As of August 11, 2021, 570 people had been arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrectionist takeover and plundering of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Thirty-six of the defendants have pled guilty after reaching “plea deals” with government prosecutors. Twenty-eight have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, while eight have pleaded guilty to felonies.
The U.S. Justice Department calls the “Capitol riot” case “unprecedented”—and seven months into the matter, government prosecutors have engaged in “unprecedented” leniency in the handling of these treasonous defendants. This disparity is especially true for defendants involved in peaceful civil disobedience cases handled by the Justice Department and state prosecutors throughout the 2020 George Floyd protests.
Capitol Insurrectionist Get Probation
The first defendant sentenced in the Capitol insurrection case was Anna Morgan-Lloyd, a 49-year-old Donald Trump supporter, who reached a deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.” Prosecutors requested a 3-year probated sentence and 80 hours of community.
Highly critical of the government’s lenient plea deal with Morgan-Lloyd, U.S. District Court Judge Royce C. Lamberth, a Reagan appointee, sentenced the defendant to three years probation, 120 hours of community service, and a mere $500 in restitution. The judge acknowledged that “a sizable portion of our public may not think” the sentence was appropriate.
That was putting it mildly.
While she offered profuse apologies to the court before sentencing, Morgan-Lloyd trumpeted on social media that the “storming of the Capitol” was “the most exciting day of my life.”
8 Months for Insurrection Felon Judge Calls Acts Chilling
In the first Capitol insurrection felony case to appear before a federal judge, 38-year-old Paul Hodgkins was sentenced to eight months in prison on July 19, 2021, and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution for a charge of “obstruction of an official proceeding”—that is, Congress’ counting and certifying the 2020 presidential electoral votes.
“Although Mr. Hodgkins was only one member of a larger mob,” U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss said at sentencing. “he actively and intentionally participated in any event that threatened not only the security of the Capitol but democracy itself. That is chilling, for many reasons.”
Hodgkins’ conduct was not “chilling” enough for Judge Moss to impose a sentence in a range recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Those guidelines recommended a sentence of 15 to 21 months, significantly more than the exceptionally lenient eight months Moss imposed on Hodgkins.
But judicial rumblings finally began to emerge about the leniency in the handling of the January 6 insurrectionists.
U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan issued a 54-page opinion on July 27, 2021, denying bail to one of the insurrectionists. The opinion detailed the gravity of the January 6 insurrection and the dangerous threat the insurrectionists posed to the country.
Judge Discusses Damage to “Greatness of America” During Plea
Earlier that day, fellow Judge Reggie Walton accepted guilty pleas from two insurrectionists—a married couple named Thomas and Lori Vinson—who had reached a deal with prosecutors to plead to the same single misdemeanor charge that resulted in probation for Martin-Lloyd. Judge Walton was troubled by the Vinson case noting their actions on January 6 were an “atrocious act” against democracy. Setting the sentencing date in October, Judge Walton indicated he might not be amenable to the kind of probated sentence given to Morgan-Lloyd.
“I teach in various countries, and I’m always touting the greatness of America, and it’s going to be difficult for me to convince people in other parts of the world that we are that shining light on the hill in light of what happened that day.” Judge Walton told the couple.” While you all didn’t maybe engage in any type of violence or destruction, you were part of the mob mentality that caused this to occur.”
Defendant Posted She Would Do It Again
And just as Morgan-Lloyd said participating in the Capitol insurrection was the “most exciting day” of her life, Lori Vinson informed social media that she was not sorry for her participation in the insurrection and “would do it again tomorrow” if given the opportunity.
By July 29, 2021, U.S District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell had become both impatient and profoundly troubled by the misdemeanor plea deals government prosecutors were reaching with many of the January 6 insurrectionists. During a plea hearing for Jessie Griffith, Judge Howell expressed his concern to the Justice Department, who had agreed to another misdemeanor plea deal with the insurrectionist.
“I’m just curious.” Judge Howell asked prosecutors, “does the government have any concern given the factual predicate at issue here, of the defendant joining a mob, breaking into the Capitol building through a broken door, wandering through the Capitol building, and stopping a constitutionally mandated duty of Congress and terrorizing members of Congress, the vice president, who had to be evacuated? Does the government, in agreeing to the petty offense, in this case, have any concern about deterrence?”
