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The Failed Attempt to Overthrow the American Government: Crime and Insurrection

Published onDec 31, 2021
The Failed Attempt to Overthrow the American Government: Crime and Insurrection
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Abstract

President Trump, refusing to concede the 2020 Presidential election, claimed that there was election fraud. On January 6, 2021, the date set to finalize the election results by Congress, President Trump implored hundreds of thousands of his followers to march to the Capitol and “Stop the Steal.” Inside and outside the Capitol building, the police were overpowered by a mob of Trump supporters who did not want to have Joe Biden be formally declared the next U.S. President. The siege on the Capitol, in a failed attempted overthrow of the national government, was thwarted later that night. In the early morning hours of January 7th, Congress declared the winner of the 2020 election to be Biden. The consequences of the violence at the Capitol will be felt for many months and years to come. In the immediate aftermath, the F.B.I. began to arrest people involved in the failed attempt to overthrow the American government. They received tips from family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors who helped identify those who participated in the Capitol breach. Together with social media postings, video, and photographs of the people involved in the violence on January 6th, the Department of Justice proceeded to charge people with various crimes. Not one crime to date is for insurrection. Rather, most of the charges are minor offenses. This paper analyzes over 400 arrests of persons charged in the breach of the Capitol in the first few months following the violent attempt to overthrow the American government.

Keywords

Assault on Law Enforcement Officer, Capitol Riot, Disorderly Conduct, Insurrection, January 6th, Obstruction


Introduction

On January 6, 2021, the peaceful transfer of power was threatened for the first time in the history of the United States by a violent mob who stormed the Capitol building in Washington D.C. The storming of the Capitol, the nation’s seat of power, was aimed at stopping a joint session of Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election results (In re Capitol Breach Grand Jury Investigations within the District of Columbia, 2021). The people involved in the violence at the Capitol broke police barricades, assaulted police officers, and broke doors and windows to gain entry into the Capitol building. The violent breach lasted from around 2:00 pm until 8:00 pm when the Capitol police were finally able to regain control over the building and Congress resumed the certification count (Kulper et al., 2021; McCauley, 2021; Pulver et al., 2021). The violent mob’s actions resulted in over $1 million in damages and several people died either during or in the immediate aftermath of the violent breach (Jalonick et al., 2021; McCauley, 2021). Most surprisingly, or not, the “incident” is treated almost as an aberration; prosecutors are looking at the breach as a compilation of various criminal offenses rather than a significant threat to democracy. To understand what is presently happening in the immediate aftermath of the violent breach of the Capitol, this article reviews the various criminal charges filed against those who breached the Capital Building through May 10, 2021.

Background

Pursuant to Article II, Section 1, of the U.S. Constitution and 3 U.S.C. §15, Congress is to meet on January 6th to count the electoral college votes cast in December reflecting the results of the November presidential election. As expected, on January 6, 2021, Congress held a joint session to finalize the election and declare President Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, as the next President of the United States of America. In an unprecedented action, Trump continually refused to concede to the incumbent as his presidential predecessors have done. Instead, Trump maintained that the election results were fraudulent and should be discounted. President Trump implored his followers to come Washington D.C. on the day of Congress’s electoral college count. Hundreds of thousands of people traveled to Washington D.C. to support President Donald Trump at his Save America rally. Some of these supporters were members of the Alt-right (Jaiswal, 2021; Rapoport, 2021).

The Save America rally was premised around the President’s big lie that Trump had won the November election but due to voting fraud in various states, the election had been stolen from him. At the rally Trump said he wanted their help to stop the count - to “stop the steal” - and he told them that if they came to Washington D.C. that it was going to get “wild” (Holland et al., 2021). In the days just prior to the Save America rally, Trump’s lawyers provided Vice President Mike Pence with a memo that articulated a plan on how Pence could forestall the electoral vote tally and maintain Trump as President (Gangel & Herb, 2021; Jalonick et al, 2021). The six-point plan articulated various scenarios that Pence could undertake which would prevent Congress from finalizing the count in favor of Biden. Among the various scenarios was discounting the electoral votes from several contested states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) due to alleged fraud in the state’s vote tabulations. Other scenarios proposed that after Pence opens the ballots in order to make his own, independent assertion as to which ballots to count under the 12th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and tally votes to declare Trump the winner (memo linked in Gangel & Herb, 2021).

At his Save America rally on January 6th, Trump excited (possibly incited) the crowd and implored them to act. He complained that the Vice President was not stopping the count. He said “We fight like hell. And if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore” (Naylor, 2021). President Trump told the crowd that he would meet them at the Capitol. Primed and willing, the crowd of Trump loyalists moved on to the Capitol when he concluded his remarks. Many in the crowd chanted “Stop the Steal.” Many in the crowd demanded that Congress stop the count. Many in the crowd shouted “Trump, Trump, Trump.” The crowd went in search of Vice President Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi; a few held up a noose and had erected a hangman’s scaffold. Some in the crowd took pictures of themselves as they moved through various offices and the Chamber itself. Hours later, Capitol Police, who were finally given backup support by the National Guard and city law enforcement officers, were able to quell the riot and get the rioters out of the building and leave Capitol grounds. Congress resumed the count very late that night and declared Biden the next President of the United States on the morning of January 7, 2021.

The actions and backgrounds of the people attending the Save America rally will be analyzed for years to come. It is unprecedented for an American President to refuse to concede and ask supporters to help him stop the finalization of an election. It is unprecedented for a rally to result in violence inside and outside the Capitol building. Whether the event of that day will be deemed a riot, an insurrection and/or an attempted overthrow of the American democratic system, arrests have occurred and people who engaged in the breach of the Capitol building are being charged. This article will analyze the crimes charged against 411 persons who were arrested between January and May 10, 2021.

