Republican-Appointed Judge Condemns Efforts to Downplay Capitol Riot as Threat to Nation

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Republican-appointed judge in Washington, D.C. issued a stern warning as he sentenced a North Carolina man for his involvement in the U.S. Capitol riot, highlighting the dangerous consequences of portraying the mob of Donald Trump’s supporters as heroes and downplaying the violence that transpired on January 6, 2021. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth condemned the depiction of the riot defendants as “political prisoners” and criticized attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the justice system in punishing those who broke the law during the Capitol invasion.

Lamberth, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, expressed concern about the mainstream acceptance of these baseless justifications of criminal activity, stating that such destructive rhetoric could potentially pose further danger to the country. This warning comes at a time when Trump has hinted at potential pardons for the rioters if he were to return to the White House.

In the more than 1,200 criminal cases related to the January 6 attack currently being heard in Washington’s federal court, judges have used their platform to counter the distortions surrounding the event, which was widely broadcasted live on television. Many defendants have adopted rhetoric propagated by Trump, defiantly delivering speeches in court, repeating false claims about the election, and positioning themselves as patriotic figures.

During a recent court hearing, one Proud Boys member verbally attacked and interrupted the judge, ultimately receiving a six-year prison sentence. This incident was not isolated, as at least two other rioters shouted “Trump won!” in court after being sentenced. Some individuals charged in the riot are desperately pinning their hopes on a Trump victory in the upcoming presidential election, believing it will secure their release from prison.

Although the rhetoric resonates with some who donate money to defendants’ online campaigns, the judges overseeing these cases have displayed little sympathy for their claims. Judges appointed by presidents from both political parties have consistently denounced the riot as an assault on democracy, reprimanding defendants for their lack of remorse and attempts to portray themselves as victims.

Over the course of the proceedings, judges have viewed hours of video evidence showing rioters violently pushing past overwhelmed officers, breaking windows, assaulting law enforcement with flagpoles and pepper spray, and threatening violence against lawmakers. In court, officers have described being beaten, threatened, and fearing for their lives as they fought to defend the Capitol.

At times, judges have used their sentences to send a strong message, particularly when rioters have spread the narrative that they are being unfairly prosecuted for their political beliefs. In one case, a judge told an Arkansas man, who gained notoriety for propping his feet on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, that he had become one of the faces of the January 6 attack. The judge stressed the need for serious consequences to prevent a repeat of such actions.

In the case of James Little, the North Carolina man sentenced by Judge Lamberth, the judge didn’t name the individuals responsible for distorting history, but it is clear that Trump has formed a close alliance with the rioters. Trump has referred to them as “hostages,” demanded their release, and pledged to pardon many of them if he were to be elected president again.

Approximately 750 individuals charged with federal crimes related to the riot have pleaded guilty, and more than 100 others have been convicted at trial. Sentences have varied, with roughly two-thirds of those sentenced receiving some form of imprisonment. The severity of terms has ranged from intermittent confinement to as much as 22 years in prison.

Judge Lamberth initially sentenced Little to 60 days behind bars and three years of probation in 2022. However, upon appeal, the Washington federal appeals court ruled that Little could not be sentenced to both prison time and probation. During his resentencing, Lamberth increased Little’s sentence to 150 days but credited him for time already served, taking into account his claims of persecution and his efforts to downplay the severity of the January 6 attack.

Lamberth emphasized that Little’s actions, along with others who broke the law that day, were unequivocally wrong. Although he acknowledged that his remarks may not fully counter the spread of falsehoods, the judge aimed to inject some truth into the narrative surrounding the Capitol riot.

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