After declaring himself a sovereign citizen and deciding to represent himself at trial, the man accused of killing six people and injuring 62 others by driving his SUV into a Wisconsin Christmas parade cross-examined several victims of the attack himself in court last week.
"Fair to say there were hundreds, even thousands of people for the parade?” Darrell Brooks Jr., 40, asked a witness who said he saw the SUV driving over people like “speed bumps.” “And you only saw a handful of people struck?"
Early on in his trial, Brooks fired the attorney defending him against six first-degree murder charges and 77 additional charges in connection to the attack on Nov. 21, 2021, in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Since then, he’s continually spouted points from the pseudo-legal sovereign citizen movement, which purports believers don’t need to follow the United States legal system and attempted to delay his trial numerous times.
Brooks previously pleaded not guilty because of insanity but then pulled that defense and has now pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say that Brooks had previously assaulted his girlfriend and was fleeing that scene when he encountered the Christmas parade and allegedly drove into it at a speed of 40 mph. Police who witnessed the event said the driver seemed to be swerving as if to cause as much damage as possible, and witnesses described bodies being thrown in the air. Those killed in the mayhem include an 8-year-old boy marching in the parade with his baseball team and multiple members of a grandmothers dance troupe.
As detailed by Fox 6 News, the state called several witnesses to the stand, almost all of which gave emotional testimony about what they saw during the attack. Because he’s representing himself, Brooks was allowed to cross-examine the witnesses. His questions were designed to cast doubt that he was the one driving, and he asked numerous witnesses if they could see exactly who was driving.
“No, just the red hood as it ran into me," one responded when asked if she saw the driver. “I did not see anywhere besides the tire going in front of my face.” At one point, Brooks, who’s Black, argued with a witness who said he saw a Black man with wide eyes driving into the crowd.
During cross-examination, Brooks has frequently called “hearsay”—until the judge chastised him for not knowing what it meant—and attempted to cast doubt on the idea that people were intentionally struck. Brooks even cross-examined a police officer who shot at the vehicle in an attempt to stop the attack. "I'm trained to stop the threat. You were the threat," the officer said when Brooks asked if he was “shooting to kill.”
Brooks also attempted to cast doubt on those injured in the attack. The coach of the youth baseball team, which 8-year-old Jackson Sparks belonged to, also had a daughter, who was struck by the vehicle. When Brooks asked why the coach didn’t help the injured around him, he responded by saying he was “concerned about my daughter missing.”
Brooks, however, had difficulty cross-examining the county medical examiner who testified about the injuries that caused the 8-year-old’s death. At one point, he asked for a “moment” and was granted a ten-minute break.
Two weeks ago, during jury selection, Brooks made headlines for firing his lawyers, continuously sparring with the judge, and frequently attempting to delay the process. Several times during the first week of the trial, Brooks was forced to leave the courtroom and watch the selection from a separate room via a video link.
On Thursday, Brooks launched into a 50-minute diatribe about his sovereign citizen beliefs that culminated in a request to dismiss the trial and for the judge to step down. He repeatedly claimed he did not have enough information and did not understand the charges against him. The judge, however, did not side with Brooks, and the trial continued.
“They don't believe in the court system, they don't believe in the government. They don't think they have jurisdiction, and so they challenge them, like he's doing," Dr. Christine Sarteschi, an extremism scholar who has researched sovereign citizens, told VICE News. "[Brooks] seems worse in some ways than a lot of sovereign citizens.”
Brooks had a history of making antisemitic and anti-white statements online, which has made the murders a favorite talking point among the far-right and neo-Nazis online. Many use the attack as an example of, what they believe to be, a war on white people, and several within the far-right eco-system are watching the trial closely.
The trial continues this week. If convicted, Brooks faces several consecutive life sentences.
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