The Big Lie

During his Save America speech, President Trump implored his Vice President to do something to stop the official finalization of the election results. He argued that the Vice President had the constitutional authority to stop the count which would, by default, keep Trump in the Presidency. He had chastised the Supreme Court and other courts for rejecting his claims of election fraud and irregularity after the November election votes were broadcast. In January 2021, Trump was taking this final opportunity to stop the election’s certification on January 6th by beseeching his Vice President to stop the Senate’s count and to call his strongest supporters to his “Save America” rally. During his rally, he particularly pointed out what he deemed to be election fraud problems in the contested states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. President Trump complained:

All of us here today do not want to see our election victory stolen by emboldened radical-left Democrats, which is what they're doing. And stolen by the fake news media. That's what they've done and what they're doing. We will never give up, we will never concede. It doesn't happen. You don't concede when there's theft involved….

The Democrats are hopeless — they never vote for anything. Not even one vote. But we're going to try and give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don't need any of our help. We're going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country…. (Naylor, online, 2021).

Trump’s claims of election fraud, corruption and theft are called the big lie. It’s a big lie because it is based on false claims and can have huge impact and significance for the American people. Big lies are those that, despite all evidence to the contrary, are believed by a public who are so loyal to the political leader that the false claims are believed and acted upon. The hundreds of thousands of people who attended the rally held signs and yelled “Stop the Steal.” They seemed to believe the big lie; and they acted on it when they breached the Capitol building and grounds. They attempted to stop the certification of the electoral votes by violence.

Literature Review

Crime and Insurrection

Insurrections are usually attributed to militant and domestic terrorist groups in developing nations where there is great economic disparity and discrimination. In the North Caucasus region of the world, according to Dannreuther (2014), insurrection is connected to minority group grievances on poverty, unemployment, and political corruption. Piazza (2011) also found that nations which have economic discrimination and high levels of poverty in their minority group population are vulnerable to domestic terrorism. For example, the Nigeria and Cameroon insurgency by the Boko Haram is challenging a weakening Nigerian government (International Crisis Group, 2018; Omole & Welye, 2015). Furthermore, Murshed (2011) contends that militants have an increased desire to fight the government if they have lost or have a diminished domestic standing, if world events add to the group’s perceived grievances, and from high levels of crime, and resentment and alienation occur as a result these various factors.

Insurgency arises when a minority group decides to take up arms so that they can either have self-governance or take over control of the state’s seat of power. Eke (2015: 291) points out that “In an ideal democratic state, the management of public and political affairs is the sole preserve of legitimately elected civilian representatives.” When the minority population believe that they have no other choice but to rebel against the national government, then they will do so. In addition, Tollefsen & Buhaug (2015) determined that insurgent civil conflicts are more likely to happen in rural, border communities far from the nations’ capital cities. They attribute their findings to the “physical and sociocultural isolation” experienced by the insurgents (Tollefsen & Buhaug, 2015: 22). Political exclusion among ethnic groups leads to domestic terrorism since minority groups will use violence to resolve their grievances with the national government (Choi & Piazza, 2016; Danzell et al., 2019; Murshed, 2011). Ghatak (2016) also found that political exclusion and economic discrimination increases domestic terrorism in weak democratic nations. In a strong, democratic nation, if there is economic globalization which negates economic discrimination, then there will be internal stability and peace.

Is terrorism and insurgency the same phenomenon? As discussed above, threats against a state’s legitimacy by a minority group seeking to have grievances addressed can lead to domestic terrorism. Consequently, rebels who perceive a group grievance as one that pertains to them will, in the extreme, engage in violence to redress these grievances (Murshed, 2011). Likewise, governments which act with violence towards their people may incite domestic terror attacks because they aggravate rebel grievances (Avdan & Uzonyi, 2017). Problematically, as the eleven-day fighting in Israel, May 2021, has shown, military fighting between a government and a terror group (Hamas) can have uneven and undesired consequences for the majority and minority people who live in the area under bombardment. People are left homeless, family members are hurt or killed, and infrastructures in the poor communities are destroyed. It appears to boil down to who is in power and who wants power. Militants, according to Foster et al. (2012: 556), engage in insurrection because they believe that the “political system is illegitimate.” Foster et al. (2012) contend that if there are high levels of democratic representation and a great deal of societal fractionalization, then there will be an increase in the amount of domestic terrorism. In short, democratic nations are not immune from extremist violence by insurgents or domestic terrorists (Qvortrup & Lijphart, 2013).

Űnal (2016) conceptualizes a distinction among the terms civil war, insurgency, and domestic terrorism. Political violence has many forms according to Űnal (2016) and the terms civil war and insurgency engender political legitimacy while domestic terrorism does not. In this manner, insurgents resort to a civil war or political violence to gain freedom, liberation and recognition while terrorists aim to disrupt political institutions and create chaos. Insurgents pose a threat to the state power and use a political military posture to stake out claims for political authority (Űnal, 2016). To be justified in their actions, insurgents need to manifest a high moral ground upon which they act. Gross (2015) in his discussion of the ethics of insurgency posits that while insurgents are acting outside the legitimacy of the state’s law, they need to act within the confines of appropriate use of force if they are to viewed as having a moral standing. His focus is on the tactics used in guerrilla warfare by insurgents whose actions are founded on a moral, not a legal, foundation. When insurgency fails, those involved can be prosecuted for their violation of state law.

The Capitol riot shows that even in the United States, activist groups and individuals use violence to campaign for their own governmental interests. Under federal law, an insurrection or rebellion is committed if a person “incites, sets on foot, assists, or engages in any rebellion or insurrection against the authority of the United States or the laws thereof, or gives aid and comfort thereto” (18 U.S.C. § 2383). The people who attempted to stop the joint session of Congress to certify the election, pushed the barricades, climbed on top of the Capitol building to get onto the balcony, and did other acts against the nation and its laws; it has been termed a riot, and an insurrection by public news commentators (see for example: Bowden, 2021; Mallin & Rubin, 2021; Tillman, 2021: Young, 2021).

