At least two Republican presidential candidates have criticized recent prison sentences for members of the far-right Proud Boys party involved in the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, viewing them as victims of an unfair justice system. rather than as main participants. with the aim of disrupting the peaceful transition of power.
Several sentences have been handed down in the past two weeks: 22 years for Enrique Tarrio, 15 and 17 years for Zachary Rehl and Joseph Biggs, and 10 and 18 years for Dominic Pezzola and Ethan Nordean. The Proud Boys were behind major breaches in the Capitol on January 6, and the men who were convicted played prominent roles in planning the attack, executing it, or both.
“They just entered the Capitol. If they were BLM, they wouldn’t have been prosecuted,” Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida said of some of the defendants in an interview with Newsmax on Wednesday, adding that he would consider pardoning them.
Of others, he said: “They may have been violent, but to say it was an act of terrorism when it was basically a protest that turned in riot, to impose excessive punishment — you can look, OK, maybe they were guilty, but 22 if other people who did something else were six months old?
Another candidate, Vivek Ramaswamy, stated on X, formerly Twitter, Tuesday in response to the sentences: “It is false and it is sad that I am the only candidate to have the courage to say it.” In a statement released Wednesday, he pledged to pardon all “peaceful and nonviolent” participants of January 6 and said, “America now has a two-tier justice system: the rioters of Antifa and BLM roam free as peaceful January 6 protesters are jailed without bail. .”
However, the vast majority of defendants on January 6 have been released on bail pending trial, and their remand rate is significantly lower than that of the total population of federal defendants.
Suggestions by Mr. DeSantis and Mr. Ramaswamy that Jan. 6 rioters and conspirators were punished more harshly than people who participated in Black Lives Matter protests align with broader Republican grievances that the Federal court system has been “weaponized” against conservatives.
But most Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, when the movement peaked, were peaceful. A 2021 Associated Press investigation found that, in cases where they turned violent, more than 120 defendants either pleaded guilty or were found guilty of federal charges such as rioting, arson and conspiracy. .
Those who had been convicted at the time of the AP’s investigation had received prison terms of just over two years on average. But of more than 1,100 cases linked to Jan. 6, according to an NPR database, the median sentence for those who were sentenced to jail is 120 days.
In the case of Mr. Tarrio and other leaders of the Proud Boys, the most serious charges of seditious conspiracy – and the harshest sentences – stemmed from their attempts to nullify a democratic election or prevent the government from carrying out many essential matters. Federal law defines a seditious conspiracy as two or more persons conspiring to forcibly overthrow the federal government, wage war against it, seize federal property, or forcibly “prevent, hinder, or retard the enforcement of any law of the United States. .”
In a case that Republicans have frequently brought up in an attempt to compare Black Lives Matter protesters to Jan. 6 rioters, protesters clashed with police outside a federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, in July 2020, and at at some point have crossed a fence; many protesters had their charges dropped or received short sentences. Court was not in session when the fence was breached and no one was in the building.
“The conduct of the Portland rioters, while patently serious, was not directed against a constitutionally mandated procedure established to ensure a peaceful transition of power,” said Washington District Court Judge Carl J. Nichols, appointed by Mr. .Trump. wrote, denying a request from a January 6 defendant who claimed to be the victim of “selective prosecution.” “The Portland rioters, unlike those who attacked the US Capitol in 2021, also failed to break through the buildings’ outer defenses.”
The defendant, Judge Nichols wrote, “did not cite any Portland case similar to this one in which the government made a substantially different prosecution decision.”
Alan Feuer contributed reports.