U.S. attorneys were left baffled Wednesday as a public defender tried to defend a Norman resident with an opinion written by the same man he recently threatened to kill: Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
Michael Brandon Houck was arrested Feb. 6 for making threats to numerous political figures, including Roberts, on the right wing social media site Parler. In his posts, he allegedly threatened to kill former President George W. Bush, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma, among other leaders.
In U.S. District Court in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Amanda Maxfield Green, Houck’s attorney, Susan Otto, argued Wednesday at Houck’s preliminary hearing that he made these threatening posts because he felt the election was stolen. There is no evidence to support conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud or a stolen election.
“He is joined by 1,000,000 other Americans that believed on Jan. 6 that the election was stolen from then-President [Donald] Trump, and that Congress was going to illegally confirm Joe Biden as the President of the United State,” Otto said.
Where some people stormed the United States Capitol building to voice their discontent with the outcome of the 2020 election, Houck took to Parler and other forms of social media.
Otto heavily quoted Roberts’ opinion in the Elonis v. U.S. case, in which the high court overturned the ruling of the appellate court and stated that the prosecution needed to show that Elonis intended Facebook posts to be threats, and that there was a subjective intent to threaten another person.
Matt Dillon, the assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, pointed out to the court that the same person Otto is quoting in the defense, her client had threatened on Parler.
The only witness called Wednesday was Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Dustin Merritt of the agency’s joint counterterroism task force.
Merritt testified on the threatening posts, which were obtained after serving a search warrant to Parler. The platform sent the agency more than 123 posts and comments made by Houck on its site.
“[The posts] advocated for killing family members of politicians and former presidents, as well as advocating for insurrection,” Merritt said on the stand.
The FBI also served a search warrant on Houck’s residence in Norman. The agents conducting the search found paraphernalia tied to radical far-right extremist groups.
Houck had a patch from the Three Percenters — a right-wing group that advocates for government resistance — a Proud Boys logo as his iPad wallpaper and a Minutemen baseball cap, Merritt said.
On the stand, Merritt called these groups “violent.”
In the end, Green found there was probable cause that a crime was committed, and probable cause it was committed by Houck. Though Green did not order Houck to be detained, he will be confined completely to his house and will not be allowed to leave except for court-approved reasons like a doctor’s appointment or a meeting with his parole officer.
“The nature of this offense is very concerning to me,” Green said.