In the United States, the Capitol breach did not occur along the border of Canada or Mexico, it occurred in the nation’s seat of power, Washington D.C. While high levels of poverty among minority groups could lead to domestic terrorism, the persons arrested after the failed insurrection were not necessarily the impoverished, nor were they members of a disenfranchised racial/ethnic minority group. Those involved in the breach of the Capitol building believed that their notion of democracy was under a threat. That threat was posited by Trump and believed by his devoted followers. As Piazza (2020) found, hate speech by political leaders can lead to domestic terrorism. Usually, this means that the group which is the target of the hate speech by insurrectionists political leaders might rise up against the government; but, in the United States, it was the political leader of the government itself, President Trump, whose rhetoric appealed to a segment of the majority group - White Americans - who espouse a politically far- right view of the nation and world. Dalsheim & Starrett (2021) commented that while Trump’s Save America rally started out with an air of celebration, it turned into a chaotic scene of blood and violence. They noted that the QAnon supporters and the Christian right showed their opposition to the “deep state” and deemed Trump the “Chosen One” in their actions and words. The men and women attending the rally joined together to show collective unity against the election results, against diversity, against the government (“the swamp”), against anti-fascist groups, and against anyone who opposed them or stood in their way (Dalsheim & Starrett, 2021). Thus, these people staked out their moral high ground as they descended on the Capitol en masse. Their social media posts leading up to the riot was built on hate speech, online radicalization and a far-right political agenda (Munn, 2021). They asserted the election was stolen and their actions were lawful but more significantly they were just. They were wrong, they did not make it through the night, and their cause was lost. They did not have any legitimate legal reason for breaching the Capitol; they did so with a clear objective to keep President Trump in power (see: Perkins, 2021).

Trump’s big lie did not keep him in the Presidency and he finished his term of office under a cloud when he was impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives for inciting the Save America crowd to insurrection and failing to exercise his Commander-in-Chief responsibilities to protect the Capital. The U.S. Senate acquitted and politically exonerated him from the charge of inciting the insurrection several weeks after President Biden was sworn in as President. What happens now for the nation is not certain(see Simon, 2021); there are some supporters of President Trump who want him to run for re-election in 2024. The people who have not been exonerated are those individuals who were arrested for crimes committed during the Capitol siege. This article will not only assess charges brought against 411 persons who were arrested after the failed January 6th Capitol riot but will evaluate the crimes filed against those individuals to understand the limits of our laws.

Methodology

Public news outlets reported on the arrests of various persons who were in Washington D.C. and allegedly participated in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The various arrests were summarized in a printed article by USA Today on May 13, 2021 (Axon et al., 2021). The data used in this research stems from those reported arrests which occurred from January through May 10, 2021. I recorded the names and other background information of each person arrested and noted their various charges as it appeared in the USA Today news report.

Utilizing the federal statutory code, the various stated charges were then compared to the federal criminal statutory law. Because some news reports were vague as to the charges (e.g., “obstruction”) while others had more definitive descriptions (e.g., “obstruction of justice” or “obstruction of a law enforcement officer during civil disorder”), I coded each offense as it was reported in the news story. I then collapsed the charges so that the variety of charges were coded in their more general crime categories associated with federal criminal law.

The following demographic data was recorded for each offense: the month of the arrest, if the person was associated with a particular alt-right or militia group, and the gender, age, and home state of the arrested individual for each identified crime. The alt-right and militia groups identified in the arrest reports included: Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three Percenters, and QAnon. Although QAnon is not a formalized military style group, it is a loosely formed Internet group of followers of the former President who believe in the big lie and other conspiracy theories. Gender was determined both by looking at the person’s first name and by the pronoun used in the story (“he” or “she”). The youngest age of an arrestee was 18 and the oldest age reported was 70. Age categories were then collapsed into 18-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59, 60-70. Although some individuals might reside or work in more than one state, home state was recorded as noted in the news article. The race or ethnicity of the person arrested was not reported in the USA Today news account; but BBC News (2021) estimated that 90% of the arrestees were White.

I did not assume that all arrests were accurately reported; some people may have had many minor offenses charged that were not presented in the news article. For members of the Alt-right groups, I searched the U.S. Attorney’s Office website in October, 2021, for more information on the actual charges filed against these individuals. I was able to identify additional members of the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, and Three Percenters who were charged in the same indictment papers as those noted as members of the Alt-right in the USA Today news story. None of the persons arrested, thus far, have been charged with the particular crime of insurrection (18 U.S.C. § 2383).

I also performed a legal search to determine if any of the arrested individuals had any preliminary court dispositions stemming from their arrest. I used Leagle.com’s advanced search option to identify cases in the federal district courts which are processing the January 6th violent breach of the Capitol criminal cases. Most of these district court cases pertained to questions about pretrial detention (N=22); 16 defendants sought to be released from custody and their motions were denied (U.S. v. Brown, 2021; U.S. v. Chrestman, 2021; U.S. v. DeGrave, 2021; U.S. v. Eisenhart, 2021; U.S. v. Fairlamb, 2021; U.S. v. Fitzsimons, 2021; U.S. v. Gieswein, 2021; U.S. v. Hale-Cusanelli, 2021; U.S. v. Klein, 2021; U.S. v. Languerand, 2021; U.S. v. Munchel, 2021; U.S. v. Padilla, 2021; U.S. v. Pezzola, 2021; U.S. v. Sabol, 2021; U.S. v. Taylor, 2021; U.S. v. Whitton, 2021); but several defendants were either able to be released on bail or bond with conditions, or had their home release restrictions eased (U.S. v. Brock, 2021; U.S. v. Eisenhart, 2021; U.S. v.Foy, 2021; U.S. v. Klein, 2021; U.S. v. Owens, 2021; U.S. v. Taylor, 2021). Three defendants sought to have the charges against them dismissed: one defendant was successful because the indictment/information failed to state a clear cause of action (U.S. v. Purse, 2021) and two defendants lost their motion to dismiss (U.S. v. Griffin, 2021; U.S. v. Wood, 2021).

