WASHINGTON – While sentencing a North Carolina man to prison for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot, a Republican-appointed judge issued a stark warning: Efforts to portray the mob of Donald Trump supporters as heroes and downplay the violence that unfolded on January 1. January 6, 2021, pose a serious threat to the nation.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth condemned Trump and his Republican allies’ description of the Jan. 6 defendants as “political prisoners” and “hostages.” Lamberth also denounced attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the justice system to punish rioters who broke the law when they invaded the Capitol.
“In my 37 years in office, I cannot remember a time when such baseless justifications for criminal activity were widespread,” Lamberth, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, wrote in a recent ruling. The judge added that he “fears that such destructive and misguided rhetoric could portend greater danger to our country.”
As Trump floats possible pardons for rioters if he returns to the White House, judges overseeing the more than 1,200 Jan. 6 criminal cases in federal court in Washington are using their platform to try to set the record straight about distortions about an attack that was broadcast live. in TV. A growing number of defendants appear to be embracing the rhetoric spread by Trump, making defiant speeches in court, repeating his false election claims and presenting themselves as patriots.
During a recent court hearing, Proud Boys member Marc Bru repeatedly insulted and interrupted the judge, who ultimately sentenced him to six years in prison. “You can give me 100 years and I would do it again,” Bru said.
At least two other rioters shouted “Trump won!” in court after receiving his punishment.
Some people accused of the riots are pinning their hopes on a Trump victory in November.
Rachel Marie Powell, a Pennsylvania woman who was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for breaking a Capitol window, told a CNN reporter that the 2024 presidential election is “like life or death” for her. She said she believes she will get out of prison if Trump is elected.
The rhetoric resonates with outsiders who donate money to the defendant’s Jan. 6 online campaigns, but it’s not earning them any sympathy from judges. Judges appointed by presidents of both political parties have described the riots as an affront to democracy and have repeatedly admonished defendants for failing to show true remorse or present themselves as victims.
For more than three years, judges have watched hours of videos showing mob members violently shoving overwhelmed officers, breaking windows, attacking police with things like flagpoles and pepper spray and threatening violence against lawmakers. In court hearings, officers described being beaten, threatened and feared for their lives as they tried to defend the Capitol.
Before sentencing a Kentucky man with a long criminal record to 14 years in prison for attacking police with pepper spray and a chair, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta admonished the man for spreading “the lie of that what is happening here in Washington, DC, is unjust and unjust.”
“You are not a political prisoner,” Mehta, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, told Peter Schwartz. “You are not Alexei Navalny,” the judge said, referring to the jailed Russian opposition leader. “You are not someone who stands up to injustice, who fights against an autocratic regime. … You are someone who decided to take control of the day into your own hands, just as you have used your hands against others for much of your life.”
Lamberth’s scathing comments came in the case of James Little, a North Carolina man who was not charged with any violence or destruction during the riots and pleaded guilty only to a misdemeanor. Lamberth did not name the people responsible for what the judge called “shameless” attempts to rewrite history. But Trump has closely aligned himself with the rioters during his presidential campaign. Describing them as “hostages,” he called for their release from jail and promised to pardon a large portion of them if he wins the White House in November.
Approximately 750 people charged with federal crimes in the riots pleaded guilty and more than 100 others were convicted at trial. Many rioters were charged only with misdemeanors similar to trespassing, while others faced serious crimes such as assault or seditious conspiracy. Of those who have been sentenced, about two-thirds have received some time behind bars, with sentences ranging from a few days of intermittent confinement to 22 years in prison, according to data compiled by The Associated Press.
Lamberth had originally sentenced Little in 2022 to 60 days behind bars, followed by three years of probation. But the federal appeals court in Washington ruled in Little’s favor on appeal, ruling that he could not be sentenced to prison or probation. When Little’s case returned to Lamberth’s court, the judge resentenced him to 150 days, with credit for time already served in prison and on probation, citing the man’s claims of persecution and his efforts to downplay the attack. on January 6.
“Little cannot bring himself to admit that he did something wrong, even though he almost did so today,” Judge Lamberth wrote. “So it is up to the court to tell the public the truth: Mr. Little’s actions and the actions of others who violated the law on January 6 were wrong. The court does not expect his comments to completely stem the tide of falsehoods. But I hope a little bit of truth goes a long way.”
An attorney for Little declined to comment on Lamberth’s comments.
In other cases, judges have said their sentence should send a message when rioters have promoted the idea that they are being unfairly prosecuted for their political views. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper told Richard “Bigo” Barnett, the Arkansas man who propped his feet up on a desk in then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in a widely circulated photograph, who seemed to enjoy the notoriety of becoming one of the faces of the January 6 attack.
“You have become one of the faces of the J6 not only through that photo, but you have also used your platform and your notoriety to peddle the misconception that you and other members of the J6 are somehow political prisoners who They are being persecuted for their beliefs and not for their behavior in the country. January 6,” Cooper, an Obama appointee, told Barnett before sentencing him to more than four years in prison.
“So, all those people who follow Bigo must know that the actions of January 6 cannot be repeated without serious repercussions,” the judge said.