WASHINGTON — A Trump supporter who admitted he stormed the Capitol and stole a bottle of liquor and a coat rack on Jan. 6, 2021, testified at his trial Wednesday that he was "following presidential orders."
Dustin Thompson, 38 — a married, college-educated Ohio resident — told jurors he didn't have any strong male role models in his life and was hoping to gain the “respect” and “approval” of former President Donald Trump when he entered the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.
Thompson, the third Jan. 6 defendant to face a jury, has adopted a very different defense strategy from the two others: trying to convince jurors that Trump is ultimately responsible for the mob that stormed the Capitol. His attorney told the jury Tuesday that "vulnerable" people like Thompson believed Trump's lies about a stolen election and that Trump authorized the attack.
Thompson, who worked at a pawn shop and as an exterminator after he graduated from Ohio State University in 2008, testified Wednesday that he became unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and then "went down the rabbit hole on the internet."
He said he was "deeply ashamed" of his actions and now believes he was misled by Trump's "outlandish" claims about the 2020 election. But at the time, Thompson told jurors, he found Trump's rhetoric and the conspiracy theories he read online "intriguing."
"The way he was saying it was believable to me," Thompson said. "I mean, I believed him."
Thompson went on to say he “didn’t think it was possible” for President Joe Biden to have won the election. “I thought the election was rigged to put Biden in office,” he said.
Thompson said he initially didn't plan to go to the Capitol on Jan. 6 but felt compelled to do so after listening to Trump's speech near the White House that day.
“If the president is giving you almost an order to do something, I felt obligated to do that,” Thompson said, adding that he felt as though he “had to do something to gain his respect or, like, approval.”
Thompson said listening to Trump's speech made him feel as though democracy and the country were at risk of being destroyed.
“I was just thinking that somehow I was making a difference,” he testified. “Mob mentality and groupthink is very real and very dangerous.”
NBC News has reached out to a Trump spokesman for comment.
Trump has said he isn’t responsible for the actions of the Jan. 6 rioters and has instead sought to blame others who were at the Capitol.
At the rally near the White House on Jan. 6, Trump told supporters, “We’re going to have to fight much harder.”
“We are going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators, congressmen and women, and we are probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you will never take back our country with weakness,” he said.
“We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said.
Nearly 800 people have been charged in connection with the attack on the Capitol, and almost 250 have pleaded guilty. Hundreds of additional cases are in the works.
Thompson told jurors Wednesday that he felt "disgraceful" watching the videos of his conduct on Jan. 6. "I can't believe the things that I did," Thompson said. "I don't know where my head was at."
Thompson’s wife, Sarah Thompson, testified earlier in the day that the couple met in college. She said she was a Democrat who voted for Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama but that she wasn’t a "super political" person.
"Dustin spent a lot of time on the internet," she said. “He was very angry about the election results. ... He believed that the election had been stolen.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Kennelly Dreher asked Thompson on cross examination whether he was 36 years old when he stormed the Capitol, whether he had a college degree and whether he got dressed "all by yourself" on Jan. 6.
"You're not a child, right?" he asked Thompson. No, the defendant responded.
Thompson testified that he has learned that he needs to make decisions on his own.
"I can't let other people tell me what to do," he said. "Even if they're the president."