Findings

By mid-May 2021, seven states had residents with the most arrests: Florida (N=40, 10%), Pennsylvania (N=38, 10%), Texas (N=38, 10%), New York (N=26, 7%), Ohio (N=21, 5%), and California and Virginia with 20 arrestees each (5%). These seven states account for about half (52%) of the home states of arrestees identified by Axon et al. (2021). Most of these states have the largest populations of Americans so it may not be surprising that many people traveled to the rally from these locales (in rank order, California, Texas, Florida, and New York). Two of the seven states were ones where there was a contested election: Pennsylvania and Ohio. Many states had five or less individuals arrested (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia). The remaining states had between seven and ten arrestees (Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina) or between eleven and thirteen arrestees (Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Tennessee). The Axon et al. (2021) report did not indicate arrestees from six home states: Hawaii, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The most common charges filed against the accused were disorderly conduct (N=220, 15.1%), entering and remaining in a restricted place or Congress (N=371, 25.5%), obstruction (N=162, 11.1%), and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds (N= 209, 14.3%). Obstruction offenses were noted as obstruction of justice, obstruction of law enforcement, or obstruction of Congress. The most serious charges brought against a small number of the arrestees: assault against law enforcement officers (N=75, 5.1%), civil disorder (N=47, 3.2%), impeding (N=63, 4.3%), and physical violence (N=47, 3.2%). The impeding offenses involved either the impeding of the entrance or exit of the building or impeding the work of Congress/ law enforcement.

Table 1: Charges by Month, January to May 13, 2021

USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/storytelling/capitol-riot-mob-arrests/

Jan.

Feb.

Mar.

Apr.

May

Total

Aid and Abet

26

10

11

5

0

52

Conspiracy

15

8

6

1

0

30

Assault

17

15

16

15

12

75

Civil Disorder

24

13

6

4

0

47

Damage - Destruction of Property

12

7

7

2

0

28

Disrupt Business/ Congress

4

0

0

0

2

6

Disorderly Conduct

91

55

45

28

1

220

Disorderly Conduct with Weapon/Violence

5

0

1

0

0

6

Entering – Remaining in Restricted Building

156

84

69

41

21

371

Entering – Remaining in Restricted Building with Violence

6

1

3

2

0

12

Impeding Ingress or Congress/ Law Enforcement

35

9

12

7

0

63

Obstruction

42

45

44

23

8

162

Parading, Demonstrating, Picketing on Capitol Ground

37

11

9

14

9

80

Physical Violence

15

7

10

13

2

47

Theft

8

1

5

1

0

15

Firearm Violation

4

0

0

0

0

4

Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Ground

93

33

41

24

18

209

Other Violent Crime

7

2

5

1

0

15

Other Offense

6

6

1

1

1

15

Total N

Total %

603

41.4%

307

21.1%

291

20.0%

182

12.5%

74

5.1%

1457

100.0%

The large majority of arrestees were male (N= 1285, 88.2%) (see Axon et al., 2021). The four most common charges filed against males were disorderly conduct (N=189, 14.7%), entering and remaining in a restricted building/Congress (N=324, 25.2%), obstruction (N=146,11.3%), and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds (N=179, 13.9%). The three most common charges filed against females (N=172, 11.8% of arrestees) were disorderly conduct (N=31, 18.0%), entering and remaining in a restricted building/ Congress (N=47, 27.3%), and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds (N=30, 17.4%). More men than women had serious violent charges filed against them: assault on a law enforcement officer (N=72, 96.0%), civil disorder (N=45, 95.7%), impeding ingress, Congress or law enforcement (N=59, 93.7%), parading, demonstrating, picketing on Capitol grounds (N=70, 87.5%), and physical violence (N=45, 95.7%).

Table 2: Charges by Gender, January to May 13, 2021

USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/storytelling/capitol-riot-mob-arrests/

Female

Male

Total

Aid and Abet

8

44

52

Conspiracy

6

24

30

Assault

3

72

75

Civil Disorder

2

45

47

Damage - Destruction of Property

5

23

28

Disrupt Business/ Congress

0

6

6

Disorderly Conduct

31

189

220

Disorderly Conduct with Weapon/Violence

0

6

6

Entering – Remaining in Restricted Building

47

324

371

Entering – Remaining in Restricted Building with Violence

0

12

12

Impeding Ingress or Congress/Law Enforcement

4

59

63

Obstruction

16

146

162

Parading, Demonstrating, Picketing on Capitol Ground

10

70

80

Physical Violence

2

45

47

Theft

3

12

15

Firearm Violation

3

1

4

Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Ground

30

179

209

Other Violent Crime

1

14

15

Other Offense

1

14

15

Total N

Total %

172

11.8%

1285

88.2%

1457

100.0%

The youngest person charged was 18 and the oldest person charged was 70 years of age (see Axon et al., 2021). The largest majority of arrestees were between the ages of 30 and 39 (N=403, 27.7%). The smallest number of arrestees were in the youngest 18-19 (1.0%) and the oldest 60-70 (4.5%) age groups. The other age groups had about the same percentage of persons arrested: 20-30 (N=236, 16.2%), 40-49 (N=220, 15.1%), and 50-59 (N=248, 17.0%).

