A federal judge used the words of Republican lawmakers to describe the severity of January 6 during a hearing on Wednesday after a defendant’s outburst objecting to the government characterizing the riot as being carried out by “terrorists” who stormed the US Capitol.
Reading from a statement from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on the first anniversary of January 6, 2021, insurrection, federal Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said: “The United States Capitol, the seat of the first branch of our federal government, was stormed by criminals who brutalized police officers and used force to try to stop Congress from doing its job. ”
“This disgraceful scene was antithetical to the rule of law,” McConnell’s statement, read by Sullivan, goes on to say.
Sullivan also noted that GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had called the riot a “violent terrorist attack,” a notion that had been quickly criticized by right-wing figures, leading Cruz to walk back his comments on Fox as “sloppy phrasing.” Sullivan cited comments decrying the riot by Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida as well.
As perceptions over the deadly riot remain polarized, federal judges overseeing hundreds of cases against alleged Capitol rioters have repeatedly criticized political leaders for publicly whitewashing January 6. Judges also have been quick to correct defendants who downplayed the seriousness of their own conduct or refused to take responsibility.
Sullivan’s recitation of Republican perspectives on January 6 came during a court hearing in the case of Robert Gieswein, an alleged member of the far-right group the Three Percenters in Colorado. Gieswein is charged with eight federal crimes, including assaulting an officer and destroying government property.
Gieswein, who has pleaded not guilty, is seeking to have his case moved to another jurisdiction, arguing it’s not possible to have a fair trial in Washington, DC. Gieswein’s lawyer, Ann Rigby, said that because DC residents were essentially the victims of the mob, they could not be impartial jurors.
But Sullivan countered the argument, saying that “everyone in the democratic country was affected by terrorists storming the Capitol, that’s the government’s theory.”
In response, Gieswein yelled: “I object to all these comments here” – an outburst that resulted in a short shouting match between Sullivan and Gieswein, who is in jail and appeared virtually at the hearing.
“As smart as you are, you’re not a lawyer, and I have a job to save you from yourself,” Sullivan said. “If you start to exhibit this kind of conduct in front of a jury, it’s not good for your presentation.”
Other riot defendants have raised similar concerns about whether it is possible to have a fair trial in DC, but judges have consistently shot down those requests.
Three Percenter Guy Reffitt, who was convicted by a jury in March of five crimes, had asked to move his trial to his home state of Texas. Judge Dabney Friedrich, who presided over Reffitt’s case, denied the request, noting that cases with even more dramatic effects on city residents, such as the Boston Marathon bombing, had not been moved to different locations.
Judge Tanya Chutkan came to the same conclusion on Monday, denying a request from defendant Russell Alford to move his trial out of DC. Chutkan cited the Boston Marathon bombing as well as a prosecution in Virginia after the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. Chutkan also rejected the argument that DC residents could not be fair because of their political ideology, calling the argument “misleading and ultimately unavailing.”
Gieswein is set to go to trial in October.