In a development that could “embarrass the Biden administration,” as one news outlet stated, many of the people who participated in the protest/riot/insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 “are likely to get little or no jail time.”
Politico reported that this would be a “jarring reality check” for “Americans outraged by the storming of Capitol Hill.”
Reality is embarrassing because the Biden administration and many Democratic lawmakers have “portrayed the Jan. 6 siege as a dire threat to democracy,” in Politico’s words.
The federal law enforcement apparatus has been treating the individuals who were on Capitol Hill that day as if they were an al-Qaeda sleeper cell. The FBI grabbed cellphone identifiers and pounded on doors with search warrants. Prosecutors wrote up charging documents that used apocalyptic language about violent insurrection and the attempted overthrow of the republic.
However, in courtrooms, reality has made a grand entrance. Many of these cases are turning out to be little more than trespassing.
For example, take the case of Lisa Eisenhart and Eric Munchel, a mother and son who attended the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington. She’s a nurse who lives in Georgia. He’s a resident of Tennessee, where he worked as a waiter. They came to the Capitol wearing tactical vests. Munchel had a taser on his hip and an iPhone on his vest.
After the rally, Eisenhart and Munchel walked to the Capitol and milled around outside with others. They “entered the Capitol through an open door and stayed inside for approximately twelve minutes,” and “police officers were standing to the right of the door, not blocking their entry.”
That’s according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where Eisenhart and Munchel appealed a lower court decision that allowed the government to lock them up in pre-trial detention. That court decision had reversed the ruling of a magistrate judge who found that the government had not met its burden of proving “dangerousness.” The Court of Appeals overturned the district court ruling and sent the case back, ordering the judge to consider the factors that weighed in the defendants’ favor.
Slowly, the courts are pushing back on the government’s repeated insistence that the hundreds of people so far charged for being in the Capitol that day are all dangerous, violent insurrectionists bent on the destruction of democracy. One defense lawyer told Politico that people in the court system are calling some of these the “MAGA tourist” cases.
While certainly there were some individuals who broke windows and committed violent acts, there’s a disturbing pattern in statements and actions by public officials of overstating the criminality, the actions and the danger of the people on Capitol Hill that day. In one well-known example, official “sources” told the New York Times that Capitol Hill police officer Brian Sicknick was killed by rioters who hit him in the head with a fire extinguisher, but that was false. The Times “updated” its story more than a month later.
Even more disturbing, people who walked into the Capitol through open doors as police stood aside, who harmed no one, are locked up in jail pre-trial as if they are the most dangerous people on the planet, and some in Washington are more concerned about how to mitigate “embarrassment” for the Biden administration when the courts pressure prosecutors to cut deals with no jail time.
And even more disturbing than that is the effort by some in the government to redirect the national security apparatus toward finding people who might become “domestic violent extremists.”
“Domestic” means they’re Americans. Some lawmakers want the government to spy on Americans as if they were enemies of the United States.
One of them is Michigan Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, chair of a House Homeland Security subcommittee. She says combating domestic violent extremism must be the nation’s No. 1 national security priority. Slotkin said she is coordinating with the Biden White House on possible executive orders to use the national terrorist watch list as a means of fighting extremism at home. She also said she’s considering whether the U.S. needs a new “domestic terrorism czar” who would serve under the Director of National Intelligence.
Another lawmaker with similar plans is Michigan Democrat Gary Peters, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. “We have to have a better understanding of what these groups are up to, who they are, how they are constituted, what’s the extent of the threat,” he said. “And that means we have to have intelligence resources that are focused on this.”
“Intelligence resources” is another word for spying. On Americans.
In March, a declassified federal report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warned that domestic violent extremism groups will pose an “elevated threat” in 2021. Among the “groups” cited as dangerous are those fueled by anger over the November 2020 election, the perception of government overreach “related to legal or policy changes and disruptions,” and the government’s response to COVID-19.
This happens to describe tens of millions of Americans. Is the government going to secretly collect the phone records and online data of everyone who criticizes the Biden administration?
There’s a crucial difference between law enforcement and intelligence activities. Law enforcement goes after people who allegedly have violated the law, and once there is an arrest, the process is public, the accused has legal and constitutional protections, and the evidence is shown in court.
Intelligence activities, on the other hand, are aimed at collecting information to prevent something that hasn’t happened yet. The entire process is conducted in secrecy, which permanently cloaks error and abuses from public view.
You see the problem. It may begin as an earnest effort to protect the nation from violence, but it ends up by putting Americans on a national terrorist watch list for opposing the Biden administration’s policies in colorful language.
The people who have been charged over their actions on January 6 are entitled to due process, to fair trials, and to the equal protection of the law. Instead, they are being treated as political cannon fodder in a war to suppress vocal political opposition.
Americans must be vigilant against the creeping mission of government agencies who think they can protect us by secretly spying on us. That’s a greater threat to the republic than anything that happened on Jan. 6.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. [email protected] Twitter: @Susan_Shelley
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