Table 3: Charges by Age, January to May 13, 2021

USA Today, https://www.usatoday.com/storytelling/capitol-riot-mob-arrests/

18-19

20-29

30-39

40-49

50-59

60-70

Unknown

Total

Aid and Abet

0

10

19

6

5

3

9

52

Conspiracy

0

6

11

4

7

2

0

30

Assault

2

11

23

11

13

5

10

75

Civil Disorder

1

7

17

8

6

0

8

47

Damage, Destruction of Property

0

6

8

3

5

3

3

28

Disrupt Business/ Congress

0

0

2

0

4

0

0

6

Disorderly Conduct

1

40

55

33

40

6

45

220

Disorderly Conduct with Weapon/Violence

0

1

1

0

1

0

3

6

Entering – Remaining in Restricted Building

4

57

88

63

65

16

78

371

Entering – Remaining in Restricted Building with Violence

0

3

3

1

0

2

3

12

Impeding Ingress or Congress/Law Enforcement

1

13

14

11

4

0

20

63

Obstruction

2

25

53

25

27

9

21

162

Parading, Demonstrating, Picketing on Capitol Ground

1

13

19

8

18

7

14

80

Physical Violence

1

3

19

6

8

3

7

47

Theft

0

3

7

1

1

1

2

15

Firearm Violation

0

0

3

0

0

1

0

4

Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Ground

4

33

52

36

41

6

37

209

Other Violent Crime

0

3

5

2

0

1

4

15

Other Offense

0

2

4

2

3

0

4

15

Total N

Total %

17

1.0%

236

16.2%

403

27.7%

220

15.1%

248

17.0%

65

4.5%

268

18.4%

1457

100.0%

Among the arrestees were persons who identified with particular alt-right groups or with the conspiracy group QAnon. QAnon conspiracy supporters were identified because they wore Q tee-shirts or indicted that they were Q-members or followers; eight arrestees showed support for QAnon, and five of these arrests occurred in January, 2021. One of the defendants, Jacob Chansley, who espoused QAnon conspiracy ideas is from the State of Arizona. He stood out as a pro-Trump and conspiracy supporter because he is known as the “QAnon Shaman;” during the breach of the Senate chambers he was bare-chested, had a painted face, and wore an elaborate fur headdress (Hsu, 2021). Chansley pled guilty on September 3, 2021, to obstruction of an official proceeding under 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2). He could have been sentenced to an imprisonment between 41 and 51 months and to be fined between $15,000 and $150,000 (U.S. Attorney’s Office, 2021). On November 17, 2021, the judge officially sentenced him to 41 months imprisonment (Rabinowitz & Polantz, 2021). The USA Today news story indicated that the following thirteen arrestees were associated with the Proud Boys: Joseph R. Biggs, Marc Bru, William Chrestman, Louis Colon, Nicholas DeCarlo, Charles Donohoe, Cory Konold, Felicia Konold, Christopher Kuehn, Ethan Nordean, Paul Rae, Zach Rehl, and Christopher Worrell (Axon et al., 2021). According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, seven additional members of the Proud Boys (Ryan Ashlock, Louis Colon, Edward George, Arthur Jackman, Nicholas Ochs, Kevin Tuck, and Nathaniel Tuck) were indicted alongside the above-named individuals (U.S. Attorney’s Office, 2021). Pending final disposition of the charges, seven Proud Boys members (Biggs, Bru, Chrestman, Donohoe, Nordean, Rehl and Worrell) are being held in custody; the others were released on their personal recognizance. The USA Today news report indicated that the following eleven arrestees were members of the Oath Keepers: Kenneth Harrelson, Joshua James, Connie Megs, Kelly Megs, Roberto Minuta, Bennie Parker, Sandra Parker, Jon Schaffer, Laura Young Steele, Jessica Watkins, and Graydon Young (Axon et al., 2021). Eight additional members of the Oath Keepers were charged in the same indictment alongside those previously identified in the USA Today article: Thomas Caldwell, Donovan Crowl, Jason Dolan, William Isaacs, Joseph Hackett, David Moerschel, Brian Ulrich, and Jessica Watkins (U.S. Attorney’s Office, 2021). Among the Oath Keepers held in custody pending disposition of their charges are Hackett, Harrleson, and Watkins; Dolan, Schaffer and Young pled guilty (U.S. Attorney’s Office, 2021). A few persons were listed as members of the Three Percenters or Patriot 3%: Anthony Antonio, Rasha Abual-Ragheb, and Robert Gieswein (Axon et al., 2021). Antonio was released on his own recognizance, Abual-Ragheb has pled guilty to two felony charges, and Gieswein is being held in custody pending disposition of his charges (U.S. Attorney’s Office, 2021). In total, the present study identified nineteen Oath Keepers, nineteen Proud Boys, and three Three Percenters arrested for crimes they allegedly committed on January 6th.

Table 4: Group Members and Status of Arrest or Case Disposition

(as of October 18, 2021)

https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/capitol-breach-cases?combine=

Status of Case

Oath Keepers

N=19

Proud Boys

N=19

Three Percenters

N=3

Release on Personal Recognizance

11

11

1

In Custody

2

6

1

In High Intensity Custody

1

1

0

Unknown release status

2

1

0

Pled Guilty to Charges in a Plea Agreement

3

0

1

Oath Keepers

Jason Dolan: 1. Conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. §371; 2. Obstruction, 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2)

Jon Schaffer: 1. Obstruction, 18 U.S.C. §§1512(c)(2); 2. Entering & Remaining, 18 USC §1752(a)(1)

Graydon Young: 1. Conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. §371; 2. Obstruction, 18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2)

Three Percenters

Rasha Abual-Ragheb: 1.Parade, Demonstrate or Picket in a Capitol Building, 40 U.S.C. §5104(e)(2)(G)

The average number of charges brought against the members of the Oath Keepers was 7.4 (140/19), against the Proud Boys was 7.7 (146/19), and against the Three Percenters was 5.7 (17/3); much higher than the average number of charges filed against other arrestees. The most common offenses filed against the Oath Keeper members were: aiding and abetting (N=7, 63.6%), conspiracy (N=8, 72.7%), and entering and remaining in a restricted building (N=10, 90.9%). The most common offenses filed against the Proud Boy members were: conspiracy (N=8, 61.5%), disorderly conduct (N=9, 69.2%), and entering and remaining in a restricted building (N=13, 100%). The Three Percenters were all charged with entering or remaining in a building (N=3, 100%), and two members (66.6%) were charged with other offenses (damage or destruction of property, obstruction, and violent entry and disorderly conduct in a restricted building).

