Victory in the RNC 16 Case. Felony Charges Against Republican Convention Flag-Burners Dropped

September 17, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper |


On September 13, all the charges were dropped against Bo and Niko! They are the two defendants who were facing felony charges arising out of righteous burning of the American flag by Gregory “Joey” Johnson and the Revolution Club outside the 2016 Republican National Convention (RNC) in Cleveland, Ohio. (Johnson is the same Johnson of the landmark 1989 U.S. Supreme Court case of Texas v. Johnson that established flag burning as constitutionally protected speech.)

One week before the trial was to start, the Cuyahoga County prosecutors were forced to drop multiple felony charges, including assault on police, and misdemeanor charges against Bo and Niko. If convicted, these charges could have resulted in four to seven years in jail. Now there are 12 remaining defendants of the RNC 16 facing multiple misdemeanor charges. Let’s build off this important victory and fight through with the demand: Drop all the remaining charges against the RNC 16 NOW!

“We’re standing with the people of the world today!”

On July 20, 2016, in protest of Trump’s nomination, Gregory “Joey” Johnson along with the Revolution Club went right up to the gates of the Republican National Convention and declared: “We’re standing with the people of the world today!... Donald Trump is an open fascist. Hillary Clinton is a proven war criminal. We’re not following either one of their leaders.... America No. 1? America First? It always has been first: at genocide, at slavery, at exploitation, at destruction of the environment, at torture.... We’re standing here with the people of the world today.” Then Joey Johnson lit the American flag as he stood in the middle of a safety circle of the Revolution Club who chanted “1, 2, 3, 4, Slavery, Genocide and War! 5, 6, 7, 8—America Was NEVER Great!”

The beautiful and audacious protest took place on the day the RNC selected Donald Trump as its presidential candidate under the slogan “Make America Great Again” and a fascist program of law and order, white supremacy, build the wall scapegoating of immigrants and Muslims, disgusting misogyny and unbridled wars of aggression.

Brutal Assault by Police and Fascist Thugs & Vindictive Prosecution of the RNC 16

This protest was met with a pre-planned, pre-emptive, massive brutal police assault AND assault by fascist thugs. This illegal assault foreshadowed how the fascist regime of Trump (even before coming to power) would treat political protest.

After this brutal yet failed attempt to prevent Joey Johnson and the Revolution Club from burning the American flag, the prosecutors piled on charges against the 16 protesters arrested. In Bo and Niko’s cases, they were initially charged with one felony and several misdemeanors each. Two weeks after their arrests, the prosecutor went before the grand jury and added two additional felony charges against Bo. (This was the same prosecutor who went to the grand jury a year and a half after the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice and failed to get an indictment of the killer cop!) This made it clear that the state intended to prosecute and further punish the RNC 16 and to send a message that political dissent would be suppressed, criminalized, and punished.

RNC 16 Proudly Stand Firm in Face of Serious Charges

In the face of this serious multitude of charges hanging over their heads, the RNC 16 stood firm. As Niko stated before his scheduled trial, “I stand by what I did. I am proud of what we accomplished standing with the people of the world!! Calling out and sounding the alarm about the fascism of the Trump regime. I got to be part of that.”

The National Lawyers Guild of Ohio recruited over 35 lawyers who volunteered to represent the RNC 16 defendants pro bono (without payment). From the beginning, the RNC 16 made clear to all their attorneys that they were united in having a common legal defense and they wanted to work closely with the attorneys on their legal defense. They also shared with the attorneys that they saw building political support broadly in society for their case as an important component of the fight to get all the charges dropped. (See “RNC 16 Put the Pigs on Trial: People’s Tribunal Finds the System GUILTY!”)

Legal Case Goes on the Offensive—Putting the Cops and the System on Trial

The message from the defendants and their attorneys in preparing their legal defense was that they would be putting the police and the system on trial for the illegal actions of the police on July 20. The RNC 16 stated from the very beginning of this battle to Free the RNC 16 that not only did they have the right to burn the American flag as politically protected speech, it was the right thing to do. An important element of their legal defense is that the timing, location and message of this protest were all legal, and that the massive and illegal assault unleashed against this protest was aimed at suppressing the extremely important political statement of the protest to the world. The prosecutors throughout these legal proceedings have attempted (unsuccessfully to date) to prevent the RNC 16 attorneys from bringing this key component, the political message of the protests, into their legal defense.

In January 2017, there were two significant developments in this legal battle. First, the charges against Joey Johnson and one other RNC defendant were dropped. During the flag burning protest, the cops and two fascists physically assaulted Joey Johnson. The two thugs publicly bragged about punching and kicking Joey in an interview with Alex Jones posted online later that same evening. Not only were these thug provocateurs NOT charged with the assault on Joey, but based on their claim that they were “burned” in attempting to put out the flag burning—an act violating the constitutional right to protest by burning the flag—they became the “victims” for which the prosecutors charged Joey and one other protester with assault! These fascists admitted to assaulting Joey and bragged that they went to stop him from burning the flag, yet the authorities pressed charges against Joey and another defendant for assault against these two fascist thugs! The prosecutor was presented with this video confession which showed that these fascist thugs were lying and admitting they assaulted Joey. These bogus charges were finally dropped six months later.

