Three years later, the attack on the Capitol is still holding the United States hostage

One in four Americans believe the hoax that the FBI instigated the mob that tried to prevent Biden’s certification as president, an event Trump called ‘a beautiful day’

Asalto al Capitolio EEUU
Donald Trump's supporters clash with police as they storm the Capitol on January 6, 2021.SHANNON STAPLETON (REUTERS)
Miguel Jiménez

On Thursday, Christopher Worrell, 52, a member of the far-right Proud Boys group, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for assaulting police officers with pepper spray as the mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. He was wearing a combat vest and hurled insults at the officers, calling them “communists” and “scum.” For the moment, Worrell’s conviction for the attack that shook the foundations of U.S. democracy is the most recent guilty verdict. Three years after the event, the assault on the Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory in the 2020 presidential election continues to shape the U.S. political and judicial agenda. Now, the country is entering a politicized election year, but the wounds from January 6 still have not healed.

Trump has defended the attackers, whom he calls “patriots,” downplayed the attack, maintained that it was not an insurrection, referred to January 6 as “a beautiful day,” and helped spread conspiracy theories that have gained traction with his supporters. A poll published in The Washington Post this week reveals that 25% of Americans believe the hoax that it is “probably” or “definitely” true that the FBI instigated the attack on the U.S. Capitol. The ex-president believes that what happened three years ago will not hurt his candidacy for the November 5 presidential election, which is likely to be a repeat of the 2020 contest between Trump and Biden.

A threat to democracy

Meanwhile, President Biden sees Trump as a threat to democracy, and he has made that idea a key message in his campaign for re-election. The president recently launched a campaign ad focused on that: “Something dangerous is happening in America. There is an extremist movement that does not share the basic beliefs of our democracy. All of us are being asked right now what we are going to do to maintain our democracy,” Biden says as images of the insurrection appear on the screen.

It’s not just politics. The January 6 attack on the Capitol is still very much an issue in the courts, although the two fronts intersect. In Washington, special prosecutor Jack Smith has indicted Trump for his attempts to interfere with the results of the 2020 presidential election, when he resisted a peaceful and orderly transition of power for the first time in the nation’s history. Meanwhile, Colorado and Maine have kicked Trump off the ballot, finding him ineligible to run for president under the insurrection clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution; there are numerous other states where his primary candidacy is being contested on the same grounds.

Trump not only asserts his innocence but claims that he has presidential immunity for his actions. In addition, he argues that the assault on the Capitol was not an insurrection and that the 14th Amendment provision does not apply to him.

Now it is up to the Supreme Court — which has a conservative supermajority of six out of nine justices (three of whom Trump appointed) — to decide the matter. There are now three cases related to the January 6 attack on which the Supreme Court will have to rule.

The first issue is the question of presidential immunity. The Supreme Court has declined to hear the case at this point, leaving it with the court of appeals, but the nation’s highest court is likely to take up the matter later. In addition, Trump has appealed his exclusion from the ballot and stands a good chance of winning the appeal, as the interpretation of the clause is a bit strained. And third, the justices have agreed to hear an appeal disputing the validity of applying the crime of obstruction of an official proceeding to the January 6 riot; this is one of the four crimes for which Trump has been charged in Washington. It is a crime intended to punish anyone who boycotts or obstructs an investigation in a variety of ways, from murdering a witness to withholding evidence, but it is not clear that it fits the current scenario. The judges’ decision could overturn dozens of convictions and condition the indictment against the former Republican president.

Meanwhile, the police and judicial machinery continues to prosecute and convict the rioters who have already been identified and arrested. On Thursday, United States Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew Graves, who has coordinated the Justice Department’s efforts to prosecute the responsible parties, said at a press conference that the assault on the Capitol was “probably the largest single-day mass attack on law enforcement officers in the history” of the United States. According to the Justice Department, approximately 140 police officers were assaulted at the Capitol on January 6, including about 80 U.S. Capitol Police and about 60 Metropolitan Police Department agents. “It is critical that we remember the collective harm that was done on Jan. 6, 2021, and understand how it happened, so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Graves added.

A total of 1,237 prosecuted

According to the Justice Department’s latest tally, updated in December, 1,237 defendants have been indicted nationwide. Of these, 714 individuals have pleaded guilty to various federal charges (210 felonies and 504 misdemeanors); many face prison sentences. Another 170 individuals have been convicted at trial. There are just over 350 defendants with cases pending. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is still pursuing hundreds of attackers and has a most-wanted list.

Some of those who have already been convicted are awaiting sentencing. Thus far, 723 defendants have been convicted, 454 of whom have been sentenced to prison terms. 151 convicts have been sentenced to a period of house arrest, including 28 who also received jail time.

Members of far-right militias, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers, have been given the harshest sentences. Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys, was sentenced to 22 years in prison; that is the longest sentence handed down, and it is unlikely to be exceeded. The judge called him the “ultimate ringleader of the conspiracy” and applied the aggravating circumstance of “terrorism.” Several Proud Boys lieutenants have also received some of the most severe punishments, after they, like Tarrio, were convicted of seditious conspiracy. Ethan Nordean was sentenced to 18 years in prison, Joe Biggs, 17, and Zachary Rehl, 15.

Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the extreme right-wing group Oath Keepers, a sort of paramilitary militia, was sentenced to 18 years in prison last May. Both he and his lieutenant Kelly Meggs, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison, have also been found guilty of seditious conspiracy.

At some of his rallies, Trump plays Justice for All, a song that mixes a chorus from The Star-Spangled Banner sung by those imprisoned for participating in the Capitol attack with Trump’s own recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance; it ends with the prisoners chanting “U-S-A.” The former president has said that he will pardon the attackers if he returns to the White House.

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