The Capitol Hill rioters would like us all to know they are very sorry and won’t do it again, pinky promise. That sums up the defenses offered by the pro-Trump insurrectionists who remain in jail following the January 6 Capitol Riot, which left five dead and hundreds injured. The Washington Post reports that the possibility of serious jail time has acted as a much-needed reality check—in that some of the alleged riots are scared enough to eek out apologies—but judges aren’t quite buying defendants’ newfound clarity.
From the Washington Post (emphasis ours):
One judge called a defendant’s claim of civil disobedience “detached from reality.” Another verbally smacked down an attorney who tried to use QAnon — the sprawling set of false claims that have coalesced into an extremist ideology — to explain his client shouting “Kill them all!” Other judges have been giving defendants civics lessons on how democracy works.
“Essentially, that’s what your argument is, saying, ‘Whoops,’ now?” Howell asked. “Has he expressed any remorse or rejection of his membership in the Proud Boys, a gang of nationalist individuals? Does he reject the fantasy the election was stolen? Does he regret the positions that animated the mob on January 6th? Is there anything on the record about any of those things?”
Over 300 alleged rioters have received federal charges for their roles in the attempted coup, but 54 remain detained awaiting trial because they’ve been charged with violent offenses, are considered a danger to their community, or have been deemed a flight risk. Some of them are arguing that they should be removed from detainment, arguing that they’re now sufficiently disillusioned by former President Trump and Trumpism as a whole.
For example, Jacob Chansley, the so-called “QAnon Shaman” released a statement: “Please be patient with me and other peaceful people who, like me, are having a very difficult time piecing together all that happened to us, around us, and by us,” he wrote. “We are good people who care deeply about our country.” Chansley even said he would testify against Trump in his impeachment trial once he realized that he wouldn’t receive a presidential pardon.
While Chansley’s change of heart appears purely opportunistic, it’s true that a chaotic diet of right-wing propaganda, conspiracy theories, and misinformation helped get these alleged rioters where they are now. Trumpism is cult-like in its ability to ensnare otherwise reasonable people into believing in some truly heinous bullshit, and that should be appreciated. Still, among those using the “oops, we’ve been had!” defenses are members of nativist militia groups and white nationalist organizations. Do they regret their bigotry or do they regret that they were arrested on federal charges?
My gut says the latter!
Jessica Watkins, a 38-year-old member of the Oath Keepers extremist group from Woodstock, Ohio, intended “not . . . to overthrow the government, but to support what she believed to be the lawful government,” public defender Michelle Peterson of D.C. argued in court filings. [...] Friends and family of Watkins echoed that claim in court filings. One described her as “brainwashed by those deeply entrenched in conspiratorial beliefs.” Her fiance, with whom she co-owns a bar, wrote that Watkins “has no desire to resume militia activities” and “wishes to ignore politics and focus on serving cocktails and cooking food.”
Dominic Pezzola, a New Yorker, says he got involved with the Proud Boys — a far-right group with a history of violence — last fall and had “honorable intentions” when he used a police riot shield to break a window at the Capitol, his attorney wrote last week, saying he believed he was “protecting his country.” Pezzola “now realizes he was duped into these mistaken beliefs” and “is consumed with guilt.”
Incarceration isn’t the solution to these people’s violent politics or their piss poor decision-making. If anything, imprisonment will make them even more of a threat once they’re released. There’s no easy answer as to what should be done with those who were complicit in this attempted coup, this inane attempt to prevent then-president-elect Biden from having his electoral votes officiated. But one thing is clear: “LOL, sorry, my bad, won’t happen again, chief” probably isn’t going to cut it.