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CPAC ‘Prison’ Exhibit

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Video and images depict a Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) prison cell booth, representing jailed participants in the January 6 2021 Capitol attack.

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On August 5 2022 (a day after the Conservative Political Action Conference. or CPAC, began in Dallas, Texas) video of a prison cell booth at the event spread virally on Twitter:

On August 5 2022, the Texas Observer provided an unvarnished account of the opening of CPAC in Dallas, reporting:

Hundreds of die-hard right-wing activists descended on the Hilton Anatole in Dallas for the Conservative Political Action Conference this week [ending August 5 2022]. It’s the third CPAC event this year alone [in 2022], following prior events in Orlando, Florida and Budapest, Hungary. It’s also the third CPAC event in a row which featured explicitly Christian nationalist and fascistic speakers.

CPAC ‘Prison’ Exhibit
CPAC ‘Prison’ Exhibit

Before the speeches kicked off on Thursday [August 4 2022], Christian musician Natasha Owens—who wore an American flag dress branded with the logo of a Christian mobile phone company—gave a brief concert.

“You know, President Trump coined the term ‘America First,’” she said. When she attempted to launch into the eponymously named song, the wrong music began playing instead. Incidentally, the term America First was initially popularized by pro-Nazi groups in the United States and was also used by the Ku Klux Klan … A major theme among speakers at the conference—aside from the officially stated one, “Fire Pelosi: Save America”—was Christian identity and nationalism. In addition to leading the crowd in prayer, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick took a page right out of the John Birch Society playbook by proclaiming that the Constitution was literally written by God.

In the tweet with video, journalist Laura Jeeded described the genuinely bizarre clip as follows:

Hello I would like to share with you the most astonishing thing I have ever seen

At this CPAC booth you receive a silent disco headset that plays harrowing testimony from people arrested for participating in J6

Instead of dancing, you stand around and watch this guy cry

A few hours later, Occupy Democrats described the CPAC feature:

On August 4 2022, journalist Steven Monacelli tweeted a separate image and description of the CPAC jail cell exhibit, identifying the man in the orange jumpsuit as far-right activist Brandon Straka:

Another Twitter thread from August 5 2022 included information both about Straka’s involvement with the January 6 2021 Capitol insurrection, and Straka’s subsequent plea deal — providing evidence against his collaborators in order to avoid time in prison:

That thread linked to an August 3 2022 WUSA article about Straka’s legal troubles, and it reported in part on the ways that Straka had cooperated with the investigation into potential fellow insurrectionists:

In January [2022], Straka pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of disorderly and disruptive conduct in the Capitol Building or grounds and was sentenced to 90 days of home detention. In his Jan. 20 [2022] sentencing memo, [Straka’s attorney Bilal] Essayli stressed Straka’s cooperation with the government, writing that he gave two proffers to investigators and “provided information on individuals the government was investigating in separate cases.”

Since his sentencing, though, Straka has taken to multiple platforms to downplay his cooperation and his actions on Jan. 6 [2021] and to accuse the media of pursuing a “snitch narrative” against him. On Wednesday [August 3 2022], [U.S. District Judge Dabney] Friedrich said she had also been made aware of statements in which Straka suggested he wasn’t being truthful when he entered his guilty plea.

“It’s been brought to my attention that Mr. Straka has been making questionable comments about the truth of his plea and the nature of his cooperation,” Fredrich said. “I want to know, should I be expecting a motion to withdraw his plea? Because I would gladly hold an evidentiary hearing.”

An August 4 2022 NPR article described how Straka’s cooperation with investigators and the court had recently been disclosed, in the context of public conflicting statements repeatedly made by Straka to downplay his involvement in the prosecution of others. NPR quoted Judge Dabney Freidrich as commending Straka’s willingness to provide information to the government regarding the activities of collaborators — including an individual who had not previously been on the radar of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

Judge Friedrich said the defendant, Brandon Straka, was possibly opening himself up to prosecution for lying to federal investigators.

“What he needs to appreciate is he is potentially incriminating himself for [18 U.S. Code Section] 1001 prosecution,” said Friedrich, referring to the criminal law against making “materially false” statements to the federal government … Back in Sept. 2021, he agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of Engaging in Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in the Capitol Building or Grounds. At sentencing, he avoided jail time, and instead received 90 days of home confinement and three years’ probation.

[An August 3 2022] hearing was ostensibly focused on an apparent mistake made by the court, in which a clerk accidentally unsealed sensitive records detailing Straka’s cooperation with federal investigators. A coalition of media organizations, which includes NPR, had asked the court to unseal documents in the case. The court inadvertently made more available than the judge had intended.

The records described how Straka provided “significant information” about pro-Trump “Stop The Steal” organizers including Ali Alexander, Amy and Kylie Kremer, and Cindy Chafian. Prosecutors said Straka provided investigators with a voicemail he had received from another Jan. 6 defendant, and that evidence was “valuable in the government’s prosecution.” In another instance, the records say Straka helped identify yet another potential suspect who “was not previously identified by the FBI.”

[…]

“To the extent he’s making claims that are inconsistent with what he said to federal agents, he needs to understand that this definitely is not in his best interest,” Friedrich told Straka’s attorney, Bilal Essayli.

At sentencing, Friedrich had given Straka credit for his cooperation with law enforcement.

“Though I do view Mr. Straka’s criminal conduct as very serious,” Friedrich said back in January [2022], “it’s been mitigated somewhat by his early plea and by his willingness to assist the government by providing complete and truthful information.”

A viral thread featured a Dallas CPAC “prison cell” exhibit, intended to evoke sympathy for jailed January 6th insurrectionists. The CPAC cell was real, and the person in it was identified as far-right activist Brandon Straka. Straka had recently been in the news after the extent of his collaboration with investigators was inadvertently disclosed. One day before Straka appeared in the CPAC cell, NPR reported that Straka “avoided jail time” by providing the FBI with information about the activities of other participants. According to NPR, recent disclosures revealed that Straka had helped identify at least one individual who had not been previously known to the FBI.