The second significant development was a hearing on a motion to dismiss the charges on the remaining 12 defendants facing misdemeanor charges. In a courtroom packed with the RNC 16 defendants, attorneys, supporters, and several media outlets that came and recorded the entire hearing, the defense attorneys presented a compelling case as to why all the charges against these 12 defendants should be dismissed. This included putting on the stand Cleveland Police Chief Williams and a police lieutenant who were subpoenaed (ordered) to appear. They testified with their “alternative facts” and spun their outrageous and at times ridiculous lies and justifications for the illegal, pre-emptive, brutal assault and arrests of the defendants. This was challenged and exposed throughout their testimony by the RNC 16 attorney. To read more about this hearing go here. These 12 RNC defendants have been waiting over seven months for the judge to rule on this motion to dismiss all their charges.

Felony Trial Set to Begin

The felony trial was set for September 19. A few days before the last pre-trial hearing, the attorneys for Bo and Niko contacted the prosecutor. Their message was that the only resolution that would be acceptable to the defendants was a complete dismissal of all charges and this should be done prior to the commencement of trial. If the prosecutor refused to dismiss all the charges, Bo and Niko’s attorneys were prepared to mount an aggressive defense exposing how the police assaulted the defendants as part of an illegal attack on the RNC 16’s right to carry out the flag burning aimed at silencing the message in burning the flag.

Political Support for the RNC 16

From the outset of the RNC 16 case, a crucial component of the fight to free the RNC 16 has been building support for the case broadly in society. The defendants have spoken on college campuses including to law students, to religious gatherings and groups fighting for social justice. They have gone to neighborhoods and the housing projects in Cleveland and across the country. There is a Free the RNC 16 Support Committee in Cleveland. As part of these efforts, people from across the country have and continue to be mobilized to call the prosecutors’ offices to demand ALL the charges be dropped. The fact that Joey Johnson, who burned the flag at the RNC and was assaulted and arrested, is the same Johnson in the landmark Supreme Court case that established flag burning as protected political speech, has sparked more interest, outrage and support for this case, including with the media. Both the flag burning protest against Trump and his fascist program on July 20 and the political persecution of the RNC 16 has been covered by media outlets from around the world.

In anticipation of the trial of Bo and Niko, a call was put out to make a new round of calls to the prosecutor’s office to demand the charges be dropped. On the day of their pre-trial hearing, the prosecutor’s office was inundated with calls.

Prosecutors Back Down

On September 13, the prosecutors backed down and dismissed all the charges with prejudice (which means the prosecutors cannot file any charges against Bo and Niko in connection to the July 20 protest). Several of the attorneys for the RNC 16 commented on how this was quite unprecedented. In their collective legal experience, including some with decades of cases against police brutality, the dismissal of charges of felony assault on cops is rare.

Significance of This Victory

The prosecution of the RNC 16 has great stakes in the context of the Trump/Pence regime moving to consolidate a fascist America, aimed at silencing and intimidating all those who have been drawn into motion to stop this. They were beaten back in their attempts to do so with the dismissal of these serious felony charges and the earlier dismissal of the charges against Joey and another RNC 16 defendant.

As a recent article on wrote regarding the stakes and consequences of the RNC 16:

On November 29, 2016, Donald Trump tweeted a dangerous threat: “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American Flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail.” During his campaign rallies, Trump openly longed for the days when protesters were “carried out on stretchers.” Since Trump’s inauguration, state laws have been passed or are pending to criminalize peaceful forms of political protests, including giving immunity to drivers who run over protesters who are in the streets or highways as long as it is “an accident.” The NRA has made videos calling their followers to attack those resisting and protesting against the Trump/Pence regime, including specifically targeting people who burn the American flag.

As one of the RNC attorneys wrote after this dismissal, “In my view, the dismissals that have already occurred and the one we hope to accomplish, have a greater significance than a First Amendment issue. The arrests of the RNC 16 was the first ‘official’ authoritarian efforts to suppress dissent in the era of Trump. A total victory is necessary because Trump will suck the oxygen out of the room if given a chance.”

Bo and Niko issued a joint statement after their charges were dropped: “We are very proud of what we did at the RNC, standing with the people of the world. We were sounding the alarm against the Trump regime. We demand that the charges against the remaining 12 RNC defendants be dropped immediately! We call on others to join us in the fight to drive out the Trump/Pence regime as part of the fight for a whole better world.”

Let’s celebrate this victory and step up the fight to free the remaining courageous and defiant RNC 16!






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