Republican-Appointed Judge Denounces Republican Distortions of Jan. 6

A Republican-appointed judge on Thursday denounced as “shameless” the attempts by prominent Republican politicians to recast the Jan. 6 riot in a positive light, including by portraying the Trump supporters who sacked Congress as having done nothing wrong and by calling those convicted of crimes political prisoners or hostages.

“In my 37 years on the bench, I cannot recall a time when such meritless justifications of criminal activity have gone mainstream,” wrote Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the Federal District Court in Washington. “I have been dismayed to see distortions and outright falsehoods seep into the public consciousness.”

The remarks, made in a seven-page filing that Judge Lamberth described as notes for what he had said on Thursday at a resentencing hearing for a Jan. 6 rioter, amounted to a scathing and extraordinary broadside against a vast web of conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the Capitol attack that have permeated the right.

Criticizing the rioter, James Little, for displaying “a clear lack of remorse,” the judge used the occasion to also “set the record straight” about what he portrayed as a broader disinformation campaign, citing the evidence he has absorbed from presiding over many Jan. 6 prosecutions.

“I have been shocked to watch some public figures try to rewrite history, claiming rioters behaved ‘in an orderly fashion’ like ordinary tourists, or martyrizing convicted Jan. 6 defendants as ‘political prisoners’ or even, incredibly, ‘hostages,’” wrote Judge Lamberth, a 1987 appointee of President Ronald Reagan. “That is all preposterous. But the court fears that such destructive, misguided rhetoric could presage further danger to our country.”

The judge did not name the public figures he accused of spreading disinformation. But both former President Donald J. Trump and Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, the fourth-ranking House Republican, have used the term “hostages” to describe the people being prosecuted for trespassing in the Capitol and assaulting police officers as part of the mob that sought to block Congress from certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory.

Another Trump-aligned Republican lawmaker, Representative Andrew Clyde of Georgia, said in May 2021 that footage of the rioters who entered the Capitol and went through Statuary Hall showed they had done so “in an orderly fashion” akin to “a normal tourist visit.”

And another Republican from Georgia, Representative Majorie Taylor Greene, toured a D.C. jail where Jan. 6 defendants were being held in March and said they were being “treated as political prisoners” for their beliefs.

Such comments are representative of broader efforts by numerous Trump-era Republicans and conservative voices to rewrite the history of the Jan. 6 riot as a patriotic act by peaceful protesters who are now being persecuted. Polls show Republican voters increasingly believe them.

To the contrary, Judge Lamberth wrote: “The rioters interfered with a necessary step in the constitutional process, disrupted the lawful transfer of power and thus jeopardized the American constitutional order. Although the rioters failed in their ultimate goal, their actions nonetheless resulted in the deaths of multiple people, injury to over 140 members of law enforcement and lasting trauma for our entire nation. This was not patriotism; it was the antithesis of patriotism.”

Judge Lamberth also rejected the notion that the criminal justice system was denying such defendants their free speech rights. People have a right to believe and claim that the 2020 election was stolen, the judge wrote, but that does not give them a right to enter a restricted area or riot in the Capitol.

“This is a matter of right and wrong,” Judge Lamberth wrote. “Little cannot bring himself to admit that he did the wrong thing, although he came close today. So, it is up to the court to tell the public the truth: Mr. Little’s actions, and the actions of others who broke the law on Jan. 6, were wrong. The court does not expect its remarks to fully stem the tide of falsehoods. But I hope a little truth will go a long way.”

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