They’re accused of being violent criminals who assaulted police, smashed windows and doors to breach the U.S. Capitol and roamed the building looking to capture House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Congress. But to Donald Trump supporters, they’re merely tourists and patriots who are being persecuted as “political prisoners” being treated more harshly than other accused subjects.
Just a few weeks ago four right-wing Republican members of Congress — Reps. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Louis Gohmert (R-Tex.), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — even showed up at the D.C. jail demanding to inspect the treatment of those detained in connection with the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection. They claimed that the Capitol riot suspects are being subject to harsher conditions and sentences than those arrested during last year’s racial injustice protests.
According to The Associated Press, court records tell a far different story. The AP found that more than 120 defendants across the United States have pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial of rioting, arson, conspiracy and other federal crimes. More than 70 defendants who have been sentenced thus far have been given an average of about 27 months behind bars. At least 10 received prison terms of five years or more.
Contrast that with the Capitol rioters. Of the almost 600 people who have been charged for their role in the insurrection, very few have been sentenced and only three have been sentenced to jail time. Dozens of defendants have been charged only with misdemeanors. In what has become almost a standard plea deal, many have been allowed many to plead guilty to a single count of demonstrating in the Capitol. Most of the more serious cases involving assaulting police officers remain unresolved.
An Indiana woman who admitted illegally entering the Capitol but didn’t participate in any violence or destruction avoided jail time, and two other misdemeanor defendants got one and two months of home confinement. Two other people who were locked up pretrial were released after pleading guilty to misdemeanors and serving the maximum six-month jail sentence.
Most of the Capitol rioters’ defenses are similar to that of Garrett Miller from Texas. He was wearing a T-shirt that said, “I Was There, Washington D.C., January 6, 2021,” when he was arrested. Prosecutors say Miller posted threatening messages on Twitter directed at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, (D-N.Y.), after the riot. His lawyer said Miller isn’t trying to excuse his actions. “Nevertheless, Mr. Miller should not be treated differently based upon the political views he espoused viz-a-viz the political views espoused by the Portland rioters,” his attorney, F. Clinton Broden, wrote in recent court papers.
Prosecutors say Miller hasn’t presented any evidence that his case was politically motivated.
They also rejected comparisons between Miller’s actions and those of the Portland defendants, “who — despite committing serious offenses — never entered the federal courthouse structure, impeded a congressional proceeding, or targeted a specific federal official or officer for assassination.”