Claims that Jan. 6 rioters are ‘political prisoners’ endure. Judges want to set the record straight

Feb 4, 2024, 5:27 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — While sentencing a North Carolina man to prison for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot, a Republican-appointed judge issued a stark warning: Efforts to portray the mob of Donald Trump’s supporters as heroes and play down the violence that unfolded on Jan. 6, 2021, pose a serious threat to the nation.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth condemned the depiction by Trump and Republican allies of Jan. 6 defendants as “political prisoners” and “hostages.” Lamberth also denounced attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the justice system for punishing rioters who broke the law when they invaded the Capitol.

“In my 37 years on the bench, I cannot recall a time when such meritless justifications of criminal activity have gone mainstream,” Lamberth, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, wrote in a recent ruling. The judge added he “fears that such destructive, misguided rhetoric could presage further danger to our country.”

As Trump floats potential pardons for rioters if he returns to the White House, judges overseeing the more than 1,200 Jan. 6 criminal cases in Washington’s federal court are using their platform to try to set the record straight concerning distortions about an attack that was broadcast live on television. A growing number of defendants appear to be embracing rhetoric spread by Trump, giving defiant speeches in court, repeating his false election claims and portraying themselves as patriots.

During a recent court hearing, Proud Boys member Marc Bru repeatedly insulted and interrupted the judge, who ultimately sentenced him to six years in prison. “You can give me 100 years and I’d do it all over again,” Bru said.

At least two other rioters shouted “Trump won!” in court after receiving their punishment.

Some people charged in the riot are pinning their hopes on a Trump victory in November.

Rachel Marie Powell, a Pennsylvania woman who was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for smashing a Capitol window, told a CNN reporter that the 2024 presidential election is “like life or death” for her. She said she believes she will get out of prison if Trump is elected.

The rhetoric resonates with the strangers who donate money to Jan. 6 defendant’s online campaigns, but it isn’t earning them any sympathy from the judges. Judges appointed by presidents from both political parties have described the riot as an affront to democracy and they repeatedly have admonished defendants for not showing true remorse or casting themselves as victims.

Over more than three years, judges have watched hours of video showing members of the mob violently shoving past overwhelmed officers, shattering windows, attacking police with things such as flagpoles and pepper spray and threatening violence against lawmakers. In court hearings, officers have described being beaten, threatened and scared for their lives as they tried to defend the Capitol.

Before sentencing a Kentucky man, who already had a long criminal record, to 14 years in prison for attacking police with pepper spray and a chair, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta admonished the man for propagating “the lie that what’s happening here in Washington, D.C., is unfair and unjust.”

“You are not a political prisoner,” Mehta, who was nominated by President Barack Obama told Peter Schwartz. “You’re not Alexei Navalny,” the judge said referring to the imprisoned Russian opposition leader. “You’re not somebody who is standing up against injustice, who’s fighting against an autocratic regime. … You’re somebody who decided to take the day into his own hands, much in the same way that you have used your hands against others for much of your life.”

Lamberth’s scathing remarks came in the case of James Little, a North Carolina man who was not accused of any violence or destruction during the riot and pleaded guilty only to a misdemeanor offense. Lamberth didn’t name the people responsible for what the judge called “shameless” attempts to rewrite history. But Trump has closely aligned himself with rioters during his presidential campaign. He has described them as “hostages,” called for their release from jail and pledged to pardon a large portion of them if he wins the White House in November.

Roughly 750 people charged with federal crimes in the riot have pleaded guilty and more than 100 others have been convicted at trial. Many rioters were charged only with misdemeanor offenses akin to trespassing while others face serious felonies such as assault or seditious conspiracy. Of those who have been sentenced, roughly two-thirds have received some time behind bars, with terms ranging from a few days of intermittent confinement to 22 years in prison, according to data compiled by The Associated Press.

