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A 60-year-old Century Village resident, who calls herself “Angry Patriot Hippie,” collapsed and was taken to a hospital this week after a jury convicted her of threatening to kill FBI agents who wanted to quiz her about her possible involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol.
The unnerving scene that played out in U.S. District Court wasn’t completely unexpected.
Shortly after Suzanne Kaye was arrested last year at her home in the sprawling retirement community west of Boca Raton, her attorneys warned that she was in poor health. She had a history of seizures and needed to be able to continue to use medical marijuana to stave off what could be a fatal attack, they said in court papers.
Warned that Kaye had been hospitalized while in custody after her arrest, U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg agreed to suspend rules so Kaye could continue to smoke medicinal marijuana while out on bond.
However, after the three-day trial wrapped up on Wednesday, Kaye fell to the floor. Her attorneys and other court officials tried to revive her while waiting for paramedics to arrive, said Melanie Richardson, a courtroom deputy.
In court papers, Assistant Federal Public Defender Kristy Militello insisted 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 agents she would “shoot your (expletive) ass if you come 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 no threat at all, but rather constitutionally protected ‘political hyperbole’ intended to communicate her strongly held views,” Militello wrote, asking Rosenberg to dismiss the charges.
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Rosenberg, federal prosecutors and, ultimately, a jury disagreed with Militello’s view.
After listening to FBI agents and Kaye herself explain how events unfolded, the jury convicted Kaye of one charge of interstate transmission of a threat to injure. It acquitted her of a second charge, which was based on similar videos Kaye posted on Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
Kaye faces a possible five-year prison term. But because of the chaos that erupted after the jury announced its verdict, a sentencing date wasn't set.
The strange case began when the FBI got 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 among the rioters, she said she knew others who were, agents said.
“She (said) she was retired and had plenty of time to talk, but would need to be interviewed at her residence because she was not able to drive,” Special Agent Kaitlin Marsh wrote in the criminal complaint against Kaye.
Nearly two weeks later, before meeting with Kaye, agents got another tip. This one concerned the profanity-laced videos Kaye posted on the three social-media platforms.
While she posted the rants three days after talking to agents on the phone, they didn’t see them until Feb. 9.
By then, the agency was reeling. On Feb 2, two agents were shot dead and four others injured when they were carrying out a search warrant at a home in Sunrise.
Agents took Kaye's threats seriously. “(She was) implying that she will use violence against FBI agents if they come to her residence,” Marsh wrote, explaining why the charges should be filed.
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Militello was equally insistent that Kaye’s online diatribe, punctuated by her swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniels, were just part of her social media schtick.
Kaye 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 lion's share of her activity is devoted to bashing President Joe Biden and perpetuating “some of the more extreme views espoused by President Trump,” Militello wrote.
She isn't unlike thousands of others who express their political views on social media, Militello wrote. Kaye is unique because she was prosecuted.
Militello listed more than a half-dozen celebrities and politicians who have made threats against others.
NBA star LeBron James, for instance, in 2021 tweeted “You’re Next #Accountability,” with a picture of a white officer who fatally shot a Black teen. The singer Madonna told those gathered for the Women’s March in 2017, “I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.” U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California, in 2017 said, "I will go and take Trump out tonight.”
James, Madonna and Waters, like countless others, weren’t prosecuted for good reason, Militello said.
“It is the result of our nation’s deep-rooted commitment ‘to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide open,’ ” she wrote, quoting a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Dispoto countered that Kaye's threats in the videos had nothing to do with contributing to the marketplace of ideas. She was warning FBI agents that she would shoot them if they came to her house.
"The fact that the defendant may not have owned firearms or intended to shoot the agents is of no moment," he wrote. "Her threat was clear, direct, and specific."
The law, Dispoto said, is clear. "A criminal threat simply is not constitutionally protected speech," he wrote.
Militello insisted that there is little difference between Kaye's videos and scores of others that are posted on social media daily. Like others, Kaye's ability to speak her mind should be protected.
"Ms. Kaye – like all United States citizens – has the right to criticize her government," Militello said. "This is the central meaning of the First Amendment."
Jane Musgrave covers federal and civil courts and occasionally ventures into criminal trials in state court. Contact her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Jury finds 'Angry Patriot Hippie' guilty of threat to kill FBI agents