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CNN has an article pointing out that the rioters went to Olive Garden for dinner and spent $400 after the riot. The article implies that where they went for dinner, and how much they spent, is relevant to their trial.

Why does it matter where they go for dinner and how much they spend? What they did at the Capitol was both illegal and immoral, but going to Olive Garden is neither.

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    Out of curiosity, was that $400 for a dinner for 2? For 20? For some other number?
    – phoog
    Nov 2, 2022 at 18:22
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    I suggest that neither where they went for dinner, nor how much they spent, could ever be relevant… but the fact that they went for dinner together might be crucial. The legal point would turn on how and why they came to go to - or even to find themselves at - dinner together. To what extent was their being at dinner together planned, and to what extent did that show that anything else they'd done was planned? Nov 8, 2022 at 0:31

4 Answers 4

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The article says:

Defense lawyers say the evidence does not show a celebration of violence.

Which implies that the prosecution claimed exactly that, or at least that the defense anticipates the prosecution to claim something along those lines.

The article also says [bold italic emphasis mine]:

Defense lawyers for Rhodes have previously addressed the dinner, saying that prosecutors’ theory of the episode is incorrect. Rhodes’ lawyers said in a court filing the dinner is evidence that the militia leader wasn’t working to foment a revolution.

The conditions would never be better. Yet, Rhodes and the others left the Capitol grounds and went to Olive Garden for dinner,” lawyers for Rhodes wrote. “The answer is quite simple: because stopping the certification, overthrowing the government, was not Rhodes’ intent. It was not the Oath Keepers’ intent.”

So, from the CNN article, it seems that the prosecution interprets this as celebrating a successful attack whereas the defense argues that leaving the Capitol to go for dinner instead of continuing the attack proves that they didn't want to overthrow the government.

Why does it matter where they go for dinner and how much they spend?

It doesn't matter where, exactly they went, which restaurant they went to, and that it was an Olive Garden.

For the prosecution, what matters is that they appeared to celebrate, for the defense, what matters is that they left the Capitol.

It also doesn't matter how much, exactly, they spent. What matters is that the amount of money can be used as a proxy (by the prosecution at least) for how many people attended the "celebration", how long it lasted, and how much value was placed on the "celebration". (In general, people spend more money when they are celebrating something than when they are just getting a bite because they are hungry.)

So, in short:

  • Prosecution: Celebrating how close they came to overthrowing the government proves that was their goal.
  • Defense: Going for dinner when they had the chance to finish the job proves it wasn't their goal.
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    Even if the prosecution was correct, it would seem to support some kind of temporary insanity plea. One does not simply rob a bank and then go to Olive Garden to celebrate "nearly getting the money". But you might do it if your intent was to "protest at the bank" and felt your protest went well. If you're pleading insanity, then, well, anything goes, I guess, and the prosecution's attempt would only support that.
    – JamieB
    Nov 3, 2022 at 19:04
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    @JamieB: It is my understanding that the protesters (let's call them that for the sake of argument) realized it was stupid to stay in the area and rather hastily left, divvied up their weapons, split up, and went in separate directions. Again, you can interpret this as "evading law enforcement, knowing they committed a crime" or "getting tired after a carb-heavy meal and wanting to go home". Note that the analogy with the bank robbery is somewhat strenuous because you can argue they did not consider what they did a crime. Again, depending on which side you are on, they were either attending a Nov 3, 2022 at 19:12
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    … peaceful protest, or exercising their constitutional rights to defend their country from a tyranny. Either way, not a crime. Not in their mind, at least. Nov 3, 2022 at 19:13
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    @JamieB Are they pleading insanity? Because insanity pleas are extremely difficult to pull off. Just acting kind of weird doesn't cut the mustard. You need to establish a mental disease or defect existed and that it essentially prevented you from understanding the difference from right and wrong (relative to the acts in question). After Hinckley's acquittal for his attempted assassination of Reagan most US jurisdictions, especially the federal government, got rid of anything weaker as a viable insanity defense. Nov 4, 2022 at 7:20
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I believe that they're using the Olive Garden meeting as a demonstration of mens rea, with one side arguing that the casual act of organizing a dinner at the restaurant means that the activities were committed with a cool mind, and likely intentionally, and the other side arguing that it indicates a lack of guilty mind. To use an analogy, if someone beat their father to death with a hammer, called the police, and then sat down and had a sandwich while waiting for the police to arrive, the prosecution might argue that the sandwich indicates a cruel indifference to the act, which argues more of a criminal mind, while the defense might argue that it indicates a reduced capacity to recognize the harm that had been done, that the defendant clearly didn't realize the severity of their action since they performed such a mundane activity afterwards.

The choice of location, and the money spent, are simply facts in the case, but are largely irrelevant to establishing that the actions indicate the criminal mind, or lack thereof, of their actions.

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    One aspect about the choice of location and money spent that could be relevant to the mens rea is on the conspiracy charges; in the hammer death -> sandwich analogy, if multiple people beat separate fathers with a hammer to death, and then all went to the same Olive Garden table, and had the bill paid for all their meals as one bill, that would be substantially different than if they went to different Olive Garden tables, and/or they split the $400 across each table/person involved. The former indicates a lot more organization and a potential conspiracy to perform those acts. Nov 3, 2022 at 21:18
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The relevant legal question as opposed to media question would be (1) whether the transcript is relevant and admissible, (2) whether the defense objected to the evidence, and (3) what reasoning the prosecution used to support admission. If the defense did not object, then that moots questions 1 and 3. Strategically, the transcript would be evidence supporting the allegation that there was a conspiracy, which is essential to the government's case (seditious conspiracy is one of the charges, not just simple law-breaking). I have not found any hard indications that the defense objected and was overruled.

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I think Jörg's answer is correct, but I would add that there's likely an effort on the part of the defense to portray the rioters as hapless bumpkins, who got in over their heads, etc., etc. As the popular comment to the original post suggests, Olive Garden occupies a particular place in American culture. If they had gone to a fancier restaurant, or even a more upscale chain (like an Outback Steakhouse), it might look more sinister.

This is of course a rhetorical point, not a legal one. There's no reason one couldn't commit any crime and then go out to Olive Garden.

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    Though to many people in the poorer parts of the country where a lot of the rioters came from, Olive Garden IS the fancy restaurant. Anything above fast food level could be considered an occasional splurge at best, so it could be seen as celebratory. Also consider that most of them were from out of the region, and the really fancy places tend not to be nationwide chains, so an Olive Garden might just be the fanciest place they'd recognize doing a map search. Nov 3, 2022 at 13:44
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    I'm sure it would depend on the jurisdiction and the composition of the jury. But that might just mean that the pitch wouldn't be “Look a what a banal restaurant these guys celebrated at” but “Look, these guys aspire to the same brands that you do.”
    – adam.baker
    Nov 3, 2022 at 15:46
  • (And to be clear, I don't mean to cast shade. I have wonderful memories of going to Olive Garden.)
    – adam.baker
    Nov 3, 2022 at 15:47
  • @Darrell it's not even poverty. Small towns have great gourmet places like C.J. Maggie's or Bon Rico, but no one has heard of them. The problem is to get a gang from a variety of places to agree on a spot, they need to have all heard of it, and that means chains. Chains suck in the sticks. Applebees is about as good as it gets. Nov 4, 2022 at 3:07

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