Table 5: Indictment or Criminal Complaint Charges Filed on Members of

Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Three Percenters

(as of October 18, 2021) https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/capitol-breach-cases?combine=

Charges

Oath Keepers

N=19

Proud Boys

N=19

Three Percenters

N=3

Total

Number

N=41

Entering and Remaining in Restricted Bldg. or Grounds

18 U.S.C §1752(a)(1)

19

19

3

41

Obstruction

18 U.S.C. §1512(c)(2)

19

18

2

39

Civil Disorder

18 U.S.C §§231(a)(3)

18

17

1

36

Conspiracy

18 U.S.C. §371

18

8

0

26

Destruction Government Property

18 U.S.C §1361

18

6

2

26

Assaulting, Resisting or Impeding Certain Officers

18 U.S.C §111(a)(1)

17

6

1

24

Aid and Abet

(18 U.S.C. §2)

10

11

1

22

Disorderly, Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building

18 U.S.C §1752(a)(2)

1

19

1

21

Tampering with Documents or Proceedings

18 U.S.C §1512(c)(1)

18

0

0

18

Parade, Demonstrate or Picket in a Capitol Building

40 U.S.C §5104(e)(2)(G)

1

6

2

9

Theft of Government Property

18 U.S.C. §641

0

7

0

7

Entering, Remaining in a Restricted Building, Disorderly Conduct Carrying a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon

18 U.S.C §1752(b)(1)

0

7

0

7

Entering, Remaining in Certain Rooms in Capitol Bldg.

40 U.S.C. §5104(e)(2)(B) or (C)

0

6

1

7

Disorderly Conduct in Capitol Building

40 U.S.C §5104(e)(2)(D)

0

6

1

7

Threatening a Federal Officer

18 U.S.C. §115(a)(1)

0

6

0

6

Engaging in Physical Violence in a Restricted Building

18 U.S.C §1752(a)(4)

0

3

1

4

Violent Entry, Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building

40 U.S.C §5104(e)(2)(E)

1

0

1

2

Engage in Physical Violence in Capitol Building

40 U.S.C §5104(e)(2)(F)

1

1

0

2

TOTAL Number of Charges

140

146

17

303

Discussion

By mid- October 2021, over 600 people were arrested for their actions in storming the Capitol building and grounds (Jalonick et al., 2021; Pulver et al., 2021). The charges are serious but treated as minor (see Cohn, 2021). One federal court judge, Chief Judge Howell, questioned whether the plea deals signed by the government were appropriate for defendants who were involved in the insurrection/riot. Chief Judge Howell stated: “I’m just curious – does the government have any concern given the factual predicate at issue here, of the defendant joining a mob, breaking into the Capitol building through a broken door, wandering through the Capitol building and stopping a constitutionally mandated duty of the Congress and terrorizing members of Congress, the vice president, who had to be evacuated?” (Tillman, online news article, 2021).

The most common charged brought against people who breached the Capitol is entering and remaining in a restricted building/Capitol. This is a trespass offense that prevents persons from going wherever they want whenever they want. People can have access to the seat of the nation’s governance but this access can be legally restricted as to time, place, and manner. Those who breached the Capitol did so without authorization when they pushed through the barricades, broke windows and doors, and/or entered with a crowd of rioters who sought to stop Congress from continuing to finalize the election results. The mental state element for a trespass offense is “knowledge” (18 U.S.C. §1752). The person must be aware that they are not granted authorization to enter or remain in the restricted space. Some arrestees have contended that the “door” was held open for them, but it will be hard to defend their actions when they had moved with a large mass of rioters who were shouting at the Capitol police who tried unsuccessfully to keep the crowd back. Persons who never entered the Capitol building could claim that they did not know that they could not remain on the steps or grounds of the building since they were congregating outside, and that President Trump told them he would meet them at the Capitol. The offense could result in more serious punishment if the person used violence to gain entry or knowingly entered to obstruct Congress or police officers. The sentence for a misdemeanor is a fine and/or one year imprisonment but if a weapon is used or if another person is seriously injured, then imprisonment could be up to 10 years. Sentencing will be set in accordance with the individual’s level of offense and past criminal history (United States Sentencing Commission, n.d.). To date, the U.S. Supreme Court has not heard any case pertaining to this crime and its elements. However, in 2019, the Court determined that federal law generally requires a mens rea element; the state has the burden of proving that the elements of the offense are within the defendant’s knowledge to hold him or her responsible for the commission of the criminal act (Rehaif v. U.S., 2019). Among the arrestees, Jenny Cudd and her codefendant Eliel Rosa were charged with entering a building without authority and disorderly conduct, and violent entry into the Capitol building. The District Court denied Cudd’s request to dismiss a protective order regarding her request for discovery. She wanted to have all materials made public that the state had in regard to her arrest, but such disclosure the Court determined could undermine the government’s investigations. The Court also determined that the state is going to make discovery available to her, but has a legitimate concern about how to maintain the security and privacy interests associated with the material subject to discovery (U.S. v Cudd, 2021).

