Okay, so I don’t actually know if my feelings on this will stay the same over time, but there’s this thing where the government completely overreaches while targeting people on the left. We scream (appropriately) about the tyranny involved. Then the government does nothing remotely similar when faced with right wingers, and we … stay silent. Because we don’t actually want to encourage tyranny.
But the thing is, I think we actually need to get tougher on the insurrectionists. And I hate over charging and I hate over sentencing, but while the laws are on the books, they have to be charged equally against right wingers and left wingers. Not only is the behavior from January 6th more serious than I think has been charged so far, but on a larger scale (both temporally and socially) there is another issue. It is actually only when the right wingers realize that the laws they celebrate for their ability to suppress dissent on the left can be used against them that we gain the national consensus necessary to change them.
When people protested Trump’s inauguration, there were windows broken and other acts of minor property damage. As a result, hundreds were charged with riot. Those charged included actual, legit journalists and at least one woman who was a medical professional or was in medical training of some kind and brought some first aid supplies, including water in case people suffered dehydration, so that she could help out if anyone got hurt or sick. (This is, of course, a not uncommon experience when you have hundreds of people in one place for any reason.)
The prosecutors said that if she brought first aid supplies, that means she was planning on violence and is therefore responsible for that violence.
The level of involvement of people like the first aid workers in any crime was clearly less than that of the people who actually entered the Capitol Building illegally. Yet even when a judge threw out the most serious charge of inciting riot and a jury acquitted the first 6 defendants of all remaining charges, the federal prosecutors responsible vowed to continue trying hundreds more defendants on felony charges
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, in a statement emailed to NPR, said the office “believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred” on Inauguration Day, damaging “numerous public and private properties.”
“This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby,” spokesman Bill Miller said. “The criminal justice process ensures that every defendant is judged based on his or her personal conduct and intent. We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant.”
Of course being put on trial is a punishment of its own, and that was not lost on left wing activists. Still, some people did break windows and damage parked cars. It’s not entirely unreasonable in theory to put some people on trial. But prosectors decided to try even people against whom they had no evidence of any criminal activity whatsoever.
On the other hand, they have huge amounts of evidence against many people at the capitol insurrection AND they have an obvious riot. It may indeed feel unjust and tyrannical to charge people filmed wandering inside the gallery with riot, but they were committing a crime to be there, and the evidence is overwhelming that even if they did not participate in the violence that forced opened doors and smashed windows, they took advantage of that violence to make their illegal entry, else they could never have been inside.
Trump’s administration began with a small riot, no threat to democracy but one in which windows were broken and 6 police officers were ultimately injured. As a result, hundreds were charged with riot who had done literally nothing wrong.
Trump’s administration ended with a much larger riot that threatened democracy itself, killed one cop, led to at least 3 other deaths, and injured over 100 officers in deliberate, coordinated mob attacks on them.
The fact that prosecutors are not routinely charging with felony riot people who actually broke the law, where the evidence is overwhelming, is beyond reasonable doubt, and whose violations would not have been possible save for mob violence is not merely an appalling contrast to how first aid volunteers and legitimate journalists were treated under Trump. Instead, this dichotomous treatment allows fascists to hold on to their fascism, accepting dangerously broad laws like those against riot because our system signals again and again that the fascists are safe from their overuse, but antifascists will be abused, over and over again, at the whim of prosecutors, even when those antifascists have done nothing at all against the law.
The fascists don’t fear tyranny. They speak of left wingers abusing the law to put them in prison. They cry out at the supposed threat. But if they actually feared the abuse of such laws, they would want them off the books.
I think antiriot laws are over broad, and often empower the government to punish legitimate activities. But the proper response to such laws is not to avoid enforcement of the when Democrats are in power. The proper response is to apply them so that they threaten all, equally. Only then can we gain the momentum necessary to redraft such laws wholesale.
And in this case, they happen also to bring a measure of justice that may not be possible without prosecutions for riot. Attacking the foundations of our democracy is worthy of felony charges.
The time has come to demand of our representatives answers to the question of why riot charges are so disproportionately rare for participants in the 1/6 insurrection.