Are the January 6 Capitol riot defendants "political prisoners"?
Some conservative activists and Republicans have used the terminology, including Matt Braynard, organizer of the Sept. 18 "Justice for J6" rally at the foot of the Capitol.
The former Trump campaign strategist made the accusation in a complaint against the U.S. with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and said he met with "one of the commissioners" to discuss the complaint.
Mainstream media reacted with scorn. The Associated Press calls the terminology "a stunning effort to revise the narrative of that deadly day," leaving out that the Capitol Police killed an unarmed protester — the only fatality from a weapon of any kind.
The Poynter Institute's PolitiFact rated the language "mostly false," citing an absence of evidence that defendants "are being prosecuted for those beliefs." It convinced Facebook-owned Instagram to remove a post making the claim.
But a review of the January 6 defendants' treatment by the criminal justice system raises questions about how political beliefs may have factored into their prosecutions and incarceration, particularly in comparison to last summer's racial riots driven by progressive outrage about George Floyd's death.
Not only are January 6 defendants generally enduring longer periods behind bars for lesser charges than racial rioters, but some of their lawyers seem to believe judges will treat them more favorably if they publicly recant their political beliefs.
A new RealClearInvestigations database contrasts the January 6 prosecutions, in which "dozens" of defendants have been held in pretrial detention for months, with those of Floyd rioters ("several" long detentions) and long-forgotten rioters at President Trump's inauguration (none).
"The summer 2020 riots resulted in some 15 times more injured police officers, 30 times as many arrests, and estimated damages in dollar terms up to 1,300 times more costly than those of the Capitol riot," not to mention "more sophisticated and dangerous tactics," the database's introduction reads.
Yet across 2,000 police officers assaulted or injured and 16,000 arrests, only 44 federal assault charges were filed against racial rioters, a quarter of the total for January 6 defendants. The former had more weapons charges, though.
At least 90% of citations or charges were "dropped, dismissed or otherwise not filed" in most of the dozen major jurisdictions prosecuting racial rioters, while D.C. prosecutors dropped most felony rioting charges. They're on track to dismiss charges in most cases from riot-friendly Portland, Ore.
At least 50 January 6 defendants have been transferred to D.C. jail from their home states, with "[m]any held without bail on misdemeanor charges in separate D.C. lockup designated for Capitol rioters," according to the database.
Lawyers Marty Tankleff and Steven Metcalf, who together represent several defendants, have told Just the News they believe the D.C. transfers have no merit because virtual court hearings were the default under COVID-19 rules until recently.
"It was a well-thought out strategic plan" to get rioters to D.C. and put in the same space, where they can be "mic'd in a cage," Metcalf said.
The functional absence of attorney-client privilege in D.C. jail facilities is cited in their July 9 bail application for alleged Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola, along with allegations about withheld evidence, "nearly nonexistent" access to showers, and a two-week stint in "the hole" after a broadcast interview with his wife.
An observant Jewish client, Edward Jacob Lang, claims guards disparaged him as a "false prophet" as he prayed for other inmates. His Sept. 3 bail application covers much of the same ground, including the frequency of release on bail for worse charges.
Lang has spent more than three months total in solitary confinement, including two straight months in the hole "without a single disciplinary ticket," it says. Guards maced him less than a day after he rejoined the "Patriot Unit," while he held "a bible in one hand and family photos in the other."
The application cites an affidavit by another protester, Philip Anderson, who claims Lang saved him from being "killed by the police" at the Capitol as they were beating Trump supporters. "What we have been seeing in the press is not the whole truth," Lang's bail motion says, citing selectively released "snippets of videos and snapshots."
Anderson has said he was holding hands with protester Rosanne Boyland as she died, and blames Capitol Police for her death, which was officially attributed to "acute amphetamine intoxication."
Widely reported in the media as an "insurrection," the Capitol riot is not drawing comparable charges, again raising the question of why so many defendants stand to remain in jail until their trials next year.
Civil libertarian Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who helped Edward Snowden reveal National Security Agency surveillance operations, noted none of the defendants had been charged with sedition or treason six months later.
It's a "perfect symmetry" with the number charged with colluding with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, Greenwald tweeted. "If you actually believe that what happened on January 6 was an Insurrection (lol), shouldn't you be enraged at the Biden DOJ for this?"
The "political prisoners" argument is not popular in elite party circles, largely relegated to less influential lawmakers on the right flank.
It's not clear whether those best situated geographically to advocate for the January 6 defendants — the D.C. Republican and Libertarian parties — have done anything to raise awareness of how they are being treated in D.C. jail. Neither responded to queries.
The Virginia GOP didn't respond either, though Virginia Rep. Bob Good was part of the House Republican contingent that unsuccessfully pressed the Justice Department for information about the conditions of the incarcerated defendants.
None in that group — Florida's Matt Gaetz, Georgia's Marjorie Taylor Greene, Texas's Louie Gohmert, Arizona's Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, and Virginia's Good — has confirmed they're attending Saturday's rally, according to The New York Times.