Another common offense charged against persons involved in the Capitol breach is violent entry and disorderly conduct in or around restricted buildings or the Capitol. In general, a person engages in disorderly conduct if they intentionally “cause public alarm, nuisance, jeopardy or violence” or create a risk of such harms knowingly or recklessly (18 U.S.C. § 2.34). Behaviors associated with disorderly conduct crimes involve fighting, creating excessive noise, and using language or gestures that are obscene or threaten or menace another person. Nathaniel DeGrave was charged with entering and remaining in a restricted building (18 U.S.C. § 1752) and several unlawful acts of physical violence (40 U.S.C. § 5104). In U.S. v DeGrave (2021), the defendant was seeking to be released on bail or bond pending disposition of the charges against him. The District Court for the District of Columbia found that the accused was violent during the Capitol breach and that the physical assault he is charged with committing against Capitol police officers distinguished him from some of the others arrested for involvement in the riot. Evidence provided to the Court showed that DeGrave had bought some gear and was collaborating with some others who bought weapons in days and weeks prior to the riot. Evidence also showed that he was in the crowd of people who used force to push past the Capitol police to gain entry and that he used physical force against an officer on the upper balcony of the Capitol building. The District Court Judge indicated that the evidence showed that the defendant was not a “hapless follower who was unaware” but that he had purchased items to be prepared for using, and actually did use, violence (U.S. v DeGrave, p.12, 2021). The court denied his pre-trial release request because the offenses charged against DeGrave are serious, he assaulted an officer, he might delete video or electronic evidence of this involvement in the January 6th insurrection, and he might engage in future violence (U.S. v DeGrave, 2021).

Some of the arrestees were charged with obstruction when they climbed up on the Capitol building, broke windows and doors, and pushed their way into the building. In general, obstruction offenses are tied to behaviors which “corruptly, or by threats or force…obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency….” (18 U.S.C. § 1505). The various types of obstruction that are charged against the arrestees include: obstruction of justice, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of law enforcement. William Chrestman, a member of the Proud Boys for example, was charged with a number of crimes arising from his actions during the insurrection including obstruction (U.S. v Chrestman, 2021). Chrestman is accused of working alongside other members of the Proud Boys to “take” the Capitol. In addition to threatening or assaulting a police officer, Chrestman is said to have led demonstrators and encouraged them to prevent the Capitol police from securing the building.

Some persons were charged with offenses more closely associated with a riot such as engaging in a civil disorder. Persons charged with a civil disorder offense are alleged to “commit any act to obstruct, impede, or interfere with any… law enforcement officer engaged in the lawful performance of his official duties incident to and during the commission of a civil disorder which in any way or degree obstructs, delays, or adversely affects …performance of any federally protected function” (18 U.S.C. § 231). This offense is a felony that is punishable by imprisonment up to five years in prison. In general, courts have determined that while the statute does not specifically designate a mental state, the crime is committed if done with intent (Congressional Research Service, 2020). Jeffrey Sabol is accused, among other things, of engaging in a civil disorder. He admitted to the police that he believed that the election was stolen from President Trump. He said that when he reached the Capitol he saw that the “battle” had begun. He then pulled a city police officer from the steps of the Capitol. He is also alleged to have helped rioters hurt an officer when they pulled off his mask, sprayed the office with mace, and kicked him. The District Court in denying the defendant’s request for pretrial release determined that Sabol posed a flight risk since he was trying to leave the United States for Switzerland at the time of his arrest (US v Sabol¸2021). Another person who was denied pretrial release and charged with, among other offenses, civil disorder is Jack Whitton. Whitton is accused of engaging in some of the most violent attacks on law enforcement. The District Court in denying his release pointed out that even if there was no evidence that he is a member of a militant group, his violent conduct weighs against release. The District Court judge expressed concern that the defendant may continue to engage in violence against law enforcement despite the fact that the riot was quelled and President Biden duly sworn into office. The judge said:

As was true in Mr. Sabol’s case, such comments reflect the continued threat posed by individuals like Mr. Whitton, who has demonstrated that he is willing and able to engage in extreme and terrifying levels of violence against law enforcement with a chilling disregard for the rule of law and the lives of law enforcement, from other Capitol Riot defendants who displayed a dangerous distain for democracy and the rule of law on January 6, 2021, but who did not engage in violence…or who did not direct their “forceful conduct” toward inflicting injury. (U.S. v Whitton, p. 14 2021).

As shown by the cases that were recently decided by District Courts handling Capitol riot cases, the Courts are weighing the offenses charges filed against each individual defendant against the safety and protection of the community. The federal court judges are finding the actions of the arrestees to be quite serious and unprecedented. The Courts acknowledged that the defendants appear to have many friends and family to support them, but the Judges did not minimize the serious violent acts committed in the Capitol. In addition, it is worth noting that members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys are believed to be involved in planning a violent assault on the Capitol before arriving in Washington D.C. for the Save America rally.

Among the defendants arrested by mid-May, 2021, three members of the Oath Keepers, (Jason Dolan, Jon Schaffer, and Graydon Young) and one member of the Three Percenters (Rasha Abual-Ragheb) have already been convicted. Schaffer was the first person to plead guilty to multiple felony charges: obstruction of an official proceeding and entering and remaining in a restricted building with a dangerous weapon (i.e. bear spray). He faced up to 30 years imprisonment, if sentenced consecutively, for these convictions (Fischer et al., 2021; Lucas, 2021). The plea deal places his presumed sentence between 41 and 51 months imprisonment with a fine between $15,000 and $150,000 (U.S. Attorney’s Office, 2021). As with most plea deals, Schaffer’s deal will most likely require him to provide information about the Oath Keepers, a group in which he claims to have been a founding member (Metalsucks, 2021; Zukowski, 2021). According to a former federal prosecutor, Schaffer may also be expected to discuss various activities by the Proud Boys (Metalsucks, 2021). Dolan and Young both pled guilty to conspiracy and obstruction. Their presumptive sentences according to their plea deals places their sentences at between 63 and 78 months with a fine between $25,000 and $250,000 (U.S. Attorney’s Office, 2021). Abual-Ragheb pled guilty to a misdemeanor (Parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol) and faces a presumptive sentence of up to six months imprisonment and a fine up to $5,000; in addition, he will have to pay restitution of $500 in compensation for the over $1 million in damages resulting from his participation in the violent breach of the Capitol.

