More than a year has passed since January 6, 2021. Narratives left and right continue being debated, blame cast, political points scored – and that will surely continue. Caught in the process are hundreds of Americans, and their cases seem all over the place, hardly being resolved as usual.
Most Americans understand that, in the aftermath of the 2020 election, shaped by COVID restrictions and political cross-charges, state versus federal election questions, appeals to the Supreme Court, two impeachments, Russia-collusion hysteria, Americans were raw.
Protests throughout 2020 over race, bridging into ideological warfare – Marxist influences and socialist rhetoric versus freer speech, free markets, and defense of wider freedom – became violent. Then, in the flurry of post-election disappointment, confusion, and popular distress, the DC protest emerged – and a subset of that group ended up, however you describe it, committing crimes at the Capitol.
The issue behind the issue – a year later – is how the individuals, in a society premised on due process, are being treated. That question – based on a review of hundreds of case histories being tracked and reported by the Department of Justice – is an open one. Odd, might be the best way to describe events.
On the one hand, data is submitted to Justice case-tracking by federal prosecutors, then posted for public review, on a case-by-case basis. Some jurisdictions file data faster than others. Some cases are more complex than others. That said, the core questions seem obvious – and worth asking again.
The key questions are about fairness, constitutional rights, and how we treat one another – regardless of politics. The key questions are not political, but judicial – whether the rule of law is being abided or instead intruded upon by the long shadow of 2020 and 2021 politics.
What do we know? Detailed review of hundreds of cases – individual arrests – tied to events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, suggests simple realities.
First, more than 725 arrests have been reported and variously discussed publicly. Charges range from “illegal parading,” “violent entry,” “obstruction of an official proceeding,” and “civil disorder” to “threatening an officer,” “threats in interstate commerce,” “destruction of federal property,” and “assault” on officers, from “use of a dangerous weapon” to “physical violence.” See, Capitol Breach Cases.
Second, according to public reports, roughly a tenth of those arrested in 2021 and 2022 have proceeded through the process to sentencing, “while the rest are waiting for trial.” Sentencing judges have alternated between deference or leniency and drawing attention to the political nature of the riots. See, e.g., What Happened to Jan. 6 Insurrectionists Arrested in the Year Since the Capitol Riot.
Third, private reports suggest – and the official litany of dispositions by Justice confirms – cases span the gamut, some moving quickly, others very slowly – more than a few inexplicably caught in irons. The unasked – and unanswered – question: Why any disparity? Why the slowness? Is politics at work within the prosecutorial system? Are cases dragging for political reasons?
Fourth, a one-by-one review of cases implies that similar charges may be getting disparate treatment. For example, as of mid-February, roughly 21 cases show the party arrested months ago, yet being held. The language “defendant remains committed” appears in those cases.
These cases, many of which involve allegations of “physical violence” by a rioter, include individuals arrested in July, August, September, October, and November of 2021.
Many cases seem unclear – disposition ending with arrest, nothing more. Some include statements of indictment, arraignment, a plea of not guilty, with no disposition. Some include sentences.
On balance, the majority are unresolved; some include “held without bond,” although some defendants are free on their own recognizance, one “under high-intensity supervision” (undefined), one in the long list “dismissed.”
Friends, relatives, constitutional lawyers, and the public are concerned about these cases, each an individual American’s life. They all have constitutional rights.
The odd part, for many observers, is not what is known but left unknown. The concern is a judicial system that might be grinding slowly as a result of politics, with very little daily reporting on these cases.
If just one American – against whom chargers are proffered – is not receiving proper treatment, something is wrong. The contrast is to speed at which 2020 riot cases, some violent, were resolved.
The obvious question – with 2020 cases as a backdrop – is why the January 6 cases are dragging, when 2020 cases also involved violent behavior, some against federal officers and property.
The answer that hovers – unspoken – is that January 6 cases are somehow fundamentally different, that the federal property involved was the US Capitol, that the implied reason for the riot was to violently contest an election and the lawful process of certifying it.
Facts asserted are, in general, true. Rioters were politically motivated. That was also true in 2020. Still, the heart and intent of each rioter is known only to the individual. A broad brush paint implies all rioters aimed to be violent. That may not be true.
Even here, criminal behavior is prosecuted only by statute – not politics. These individuals all have time-honored constitutional rights. We should – a year on – no longer be talking politics but law.
People think what they think. The issues at work now are legal – all legal. A detailed review of these cases is just disturbing. The impression left is that these cases, despite the similarity of charges to each other, despite the passage of time, roughly similar fact predicates, and the precedent of fast resolution of 2020 riot cases – are moving slowly, in some cases imperceptibly, seemingly not at all.
The fundamental question is not “was the January 6 riot political?” It is simpler. It is legal. “Why are these cases not moving, collectively and individually, faster?” That is a question all should now ask.