Jan. 6 Insurrectionists May Get No More than Slap on the Wrist
WASHINGTON — Arrests of Jan. 6 insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol are continuing this week even as the zeal to throw the defendants in prison with severe sentences begins to subside or run into stumbling blocks of criminal law.
In the few weeks after the violent takeover of the Capitol by Trump supporters, the new U.S. attorney general announced prosecuting them would be one of his top priorities.
In addition, a bill introduced in the House and Senate sought to give greater reach to law enforcement efforts to confront similar threats by homegrown troublemakers.
The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is supposed to fund federal and local law enforcement efforts to identify the kind of political agitators who threaten law and order.
In one typical case, Michigan resident Anthony Williams was scheduled for an appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan after a recent arrest for his role in the Jan. 6 uprising.
A tip led FBI agents to screenshots Williams posted on Facebook that show him inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
He posted other messages before the riot showing his intent to travel to Washington, D.C.
“Every lie will be revealed,” he posted Nov. 13. “‘Americans’ who participated in fraudulent scheme to overthrow our duly elected president are TRAITORS. China orchestrated the attack and will pay severely for their transgression. American is a nation under a just GOD. Be prepared to #FightBack #HOLDTHELINE #Trump2020 #NoRetreatSurrender.”
Williams is charged with obstruction of official proceedings, entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct.
However, actions and statements by prosecutors indicate he and other insurrectionists among the more than 300 arrested so far are likely to get no more than a slap on the wrist if they are convicted, often with no jail time, according to a new report.
The news organization Politico reported Tuesday that nearly a quarter of the defendants charged so far face only misdemeanors. Most commonly, they are charged with some form of trespassing.
In other words, they entered the Capitol but did no harm to persons or property.
In a court appearance last week, an assistant U.S. attorney recommended to a federal judge “a non-trial disposition” for the case against Kevin Loftus, who is charged with unlawful presence and disrupting official business at the Capitol.
A non-trial disposition normally refers to a plea bargain on a lesser charge. Unlawful presence and disrupting official business at the Capitol are two of the most common charges against the insurrectionists.
If the caseload, expected to grow to around 400 defendants, ends in a whimper instead of the harsh punishments pledged by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, they would appear to undercut President Joe Biden’s statements saying he wanted vigorous prosecution against the rioters.
Biden’s position coincides with similar opinions expressed this month in a survey published by the public policy foundation Pew Research Center.
It showed that among 12,055 adults representative of the U.S. population, a wide majority, or 69%, said it is “very important” for federal law enforcement agencies to find and prosecute the people who broke into the Capitol on Jan. 6. Another 18% said the prosecutions are “somewhat important.” Only 12% said prosecuting the insurrectionists is not too important or not at all important.
At the same time, the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act is also running into second thoughts.
It first gained strong support when it was reintroduced Jan. 19 by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate. It won approval in the House in the last session of Congress but failed in the Senate.
The bill seeks to strengthen the federal government’s efforts to prevent domestic terrorism by authorizing new offices dedicated to combating the threat.
It would require the offices within the departments of Justice and Homeland Security to regularly assess domestic terrorism. They also would be required to provide training and resources to state and local law enforcement agencies to help them address it.
The FBI would lead the Justice Department’s program.
“The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act will equip our law enforcement leaders with the tools needed to help keep our homes, families and communities across the country safe.,” Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., who co-sponsored the bill, said in a statement.
Much like the first time H.R. 350 was introduced, its critics are calling it redundant and unnecessary government intervention.
Both the departments of Justice and Homeland Security “already focus on potential domestic terrorism threats within their existing organizational structures,” wrote Cato Institute policy analyst Patrick Eddington. The Cato Institute is a Washington-D.C.-based libertarian public policy foundation.
“If anything, were [the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act] to become law it would likely make detecting and thwarting domestic terrorist plots harder,” Eddington wrote. “The more layers of bureaucracy, the slower government works. The other issue it would likely exacerbate is the question of which department – Justice or Homeland Security – should be the lead on dealing with homegrown threats.”