Thus far, no one has been charged with the particular crime of rebellion or insurrection. It could be that prosecutors wanted to make arrests on “easier” charges that they could prove, such as an assault on a law enforcement officer, when there was video or photographic evidence of the crime. Such charges could be filed later as more information is obtained about the riot and the intent of the militant groups and other individuals who have been arrested. A limitation of this research is that it relied on the summary information of national arrests from one news article that reported on Capitol riot arrests from January 2021 through May 10, 2021. There may have been other arrests and many other charges that were not part of the news report. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has stated that it is continuing its efforts to identify persons associated with the breach on the Capitol building and more arrests are likely to occur throughout 2021. In addition, it will be important to look at convictions in the future to determine if the trends indicated in this paper hold; it is likely that if a person plea bargains that some charges will be dismissed. It is also possible that if a plea deal is not done quickly, that an arrestee might be subject to additional charges as the police continue their investigations.

Conclusion

What is striking about this insurrection is that it was not committed on the periphery of the country’s capitol, as is the case with insurrections in other nations, but at the seat of the nation’s power – the House of Congress in Washington D.C. Unlike international insurrections where the people were challenging the national government and their actions against them due to racial or ethnic minority discrimination, militants and hundreds of people engaged in the siege on the Capitol espoused white supremacy ideology. Most arrestees thought that they could enter the grounds and force their way into the Capitol, and it will remain for the courts to determine if they had the requisite knowledge that they had no authority to be there. The arrestees are also charged with acts committed while they were inside or outside the Capitol building, such as violent assaults, destruction of governmental property, impeding Congress and law enforcement; at the heart of these arrests is the unspoken offense of tyranny and a threat to our democratic election process.

Thus, this insurrection, against the seat of American democracy, was not like any the world had seen before. The insurrectionists were trying to keep their President on the “throne” rather than have him replaced by the incumbent selected via a legitimate electoral process. Once the charges are resolved in the courts, future research should address what the actual convictions mean for our democratic system. The failed Capitol insurrection shows that violent and unlawful conduct will be resorted to when people are manipulated by a far-right agenda based on conspiracy theories and false claims of election fraud. It is important to look not just at the individual crimes people committed, but the underlying causes and social strain that precipitated these people to act and take the law into their own hands.

Constitution and Statutes Cited

U.S. Constitution, Article II, Section 1

U.S. Constitution, Twelfth Amendment

3 U.S.C. §15, Counting electoral votes in Congress

18 U.S.C. §2 – Aid and Abet

18 U.S.C. § 2.34 – Disorderly conduct

18 U.S.C. § 111(a)(1) – Assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers

18 U.S.C. §115(a)(1) – Threatening a federal officer

18 U.S.C. § 231(a)(3) – Civil disorder

18 U.S.C. § 371 – Conspiracy

18 U.S.C. §641 – Theft of government property

18 U.S.C. §1361 – Destruction of government property

18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(1) – Tampering with documents or proceedings

18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) - Obstruction

18 U.S.C. §1752(a)(1) – Entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds

18 U.S.C. §1752(a)(2) – Disorderly, disruptive conduct in a restricted building

18 U.S.C. §1752(a)(4) – Engaging in physical violence in a restricted building

18 U.S.C. §1752(b)(1) – Entering and remaining in a restricted building, disorderly conduct, carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon

18 U.S.C. § 2383 – Rebellion or insurrection

40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(B) – Entering, remaining in a gallery of either House of Congress in the Capitol building

40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(C) – Entering or remaining with intent to disrupt the orderly business in the Capitol building

40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(D) – Disorderly conduct in Capitol building

40 U.S.C. § 5104(e)(2)(E) – Obstruct or imped passage in Capitol building

40 U.S.C. §5104(e)(2)(F) – Engage in physical violence in Capitol building

40 U.S.C. §5104(e)(2)(G) – Parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a capitol building

Cases Cited

In re Capitol Breach Grand Jury Investigations within the District of Columbia (Action No. 21-20, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, 2021).

Rehaif v. U.S. (139 S. Ct. 2191, 2019).

U.S. v. Brock, No. 21-140 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Brown, No. 21-mj-565 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Chrestman, No. 21-mj-218 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Cudd, No. 1:21-cr-00068 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. DeGrave, No. 21-0090 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Eisenhart, No. 21-cr-118-RECL-2 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Fairlamb, No. 21-cr-120 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Fitzsimons, No. 21-cr-158 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Foy, No. 21-cr-00108 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Gieswein, No. 21-24 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Griffin, No. 21-cr-00092 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v Hale-Cusanelli, No. 21-3029 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Klein, No. 21-237 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Languerand, No. 21-cr-353 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Munchel, No. 21-cr-118-RECL-2 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Owens, No. 21-cr-286 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Padilla, No. 21-214 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Purse, No. 21-mj-475 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Sabol, No. 21-35-1 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Taylor, No 21-cr-392-RCL-2 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Whitton, No. 21-35-5 (D.C. District Court, 2021).

U.S. v. Wood, No. 20-56 (D. Delaware, District Court, 2021).

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