Capitol rioters hit with severe sentences and sharp reprimands from judges
Judges across the US have been handing down stiff sentences and hard words in recent weeks for extremist supporters of Donald Trump who took part in the 6 January insurrection at the US Capitol.
Since a federal judge sentenced Jacob Chansley, the US Capitol rioter nicknamed the “QAnon shaman” for his horned headdress, to 41 months in prison last month, more US judges have been delivering strict sentences to defendants charged over their roles in the attacks earlier this year.
Since the riots, federal prosecutors have brought cases against 727 individuals over their involvement in the deadly riots. With hundreds facing criminal charges, Trump has come under growing scrutiny from the House select committee investigating the attacks.
The longest sentence so far was handed down to a Florida man who threw a wooden plank and fire extinguisher at police officers during the riots. On 17 December, Judge Tanya Chutkan sentenced Robert Palmer to 63 months of jail time, describing the prison term as “the consequence of those actions”.
According to Chutkan, individuals who attempted to “violently overthrow the government” and “stop the peaceful transition of power” would be met with “absolutely certain punishment”.
At his hearing, Palmer said he was “really, really ashamed” of his behavior, adding that he was “absolutely devastated” to see the “coldness and calculation” that he used to attack Capitol police.
On Tuesday, a Washington state man was sentenced to 46 months of prison time for assaulting police officers with a speaker and a metal baton during the riots. According to court documents, Devlyn Thompson helped move police shields up against a line of rioters in a tunnel, as well as hit police officers.
US District Judge Royce Lamberth told Thompson, “The violence that happened that day was such a blatant disregard to the institutions of government … You’re shoving and pushing … and participating in this riot for hours.”
Thompson is the second rioter, after Palmer, to be sentenced for the felony of assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon. More than 140 other rioters face the same charge.
Lamberth also sentenced an 81-year-old Army veteran on the same day to three years of probation for illegally breaching the Capitol.
Gary Wickersham, one of the oldest of more than 700 rioters facing charges, was sentenced to 90 days of home detention, and will also have to pay a $2,000 fine and $500 for building damage.
Defense lawyers argued against any confinement, saying that Wickersham would be unable to visit his grandchildren during his “golden years”.
During his hearing, Wickersham asked for “mercy” from Lamberth and explained that he went to the Capitol because “you get bored” sitting at home.
“Mr Wickersham, I appreciate what you’ve done here. I think you have led the way for others to recognize that the jig is up,” said Lamberth. The 78-year-old judge also told Wickersham that he is “the first defendant I’ve had that’s older than me in quite some time”.
On Tuesday, a Pennsylvania man was also sentenced over his involvement in the riots after his wife accidentally implicated him in a Facebook status. US District Judge James Boasberg sentenced Gary Edwards to one year of probation, 200 hours of community service, as well as a $2,500 fine and $500 in damage fees.
In a since deleted Facebook post, Edward’s wife wrote, “Okay ladies, let me tell you what happened as my husband was there inside the Capitol,” adding, “these were people who watched their rights being taken away, their votes stolen from them, their state officials violating the constitution of their country.”
According to authorities, Edwards took pictures, helped teargassed protesters and entered an office of an unidentified congressional official.
“There really is no more serious and profound action democracy takes than the certifying of a lawful and fair election,” Boasberg said. “And to the extent anyone would interfere with that, particularly with force of violence, they strike at the root of democracy,” he added.
That message would seem to go for organizers of the 6 January events as well as participants in the violence.
On 22 November, US District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Capitol rioter Frank Scavo to 60 days in prison, one of the strictest sentences handed down to a misdemeanor defendant and more than four times the prosecutor’s recommendation of two weeks.
Scavo, a Trump supporter from Pennsylvania and former school board official, was found guilty of chartering buses to transport approximately 200 residents from Pennsylvania to the Capitol on 6 January.