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Pyramid scheme: New Yorker blames food groups in US Capitol riot case

An attorney for James Bonet says his disillusionment with the USDA's former food pyramid nutritional guidelines led him to believing in election conspiracies.

WASHINGTON — A New York man facing jail time for smoking marijuana inside a U.S. senator’s office during the Capitol riot says his road to believing former President Donald Trump’s election fraud lies began with the food pyramid.

James Bonet, 29, pleaded guilty in October to one misdemeanor charge of entering and remaining in a restricted building. As part of the plea deal, the government agreed to drop a much more serious felony charge of obstructing the joint session of Congress that could have earned Bonet up to 20 years in prison.

Bonet was one of hundreds of members of the pro-Trump mob that entered the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6. While inside, he posted a number of photos, including one captioned, “Right in the doorsteps this is our house we will take it back.”

In another post, Bonet uploaded a selfie of him holding a joint to his lips inside Merkley’s office, with the caption, “Smoking at the capital [sic] building.”

The Class “A” misdemeanor charge Bonet pleaded guilty to carries a maximum sentence of up to 1 year in prison. On Wednesday, his attorney, Lisa Peebles, argued in a memo a probationary sentence would be more appropriate.

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Peebles said Bonet – who she described as a “curious, impressionable young man” – came to believe the unsubstantiated claims by Trump and others, including attorneys L. Lin Wood and Sidney Powell, about a vast conspiracy by Democrats to overturn the 2020 election. Both Wood and Powell have since been sanctioned by a federal judge for filing lawsuits promoting those claims. Powell, Wood and others are also the subject of a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems.

“James believed that Wood and Powell and Trump were highly educated sophisticated intellectuals,” Peebles wrote. “He couldn’t imagine they would spread false claims, particularly the president. James believed Trump was trying to defend the constitution.”

After listening to Wood and Powell’s claims, Bonet began to question the integrity of election results himself. But the pump for him to distrust the media and government had already been primed, Peebles said, by his disillusionment with federal dietary guidelines – specifically the food pyramid promoted for years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“He related his distrust of media advertising to the food pyramid after he lost 150 pounds beginning in February 2021, when he cut out carbohydrates, dairy, and sugar,” Peebles wrote. “He wondered why throughout his school years he was taught to embrace the food pyramid when doing so caused great weight gain… This revelation prompted James to attend the January 6, 2021, rally. He wanted to search for the truth.”

The USDA used the food pyramid between 1992-2005 to visualize the number of servings Americans should try to eat each day of various food groups, including grains, vegetables and fruit. The pyramid was criticized for its perceived friendliness to the food industry’s economic interests and for lumping all fats and oils together, despite evidence of the health benefits of unsaturated fats.  

The food pyramid was updated to a newer version called “MyPyramid” in 2005, which contained a new stairs symbol to signify the need for exercise, and replaced altogether in 2011 with the USDA’s current “MyPlate” nutrition guide. The MyPlate guide places a larger emphasis on fruits and vegetables and has been perceived as more easily understood than the food pyramid.

Bonet’s own disillusionment with the USDA’s former dietary guidelines “coincided with social media attacks on the mainstream media” and a concerted effort by Trump’s allies to spread false information about voter fraud, Peebles said.

“James was misguided by this political propaganda spewed by the Trump administration and the alt-right movement,” she wrote.

Since his arrest in January, Peebles said Bonet has returned to school, taken up jujitsu and stopped smoking marijuana. Peebles said Bonet Is trying to embrace “what he now believes to be a blessing.” As such, she said, a probationary sentence would adequately deter him from future criminal activity.

Bonet will appear for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan on February 20. The government has until January 10 to file its sentencing memo in his case.

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