An activist has been convicted of disrupting Congress by laughing during Attorney General Jeff Sessions' confirmation hearing. She has asserted that her laugh was a spontaneous response to testimony that Sessions is not a racist.
On Jan. 10, Desiree Fairooz was arrested for laughing during Sessions' confirmation hearing. Fairooz, who is a member of the feminist activist group Code Pink, was taken into custody alongside fellow members Tighe Barry and Lenny Bianchi, who were detained for wearing Ku Klux Klan outfits in protest of the attorney general's civil rights record.
On May 3, a jury in the District of Columbia Superior Court found Fairooz guilty of disrupting Congress.
Fairooz had laughed when Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama began the hearing by stating that Sessions' record of "treating all Americans equally under the law is clear and well-documented."
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The activist responded to Shelby's statement with laughter.
"I just couldn't hold it," Fairooz told The New York Times. "It was spontaneous. It was an immediate rejection of what I considered an outright lie or pure ignorance."
The U.S. attorney's office accused Fairooz of disrupting the hearing. In a court filing, the prosecutors wrote that Fairooz had interrupted Shelby with a burst of laughter "followed by a second louder burst of laughter."
Campaign director Ariel Gold of Code Pink disputes the prosecutor's' description of Fairooz's behavior, asserting that she was not loud.
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"I would describe it as a reflex," Gold told NBC News. "It was such an appalling statement for Senator Shelby to make … this is such an absurdity that Mr. Sessions has a record of treating Americans equally, that [Fairooz] just reflexively let out a noise. I was sitting about two people away, and I would say the noise was quieter than a cough."
Fairooz added that she had not expected for police to detain her for laughing.
"None of us planned to get arrested," Fairooz said. "We just wanted to be a visible symbol of dissent."
Barry and Bianchi have both been convicted on separate charges related to the protest. All three defendants will be sentenced on June 21, when they could face up to 12 months in jail, a $2,000 fine, or both.
In an official statement released by Code Pink, Fairooz asserted that Sessions had a record of discrimination and civil rights abuses.
"I felt it was my responsibility as a citizen to dissent at the confirmation hearing of Senator Jeff Sessions, a man who professes anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT policies, who has voted against several civil rights measures and who jokes about the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan," Fairooz said.