Lamberth had originally sentenced Little in 2022 to 60 days behind bars, followed by three years of probation. But Washington’s federal appeals court sided with Little on appeal, ruling he could not be sentenced to both prison time and probation. When Little’s case returned to Lamberth’s court, the judge resentenced him to 150 days — with credit for time already served in jail and on probation — citing the man’s claims of persecution and efforts to downplay the Jan. 6 attack.

“Little cannot bring himself to admit that he did the wrong thing, although he came close today,” Judge Lamberth wrote. “So it is up to the court to tell the public the truth: Mr. Little’s actions, and the actions of others who broke the law on Jan. 6, were wrong. The court does not expect its remarks to fully stem the tide of falsehoods. But I hope a little truth will go a long way.”

An attorney for Little declined to comment on Lamberth’s remarks.

In other cases, judges have said their sentence must send a message when rioters have promoted the notion that they are being unfairly prosecuted for their political views. U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper told Richard “Bigo” Barnett, the Arkansas man who propped his feet on a desk in then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in a widely circulated photo, that he seemed to enjoy the notoriety of becoming one of the faces of the Jan. 6 attack.

“You have made yourself one of the faces of J6 not just through that photo but using your platform and your notoriety to peddle the misconception that you and other J6ers are somehow political prisoners who are being persecuted for your beliefs as opposed to your conduct on Jan. 6,” Cooper, an Obama appointee, told Barnett before sentencing him to more than four years in prison.

“So to all those folks that follow Bigo, they need to know that the actions of Jan. 6 cannot be repeated without some serious repercussions,” the judge said.


Richer reported from Boston.

United States News

Associated Press

What to know about Evan Gershkovich’s conviction for espionage in Russia

The trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich ended Friday with his conviction on espionage charges that he, his employer and the U.S. government have dismissed as fabricated. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Here’s what we know about the secretive process. Where was the trial he ld? It took place in […]

31 minutes ago

Associated Press

Former Trump executive Allen Weisselberg released from jail after serving perjury sentence

NEW YORK (AP) — Retired Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg was released from New York City’s Rikers Island jail on Friday after serving a sentence for lying under oath, according to online records. The former chief financial officer at Donald Trump’s real estate company pleaded guilty in March to committing perjury during his testimony in […]

1 hour ago

FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami, on May 9, 2023. The Trea...

Associated Press

The Treasury Department warns that an anti-woke Florida banking law is a national security risk

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department is warning that state laws that restrict banks from considering environmental, social and governance factors could harm efforts to address money laundering and terrorism financing. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter sent Thursday to lawmakers. The letter singled out a law signed by Florida Gov. Ron […]

2 hours ago

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich stands listening to the verdict in a glass cage of a ...

Associated Press

Long before his arrest, US reporter lamented that many friends in Russia were being locked up

In early 2022, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich wrote on social media that “reporting on Russia is now also a regular practice of watching people you know get locked away for years.” A year later, he was the one locked up — arrested in March 2023 on charges of spying that his employer and […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Accused of biting police official, NYC Council member says police were the aggressors

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City Council member accused of biting a police official complained Thursday that officers used excessive force as she strove to help someone who was lying under a barricade at a protest. Brooklyn Democrat Susan Zhuang didn’t address the biting allegation as she gave her version of the encounter, […]

2 hours ago

FILE - In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, Aviation Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Nicholas Hawkin...

Associated Press

Massachusetts lawmakers call on the Pentagon to ground the Osprey again until crash causes are fixed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Three Massachusetts lawmakers are pressing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to ground the V-22 Osprey aircraft again until the military can identify the root causes of multiple recent accidents, including a deadly crash in Japan. In a letter sent to Austin on Thursday, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey and Rep. Richard […]

2 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Sanderson Ford

3 storylines to get you revved up for the 2024 Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals training camp is just a couple weeks away starting on July 25, and Sanderson Ford is revved up and ready to go.



Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.



Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

Claims that Jan. 6 rioters are ‘political prisoners’ endure. Judges want to set the record straight