The senior law enforcement official in a nation that endures more than 40 murders a day, billions of dollars of illegal drugs trafficked, routine hacking of its most important and sensitive computer systems by Russia and China, and thousands of people surging across an open southern border is most concerned about 300 trespassers and a handful of troublemakers.
Not far from where this paper is printed, American citizens are being held without bail (prosecutors have argued they are a threat because they refuse to accept the results of the 2020 election), many without legal counsel, on mostly ticky-tack charges and, two-and-a-half months after their alleged crimes, wait patiently for trial.
They are part of the 315 or so people who have been charged and the 285 who have been arrested in connection with the events of Jan. 6. The charges have ranged from trespassing to assault of law enforcement officials with a dangerous weapon (in this instance bear spray).
That’s an interesting and mostly trivial collection of charges for a pack of hundreds of armed insurrectionists (to borrow from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi).
You know what the charges don’t include? Treason. Attempting to overthrow the United States. Murder. No one has been accused of entering the U.S. Capitol building with a firearm.
We still don’t know the cause of death with respect to Officer Brian Sicknick. Nor do we know by whom and under what circumstances Ashli Babbitt was shot to death.
We do know that Washington, D.C., is running short on public defenders, so some of the defendants are without counsel. Now would be a good moment for the conservative legal-industrial complex in town to step up and represent these people. We are not holding our breath.
We also know that the prosecutors, like prosecutors everywhere, are trying to drive guilty pleas on misdemeanors with the express intention of using those pleas to make the felony cases.
The difference here is that the entire exercise is political rather than judicial.
In his seminal work “The Gulag Archipelago,” the great Russian author Alexsander Solzhenitsyn wrote that: “We have once more gone astray with this concept of “guilt,” and of the guilty or innocent. It has, after all, been explained to us that the heart of the matter is not personal guilt, but social danger. One can imprison an innocent person if he is socially hostile. And one can release a guilty man if he is socially friendly.”
That has a familiar feel. In this instance, the federal government is currently holding people far from home. They have no counsel. They lack of access to exculpatory evidence. People are denied bail because of thoughtcrimes. The full weight of the state and its prosecutorial discretion is on display.
There has been much talk about the similarities between the mostly peaceful protests of this summer and the predominantly unarmed protest on Jan. 6, but there they were fundamentally different. For all the rhetoric about defund the police and systemic racism and what not, the protesters this summer wanted something pretty traditional and straightforward — a bigger piece of the pie. The system could accommodate that with a few new corporate vice presidents, some altered rhetoric, and bit more cash.
What the trespassers on Jan. 6 wanted (and probably still want) is a new system. Obviously, that is something the current system is not inclined to provide.
Their actual crime is wrongthink.
That’s why Mrs. Pelosi attacked them on Jan. 7 as “armed insurrectionists,” despite having no evidence that they were either. It is why two-and-a-half months later Attorney General Merrick Garland said that prosecuting them would be a top priority.
Think about that. The senior law enforcement official in a nation that endures more than 40 murders a day, billions of dollars of illegal drugs trafficked, routine hacking of its most important and sensitive computer systems by Russia and China, and thousands of people surging across an open southern border is most concerned about 300 trespassers and a handful of troublemakers.
His first briefing as attorney general? You guessed it — the prosecutions associated with Jan. 6.
When the judicial becomes an adjunct of the political, we are all on a short road to ruin.
As George Orwell noted: “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.”
The trespassers on Jan. 6 can see that now, as can we.