Suspect Charged In Jan. 6 Insurrection Raising Money Online To Pay For Defense

Jun 1, 2021

(Left) Richard Barnett's mug shot at the Washington County, Ark. jail. (Right) Barnett sitting at a desk inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Jan. 6.
Credit Washington County Jail/ Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

An Arkansas man, facing federal charges for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, is raising money for his legal defense.

Richard Barnett, also known as “Bigo,” became one of the most public faces of the breach at the Capitol when he was photographed in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with his feet propped up on a desk. Now for a donation of $100 or more, people can receive a signed copy of that photo.

Law professor Robert Steinbuch with the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Bowen School of Law said in an interview with KUAR News on Tuesday that there’s nothing illegal about the Gravette man’s steps to raise money. Steinbuch also said he believes the length of time Barnett was kept in detention before being released pending trial was excessive.

ROBERT STEINBUCH: Well, as you know, I was quoted in the newspaper today saying if being a jackass was a crime, there'd be a lot more people in jail. So, I think he's a bit of a clown. I think he was a clown when he engaged in his behavior in the Capitol. But there's no crime in being a clown. There are a few jurisdictions, as I understand it, that restrict people in jail from making money based on their crimes, but he hasn't been convicted of anything yet. So, it's perfectly legal what he's doing.

A grand jury indicted Barnett on seven charges in connection with the insurrection. He has pleaded not guilty, and Barnett's attorney Joseph McBride told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette this is to “ensure a robust defense,” saying they “will not allow the federal government to bully” Barnett because it has an unlimited budget. What do you think of the tone that he and his attorney are taking here?

Well, I don't know. Criminal defense cases tend to have a little bit more color than other cases. I will say this. It is very hard to litigate a case against the government. It's by no accident that the phrase is you can't fight city hall. And so, if you are a criminal defendant, particularly up against the federal government, it's expensive. It's very hard to do.

Now, the vast majority of people who are indicted federally are guilty, but that doesn't mean they're all guilty, and everybody's entitled to a good defense, and so this case hasn't been tried yet. And Bigo is entitled to the same defense as anyone else, and he's going to have to pay for it. And that's actually quite difficult to do.

So, in some respects. I'm sympathetic to the notion that he's seeking to pay his attorney to put on a defense. That doesn't mean I'm sympathetic, particularly to Bigo’s antics. He seems a bit of a character, to say the least, but you've got to pay your bills somehow.

Barnett was jailed for several months from January 8 until April 27, a lot longer than most other people who have been charged. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper had hesitation about releasing him from custody, especially after filings from federal prosecutors. He was almost contrite in those months while in custody. Now he has this bravado. Do you think this will make an impression on the judge and impact his case in any way?

It could. I think the issue that you highlight was he probably was more concerned about impressing the judge to get out of jail in the first instance, because unlike the determination of guilt, which is made by a jury, whether he gets out of jail prior to the trial is up to the judge.

I actually think that Bigo was kept in jail longer than is normal and longer than is appropriate prior to his trial because given the level of charges and the likelihood of flight from him. I think that there was excessive pressure put on by the federal government to keep him in jail, pretrial, and I think that was inappropriate, actually.

And finally, his fundraising website says beyond legal assistance, he also needs help paying his family expenses, his bills, said because of the arrest, he lost his job as a “top salesman at a company where he worked for over 15 years.” Any ethical issues there?

No. If people want to give him money, he's entitled to take it and vice versa. He's allowed to ask for it, and they're allowed to say no as well. So, no, there's no legal problem with him seeking to raise money. And, as I said in the beginning, it is a challenge to put on a defense. And let's be clear, everybody's entitled to a decent defense. And it is a challenge, particularly when litigating against the federal government.