On January 6, rioters streamed past the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, and descended upon the US Capitol. For weeks after the attack, DC’s chief judge said she could see National Guard troops from the window in her chambers.
And in the year since the deadly riot, as divisive politics rage and the public becomes more divided about just what happened as Congress was trying to certify Joe Biden’s election victory, judges have taken to the bench to remind the country how crucial it is for American democracy that the attack on the Capitol never be repeated.
Some judges are calling out former President Donald Trump – although mostly not by name – for rallying his most ardent supporters to action and suggest that he and his prominent allies bear responsibility for what happened that day. Trump has continued to stoke anger and promote the lie that the 2020 election was stolen since he left office, and many judges have expressed continuing concern that his supporters could be called to act again.
More than 700 people are facing charges stemming from the January 6 insurrection, and the almost two dozen judges handling their cases have repeatedly slammed the rioters for misrepresenting what America is supposed to stand for and tarnishing the country’s reputation around the world. And when their actions threaten America’s standing, judges have warned defendants, they will pay the price.
Here are some of the most notable quotes from the judges presiding over the January 6 cases in the past year about democracy, patriotism and the consequences of committing violence against the government:
“You strike at the heart of our democracy” – Judge James Boasberg
“You attempted with others to undermine one of our bedrock acts, which is the peaceful transition of power after an election. When you try to eliminate that principle, you strike at the heart of our democracy,” Boasberg said as he sentenced two men to 45 days in prison.
Air Force veteran Derek Jancart and his friend Erik Rau admitted to leaving their hotel when they heard the Capitol? was breached and making it as far as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s conference room. They brought a gas mask, two-way radio, Kevlar gloves, and medical supplies to Washington in preparation for the day.
“Canceling the votes of others at the point of a gun is the antithesis of what this country stands for” – Judge Amy Berman Jackson
Jackson slammed defendant Cleveland Meredith Jr. during a December hearing, and sentenced him to more than two years in jail for threatening to kill Pelosi. Meredith texted a friend the day after the riot that he was thinking of “putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.”
Meredith’s mother reported him to the FBI, which found him in a hotel one mile from the Capitol with thousands of rounds of ammunition, a handgun and a rifle stashed in his trailer.
“It was more than just property damage and broken windows. It was a blow against the customs that make up our Constitution… it was a national disgrace” – Judge Timothy Kelly
Kelly’s comments came during a sentencing hearing for defendant Jordan Stotts, who admitted to posting on Facebook that he broke into the Capitol to “strike fear into the sold out Congress.” Stotts will spend two years on probation.
“It’s going to be difficult for me to convince people in other parts of the world that we are that shining light upon a hill because of what happened that day” – Judge Reggie Walton
Walton has decried the deadly riot as detrimental to the “greatness” of America and emphasized how embarrassing the actions of rioters are to every American.
“I teach in various countries and I’m always touting the greatness of America. It’s going to be difficult for me to convince people in other parts of the world that we are that shining light upon a hill because of what happened that day,” Walton said during one plea hearing for a married couple who spent 40 minutes inside the Capitol. He later sentenced them both to five years of probation.
“We are now all fearful about the next attack” – Judge Randolph Moss
During the first sentencing of a Capitol rioter convicted of a felony, Moss lamented that the events of January 6 pose an existential danger to democracy.
“It means that it will be harder today than it was seven months ago for the United States and our diplomats to convince other nations to pursue democracy. It means that it will be harder for all of us to convince our children and our grandchildren that democracy stands as the immutable foundation of this nation. It means that we are now all fearful about the next attack in a way that we never were,” Moss said.
“Every day we are hearing about reports of antidemocratic factions” – Judge Tanya Chutkan
Chutkan described how the riot could inspire potential future violence.
“Every day we are hearing about reports of antidemocratic factions, people plotting potential violence in 2024. It has to be made clear that trying to stop the peaceful transition of power, assaulting law enforcement, is going to be met with certain punishment. Not staying at home, not watching Netflix, not doing what you were doing before you got arrested,” Chutkan said.
The defendant in the case she was presiding over, Robert Scott Palmer, admitted to spraying the contents of a fire extinguisher at a police line, and then throwing the empty cannister at officers. He will spend more than five years behind bars.
“You called yourself and everyone else patriots, but that’s not patriotism” – Judge Amy Berman Jackson
“Patriotism is loyalty to country, loyalty to the Constitution, not loyalty to a head of state. That is the tyranny we rejected on July 4,” Jackson said of defendant Karl Dresch.
Jackson used Dresch’s comments on social media, which refer to “patriots taking the Capitol” as a victory and call for future action, as evidence that people who continue to believe Trump-backed conspiracy theories could be pushed to act again.
“The defendant came to the Capitol because he placed his trust in someone who repaid that trust by lying to him,” Jackson said during the same hearing. She sentenced Dresch to six months in jail, the maximum sentence allowed for the misdemeanor trespassing charge he pleaded guilty to.
“You were a pawn. You were a pawn in the game played by people who know better” – Judge Amit Mehta
“Those who created the conditions that lead to Mr. Lolos’ conduct have in no meaningful measure been held accountable …You were a pawn. You were a pawn in the game played by people who know better,” Mehta said to defendant John Lolos, calling out elected officials for using supporters like Lolos for political gain and then abandoning them as they face federal consequences.
Lolos pleaded guilty in August to illegally demonstrating inside the Capitol building and will spend 14 days in jail. Investigators identified Lolos after a Delta flight crew decided to turn a plane that he was on around because he was continuously yelling, “Trump 2020!”