Conservatives are slamming Brittney Griner for her 2020 comments about removing the national anthem from WNBA games and some are even comparing her to those jailed after the January 6 Capitol riot in 2021.
Ms Griner has pleaded guilty in a Russian court to drugs charges that could see her sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The basketball player returned to court on Thursday to face her trial, as a senior Russian diplomat said that US criticism of Russia’s handling of the case wouldn’t help Ms Griner’s possibility of being released.
“I’d like to plead guilty, your honour. But there was no intent. I didn’t want to break the law,” Ms Griner said in English. Her words were translated into Russian for the court, Reuters reported.
“I’d like to give my testimony later. I need time to prepare,” she added. The next hearing is set to take place on 14 July.
She was arrested in February at the Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were allegedly discovered in her luggage. On Thursday, she said she had “packed in a hurry”, according to NPR.
In July 2020, during the height of the racial justice protests following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, players for the Phoenix Mercury, including Ms Griner, and the Los Angeles Sparks, walked off the court before the playing of the national anthem in protest of police brutality.
“I honestly feel we should not play the national anthem during our season. I think we should take that much of a stand,” Ms Griner told the press at the time. “I’m going to protest regardless. I’m not going to be out there for the national anthem. If the league continues to want to play it, that’s fine. It will be all season long, I’ll not be out there. I feel like more are going to probably do the same thing. I can only speak for myself.”
On Thursday, right-wing political commentator and former Trump administration official Sebastian Gorka tweeted: “Bet she wants to hear the National Anthem now.”
“Brittney Griner wishes she could hear the National Anthem today,” fellow right-winger and Trump ally Nick Adams tweeted.
“Brittney Griner actively refused to be present during the playing of the US National Anthem before games, and even demanded the Anthem and flag ceremony be avoided in all games. I wonder what it feels like now with her begging the Red, White and Blue to come to her rescue?” former Republican congressional candidate Errol Webber tweeted on Wednesday.
Many Twitter users pushed back on the conservatives’ criticism, with one Twitter user writing: “This the Idiotic thinking of people when it comes to Brittney Griner. That because she exercised her right to protest in a way people didn’t like we she should abandon her in Russia. No she is an American a daughter of a veteran BTW and everything should be done to bring her home.”
“You gotta be a pretty big piece of s**t to be doing victory laps over this situation,” another account holder added.
Conservative activist Brigitte Gabriel tweeted that “Brittney Griner despised America until she needed rescue”.
Talk radio host Michael Berry wrote: “You think the Brittney Griner case is an injustice? Lemme tell you about the protesters on January 6th who are rotting in jail in DC for far less than she did.”
A host at the conservative outlet Blaze media, Jason Whitlock, said that “Brittney Griner is a political prisoner, it’s what we expect from Russia. The imprisoned January 6th protesters are political prisoners too. They deserve sympathy and freedom”.
More than 830 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. More than 300 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanour charges, and over 200 have been sentenced.
The attack left police officers bloodied and sent lawmakers into hiding, and federal authorities continue to make new arrests practically every week.
The charges against members of the angry pro-Trump mob range from low-level misdemeanours for those who only entered the Capitol to felony seditious conspiracy charges against far-right extremists.
It’s the largest prosecution in the history of the Justice Department, whose leader, Attorney General Merrick Garland, has vowed to hold accountable “all January 6th perpetrators, at any level”.
Authorities have arrested people in practically all 50 states in connection with the riot. They include former police officers and military veterans, a five-time Olympic swimming medalist, and the son of a New York City judge.
The most serious cases have been brought against members of two far-right extremist groups, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys.
The leaders of both groups have been arrested and remain locked up while they await trial later this year for seditious conspiracy, which alleges a plot to forcibly oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power. The rarely used Civil War-era charge calls for up to 20 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report