In yet another plea hearing—this time for Glen Wes Lee Croy—conducted on August 9, 2021, Judge Howell appeared particularly disturbed by the government’s request for a mere $2000 fine in the felony cases and $500 in the misdemeanor cases. The judge pointed out that $1.5 million in damage had been done to the Capitol Building by the insurrectionists and that American taxpayers are about to foot a $2.1 billion Capitol security bill to prevent another one.
Government prosecutors retreated to their offices to regroup to find a way to fabricate a justification for their unprecedented leniency in what they call the “Capitol riot” case.
The January 6 insurrection—instigated by a president, members of his “inner circle,” and congressional supporters—was nothing short of a coup attempt that left five people dead, 140 police officers seriously injured, and precipitated the suicides of at least four other officers.
Arrests, Prosecutions, and Sentences Illustrate Racial Disparity
So, what is the common denominator in these Capitol insurrection cases?
The defendants are white, politically conservative, advocate white nationalism, and believe anything their “divinely inspired” leader Donald J. Trump tells them, regardless of the magnitude of the “Big Lie.”
Compare the government’s treatment of these violent white insurrectionists to the treatment of peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters engaged in lawful civil disobedience in 2020.
In an August 19, 2020, online article, Time Magazine’s Melissa Chan reported that in the month following the intentional murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020, more than 7,600 arrests were made during civil disobedience protests across the country. Chan got her arrest numbers from Crowd Counting Consortium.
Associated Press put the arrest number at more than 10,000 during the first ten days after Floyd’s murder.
In what experts called the “largest sustained mobilization” in modern history, Black Lives Matter activists influenced more than 25 million people in the United States to assemble and peacefully protest George Floyd’s murder.
Anywhere from 70 to 82 percent of the protesters arrested during those protests were Black Americans—thousands had been beaten, clubbed, pepper-sprayed, stomped, kicked, and even shot by the police. During the first seven days of the George Floyd protests, police killed eleven people, most of whom were Black Americans.
Compare that to the killing of one insurrectionist during the violent Capitol Building takeover. None of the insurrectionists were seriously injured, as the Capitol police heroically and professionally tried to protect the government building, congressional lawmakers, and vice-president.
The Face of Institutional Racism
Here’s the real difference between the Capitol insurrectionists and the George Floyd protesters.
The insurrectionists, instigated by a psychologically deranged president, engaged in an “atrocious act” of treason with the hopes of pulling off a coup and destroying democracy while the Black Lives Matter protesters engaged in peaceful civil disobedience trying to get justice for just one man.
Black Lives Matter protesters have been treated more harshly by the criminal justice system, denigrated by prosecutors, criticized by law enforcement, and vilified by conservative political lawmakers. Many right-wing politicians have praised the insurrectionists, protested their incarcerated treatment, and embraced them as patriots while simultaneously labeling Black Lives Matter protesters as socialists, communists, and violent left-wing radicals.
In August 2020, one Utah District Attorney in Salt Lake County filed “gang enhancement” provisions against Black Lives Matter protesters arrested for felony criminal mischief offenses after splashing red paint on a District Attorney Office window during a George Floyd protest. Prosecutors said the enhancement was justified because the protesters organized specifically to cause property damage. Attorney Brent Huff, representing co-defendant Madison Alleman, said the charges are the highest degree felony in the state and are “usually reserved for murders and rapists.”
Although such an enhancement made the defendants eligible for a life sentence, District Attorney Sam Gill admitted that he didn’t think anyone would go to prison for the offense but that he believed there should be accountability for the criminal conduct by the protesters.
Four protesters reached plea deals with the District Attorney’s office on June 15, 2021, reducing the gang-enhanced criminal mischief felony to a Class A misdemeanor after each defendant agreed to pay $8400 in restitution to avoid jail time.
The criminal justice message here is quite clear.
A violent white supremacist insurrectionist who caused $1.5 million in damage to the nation’s Capitol Building is required to pay a mere $500 for a misdemeanor offense. In contrast, a non-violent Black Lives Matter protester must pay $8400 for a less severe crime.
That is the face of systemic racism in criminal sentencing in this country.
Racial disparity is on display every day at the nation’s courthouses. In early August, its ugly face was present when two women appeared in Cuyahoga County, Ohio Common Pleas Court charged with the same crime: embezzlement. The women—one white and one black—appeared before two white judges; one female, one male. The white female judge, who has never sentenced a white female defendant to prison, gave the white female embezzlement defendant probation. The following day the white male judge sentenced the black female embezzlement defendant to 18 months in prison.
That is systemic racism.