A 60-year-old resident of Century Village, who calls himself “Angry Patriot Hippie”, collapsed and was taken to a hospital this week after a jury convicted her of threatening to murder FBI agents who sought to question her about her possible involvement in the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol.
The nerve-wracking scene that unfolded in the US District Court was not entirely unexpected.
Shortly after Suzanne Kaye was arrested at her home last year in the sprawling retiree community west of Boca Raton, her lawyers warned that she was in ill health. She had a history of seizures and needed to continue to use medical marijuana to avert a fatal seizure, court documents said.
U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg, warned that Kaye was hospitalized while in custody after her arrest, agreed to suspend rules so Kaye could continue smoking medical marijuana while she was out on bail.
However, after the three-day trial was completed on Wednesday, Kaye fell to the ground. Her lawyers and other court officials tried to resuscitate her while they waited for paramedics to arrive, said Melanie Richardson, a deputy in the courtroom.
In court documents, assistant federal public defender Kristy Militello insisted that Kaye should never have been prosecuted.
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Long before this week’s trial began, Militello argued that the proud “Trump-loving conservative” wasn’t serious when she posted a video warning officers she’d “shoot your (expletive) ass if you came here.”
Further, Militello said, Kaye’s threat to use her “Second Amendment right” was protected by her First Amendment right to freely criticize government officials.
“Her post was not a threat at all, but rather a constitutionally protected ‘political exaggeration’ intended to express her strong views,” Militello wrote, asking Rosenberg to dismiss the charges.
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Rosenberg, federal prosecutors and ultimately a jury disagreed with Militello’s opinion.
After listening to FBI agents and Kaye herself explain how events unfolded, the jury convicted Kaye on one charge of interstate transfer of a threat of injury. It acquitted her of a second charge, which was based on similar videos Kaye posted on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
Kaye faces up to five years in prison. But due to the chaos that erupted after the jury announced its verdict, no penalty date was set.
The strange case began when the FBI received a tip that Kaye had traveled to Washington to storm the Capitol with thousands of other supporters of President Donald Trump.
When FBI officials initially contacted her on Jan. 28, 2021, she was cooperative, agents wrote. While she denied she was one of the rioters, she said she knew others who were, officers said.
“She (said) she was retired and had plenty of time to talk, but had to be interviewed at her home because she couldn’t drive,” Special Agent Kaitlin Marsh wrote in the complaint against Kaye.
Nearly two weeks later, before meeting Kaye, officers got another tip. This one was about the profane videos Kaye posted on the three social media platforms.
While she posted the tirades three days after speaking to officers on the phone, they didn’t see them until Feb. 9.
By this time, the agency was faltering. On February 2, two officers were shot dead and four others injured while executing a search warrant at a house in Sunrise.
Officers took Kaye’s threats seriously. “(She) suggested that she will use force against FBI agents if they come to her residence,” Marsh wrote, explaining why the charges had to be brought.
Defense says woman’s claims fell within First Amendment rights
Militello equally insisted that Kaye’s online diatribe, punctuated by her gulping down a bottle of Jack Daniels, was just part of her social media schtick.
Kaye has carefully crafted her videos to appeal to the roughly 5,000 like-minded supporters of former President Donald Trump who follow her on social media, she said.
While Kaye sometimes posts recipes, the bulk of her activity is devoted to bashing President Joe Biden and perpetuating “some of the more extreme views embraced by President Trump,” Militello wrote.
She is no different from thousands of others expressing their political views on social media, Militello wrote. Kaye is unique in that she was persecuted.
Militello listed more than half a dozen celebrities and politicians who have made threats against others.
For example, NBA star LeBron James tweeted “You’re Next #Accountability” in 2021 with a photo of a white officer shooting a black teenager. The singer Madonna told attendees for the Women’s March in 2017, “I’ve been thinking a lot about blowing up the White House.” US Representative Maxine Waters, D-California, said in 2017, “I will take Trump out tonight.”
James, Madonna and Waters, like countless others, were persecuted for a reason, Militello said.
“It is the result of our nation’s deep-seated commitment ‘to the principle that debate on public issues should be unrestrained, robust and wide-open,’” she wrote, citing a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
US Assistant Attorney Mark Dispoto objected that Kaye’s threats in the videos had nothing to do with contributing to the market of ideas. She warned FBI agents that she would shoot them if they got to her home.
“The fact that the defendant may not have had any firearms or intended to shoot the officers is irrelevant,” he wrote. “Her threat was clear, direct and specific.”
The law, Dispoto said, is clear. “A criminal threat is simply not constitutionally protected speech,” he wrote.
Militello insisted there is little difference between Kaye’s videos and dozens of others posted on social media every day. Like others, Kaye’s ability to express her thoughts must be protected.
“Mrs. Kaye — like all citizens of the United States — has the right to criticize her government,” Militello said. “This is the central meaning of the First Amendment.”
Jane Musgrave handles federal and civil courts and occasionally ventures into criminal cases in state court. Please contact her at [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Jury Finds ‘Angry Patriot Hippie’ Guilty of Threatening to Kill FBI Agents