U.S. District Chief Justice Michael W. Mosman affirmed a decision to detain Pete Santili pending trial, saying he was disturbed by several remarks Santilli made during his online broadcasts promising to shoot federal officers if they came to take him or his guns away.
“There’s a handful of statements I can’t discount as just shock-jock” bravado, Mosman said Thursday.
Mosman said he couldn’t ignore what seems to be Santilli’s “deeply-held beliefs” regarding his distaste for federal law enforcement and found Santilli could be “a real threat to pretrial service officers or U.S. marshals or others who have to deal with him.”
Santilli, 50, an independent broadcaster who went to Burns to film a Jan. 2 rally protesting the resentencing of two local ranchers, stayed to film the monthlong armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
Prosecutors contend Santilli used his show to issue a “call to action,” to encourage more people to participate in the refuge takeover. His lawyer said he was simply documenting a developing story.
Santilli was arrested last week in Burns and is now among the 16 people indicted on a federal conspiracy charge, accused of impeding federal officers’ work at the federal bird sanctuary outside Burns in Harney County.
His lawyer Thomas Coan had described Santilli as an “entertainer” or “new journalist” who puts out “a lot of bravado” and has been a “thorn” to the federal government. Simply for “his words,” Santilli is facing retaliation, he argued.
“He goes up to the edge. He’s provocative. He’s loud. He’s boisterous,” Coan said. That doesn’t mean he’s dangerous, he said.
Coan argued that Santilli has never been violent, didn’t challenge federal agents or police when arrested last week and could be supervised under home detention and GPS monitoring at his Cincinnati, Ohio, apartment.
Federal prosecutors and his defense lawyer presented dueling audio and video clips to try to bolster their arguments.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ethan Knight played for the court nine segments from “The Pete Santilli Show,” aired between June and December 2015, attempting to persuade the court that Santilli would defy orders from federal law enforcement.
In one Dec. 21, 2015, episode, Santilli said, “If I’m deemed to be a felon, I want to ask for freakin’ asylum somewhere else. I don’t want to be in this country … I want out of this freakin’ hell hole.”
In other broadcasts from June 10, 2015, to December 2015, Santilli pledged to shoot anyone who came through the door of his home uninvited or failed to pick up the phone and call him ahead of time.
“Is this someone pretrial services can knock on the door at 3 a.m., if they have to, for a UA (urine analysis sample)? No,” Knight argued.
Santilli’s lawyer countered that his client was talking about law enforcement officers who barge into homes in the middle of the night with “no-knock warrants” and was espousing his right to defend himself.
On a Dec. 8 show, Santilli taunted U.S. marshals, calling them “unconstitutional,” and a “bunch of technocrats.”
“Come try to take my guns,” Santilli said. Also in that episode, he said, “We’re not going to lay down … we’re going to take a stand.”
“You fire one shot at us, and it’s on,” Santilli said on his show. “It will be a bloody (expletive) massacre.”
In another clip, Santilli railed against the FBI and their “background checks” for guns, calling them “pukes” and pledging to “to blow your balls off.”
And lastly, prosecutors played an undated clip in which Santilli was critical of Hillary Clinton’s handling of the Benghazi affair, saying he wanted to shoot the then-secretary of state in her genitals.
Santilli’s lawyer said the U.S. Secret Service investigated his statements about Clinton and never took any action against his client.
Coan argued that Santilli’s statements during his shows aren’t meant to be taken seriously. He showed video of Santilli not putting up a physical fight as he was being escorted out of Burns High School’s gymnasium, where he was said to have disrupted a community meeting last month.
He also played a video of Santilli’s Jan. 26 arrest, where he was suddenly taken into custody by federal law enforcement officers after he had been huddling with several armed agents, talking to them about women and children staying at the refuge.
“Mr. Santilli has never been involved in a single violent act,” Coan argued. If Santilli can’t continue his livelihood, he’ll go bankrupt, his lawyer added.
Coan, attempting to show that Santilli isn’t alone in his inflammatory but constitutionally protected statements, played a clip of presidential candidate Donald Trump boasting in Iowa that support for his campaign wouldn’t decline even if he shot someone in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue.
Leaning in Santilli’s favor was a stable home and work, the judge said. Mosman found the government’s weight of evidence that Santilli conspired in the refuge occupation lacking.
The judge said he didn’t think Santilli would be a flight risk in the traditional sense, in that he’d go into hiding, but said he was concerned that Santilli might not respond peacefully to federal officers’ demands.
The judge said he did disregard much of Santilli’s statements on his show as part of his inflammatory attempt to build an audience.
Mosman called Santilli’s remarks about Clinton “the most distasteful clip of all,” but said it was not relevant to his decision on detention.
Still, the judge said he was troubled by the clips in which Santilli said he’d refuse to be taken away, would rather die a free man and threatens to kill federal law enforcement officers if they ever tried to take his guns away.
“It raises for me enough concerns for federal law enforcement officers who would have to deal with this defendant,” Mosman said.
Santilli, seated beside his lawyer at the defense table, hung his head down as the judge announced his decision. Mosman’s ruling affirms the detention decision made last Friday by U.S. Magistrate Judge Stacie F. Beckerman.
As he was led off by a deputy U.S. marshal, Santilli turned toward his girlfriend and broadcast partner, Deborah Jordan Reynolds, and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”
— Maxine Bernstein