A murder trial that mainstream news has largely ignored is TikTok's latest legal obsession

Judge Jennifer R. Dorow.
Judge Jennifer R. Dorow has received universal praise for her patience.Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP, Pool
  • Darrell Brooks has been accused of driving his car into a Christmas parade and killing six people.

  • The brutality of the incident, and his antics in the courtroom, mean people cannot look away.

  • TikTokers have watched every second of the trial and found a new hero in Judge Jennifer R. Dorow.

In the latest court case gripping TikTok, there's no debate among viewers over who is in the wrong. The trial of Darrell Brooks, who is accused of killing six people by driving into a Christmas parade in Waukesha, Wisconsin last November, has dominated the platform all month as videos of his bizarre courtroom behavior gain hundreds of thousands of views.

TikTok users arguably developed a more intense fascination with court cases after the defamation trial turned online phenomenon of Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard earlier this year. A horde of Depp stans declared him the clear winner with memes and mockery before Heard even took the stand, racking up millions of views under the hashtag #justiceforjohnnydepp. In the months since the trial in May, however, Heard's supporters have pushed back and creators have increasingly reevaluated the toxic fandom surrounding the case.

There's no such debate surrounding Brooks' trial. Instead, people have followed the proceeding with fascination as Brooks, who waived his right to an attorney and is representing himself, pursues chaotic and nonsensical lines of questioning. Other videos have expressed shock at his disregard for Waukesha County Judge Jennifer Dorow, who is presiding in the case.

Brooks, who faces 76 criminal charges, has claimed in court that he is a sovereign citizen, which is the conspiracy theorist movement of people who falsely claim they are not subject to US law and exempt from government jurisdiction. He has repeatedly interrupted Judge Dorow, who has had to call for a recess numerous times, refused to answer to his name, made a fort out of boxes on his desk, and spoken over the state's attorneys, among other disruptions. Legal experts previously told Insider that Brooks' tactic may be to cause a mistrial.

The trial, which began on October 3, completed closing arguments on Tuesday and jury deliberations have begun. Brooks stated in his closing argument that he did not intentionally drive into the parade and suggested perhaps the vehicle malfunctioned. Prosecutors disputed his claims, pointing out that he drove into 68 people during the incident.

While local news stations have covered some of the trial, and global outlets have reported on some of the main events, news media has come nowhere close to giving the case the level of attention that it is garnering on TikTok. Clips of Brooks staring at Judge Dorow, relentlessly arguing, glaring, and being sent to a different courtroom for being disruptive have been shared widely, sometimes bringing in hundreds of thousands of views.

While TikTok content surrounding Depp vs Heard was full of analysis and argument about two well-known figures, Brooks' trial appears to be pure spectacle.

People can't look away from the 'trainwreck' of the trial

Waukesha native Ken, who has been documenting the twists and turns of the trial on his TikTok account The Official Ken where he has 49,000 followers, told Insider he followed the case right from the start because he lives in the area, and his niece attended the parade. The story was all over his local news stations, but he never thought the case would explode into the online circus it has.

Many of the TikTok commenters seem assured of Brooks' guilt, and that the verdict is a foregone conclusion.

"It's a horrible tragedy, but as bad as it was, it was a pretty open-shut kind of thing," Ken said. "His initial hearings were normal, he didn't speak, he had attorneys there with him. I mean, the evidence was clear that they have the right guy."

Ken expected the trial to be quick and without much extra attention because the outcome seemed obvious to him. But Brooks' behavior is something nobody anticipated, and it's the pivot to his sovereign citizen defense and self-representation that has caused such a whirlwind of interest.

"I think the reason why people have become so captivated by this is because number one, there's no question that he's guilty," Ken said. The state has put forward a mountain of evidence against Brooks, including video evidence of his red Ford Escape driving into paraders (the same car which appears in one of Brooks' own music videos), multiple eyewitnesses, and DNA evidence from the scene.

"I think that's where people really started paying attention because it's like, what is this guy doing?" Ken said. "The whole thing, it's a trainwreck, and people can't look away from trainwrecks."

Sarah Pitkins, who shares true crime stories, conspiracies, and mysteries with her 312,000 TikTok followers, told Insider Brooks' trial popped up on her For You page when it began. Accounts large and small have dedicated their entire pages to the trial for the last three weeks, posting daily roundups, and adding their own opinions.

Pitkins said she has been "hooked" ever since stumbling upon it, then started posting clips and updates of each day's proceedings. She said she wanted to start covering the trial because Brooks' conduct made her angry, and she couldn't imagine how hard it was for the people who lost family members during the parade.

"Just seeing his attitude of entitlement and his manipulation tactics he's trying to pull, it really made me mad," she said. "I wanted to speak out about how bizarre he was behaving and how wrong it was."

TikTok creates a community for conversation and debate in a way that traditional news doesn't

Pitkins said she thinks interest is so high on TikTok for several reasons. The crime committed was devastating, for one, and that pulls people in. Brooks' erratic behavior and unexpected defense adds to that, Pitkins said, with everything he says being "off the wall."

"You don't even need to put any explanation or anything on it because you just play the clip and everyone gets the point of like, this man is just off the rails," she said. One incident that stuck out to Pitkins was Brooks taking off his shirt and "screaming and running around the courtroom."

TikTok also makes the case accessible to everyone, Pitkins said, and opens up the opportunity for conversation in a way that television coverage of a trial can't do.

"You can look through comments, read comments, comment back to people," Pitkins said. "That's where that sense of community builds and you get to talk with people all over the world about something. I think that's the big draw to it."

The trial has also won supporters for Judge Dorow, who have praised her calm handling of Brooks' behavior during the case and ability to continue the proceedings. Ken said that while he's sure Dorow will remain in her position as long as she wants to, she has his support if she ever runs for public office.

Read the original article on Insider