal means you plead guilty to a small charge and avoid the trial process rather than risking felonies. This happens to millions of Americans every year are they all feds? Lmao,” and “These mother fuckers really don’t understand the court system. You have to weigh the options. We have a corrupt dc activist court who tortures and punishes J6 defendants for their politics and that might not be a dice I want to roll.”
On May 9 he posted, “Balls deep in legal shit as I prepare for Wednesday’s Jan 6 hearing. Please keep me in your prayers! ❤️🙏🏻”
Gionet’s video from inside the Capitol has provided prosecutors with evidence that they’ve used to prosecute other defendants. His mother, Susanne Gionet, has a pending civil lawsuit challenging a subpoena issued by the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack for records related to their family cellphone plan; the complaint confirms that Tim Gionet used at least one phone number that was part of that plan.
Earlier this year, Gionet was sentenced to 30 days in jail after he was convicted of assaulting a bartender in Scottsdale, Arizona, in December 2020.
Gionet ended Wednesday’s hearing by thanking the judge for the additional time, saying he appreciated it.
“These things happen,” Sullivan replied. “I wasn’t born yesterday.”