July 24, 2021 Wayne Northey

What were the Capitol rioters thinking on Jan. 6?

By Dan Zak and Karen Heller

July 20, 2021

photo above: (Robert Carter for The Washington Post)

WN: Sadly, the person guilty of First Degree Insurrection–along with a sycophantic GOP almost en masse–is not yet in the dock or jail. May his day hasten . . .

Please see also: ‘Some are still suffering’: Months after Capitol riot, police who fought the mob contend with physical, psychological pain. We read:

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), in a biting statement accepting the seat, hammered those Trump allies spreading “lies and conspiracy theories” about the election and the Jan. 6 attack, warning that those voices pose an existential threat to the nation’s democratic traditions.Pelosi taps Kinzinger to serve on Jan. 6 panel,

In the aftermath of the riot, authorities said about 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers were hurt when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in a failed effort to overturn Joe Biden’s election victory. Police were bludgeoned with poles and bats, pushed and trampled, and sprayed with chemical irritants.

A Capitol officer, Brian D. Sicknick, collapsed after confronting rioters and died a day later of a stroke. Two other officers in the riot, one Capitol, one D.C., later died by suicide. One Capitol officer surrendered her weapon, fearing she might use it on herself, Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) said.

But the full toll on police is still coming into view as officers continue to grapple with the impact of hours of hand-to-hand fighting. They have emerged with a complex jumble of physical and emotional trauma that has made diagnoses and treatment challenging, a problem some officers said is made more difficult by efforts of Republican lawmakers to downplay the riot.

“My life clock stopped on Jan. 7,” Fanone said. “Everybody else has moved on. . . . This was the most significant moment of my entire life and all of a sudden, nobody gives a s— anymore. And now, on top of all that, we have people saying what we went through didn’t happen.”

He said he raised his hands three times to “defend and protect the Constitution” — when be became a citizen, when he joined the army and when he became a police officer.

. . .  Aquilino Gonell was 12 years old when he emigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic with his mother in 1992 . . .

Now,  Gonell said, he feels “insulted and betrayed.”

excerpts:

Robert Gieswein is a good man, according to family and friends, who describe him as gentle and compassionate. His mother says he has “an amazing work ethic.” His younger sister calls him “the most inspiring person in my life.” He bought clothes and shoes for the residents of a nursing home where he worked as a nurse’s aide. The 24-year-old had no criminal history when he traveled to D.C. in January and, according to the U.S. government, joined a violent siege of the U.S. Capitol.

Gieswein appears to be affiliated with the radical militia group the Three Percenters, the FBI says, and the leader of a “private paramilitary training group” called the Woodland Wild Dogs. On Jan. 6, he donned goggles, a camouflage shirt, an army-style helmet and a military-style vest reinforced with an armored plate, and a black pouch emblazoned with “MY MOM THINKS I’M SPECIAL.” Then, wielding a baseball bat and a noxious spray, he stormed the U.S. Capitol, attacked a federal officer and helped halt the certification of the 2020 presidential election, the government claims.

Gieswein has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts, including assaulting an officer and destruction of government property. Now he wants to be let out of jail, subject to very strict conditions, while he awaits trial — because the man he really is, according to his lawyer, is not the man the government says he was on that day.

“If what the government says is true, then Mr. Gieswein committed assault on January 6,” federal public defender Ann Mason Rigby said July 1 during a hearing on his detention. “The question before the court is: Is he incorrigibly violent? Is that a characteristic that cannot be controlled? And that’s why you have to look at his history.”

That’s what the U.S. District Court in D.C. is doing with at least 535 people who were somehow involved in the breach of the Capitol; there are hundreds of ongoing investigations beyond that, according to FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.

Six months of evidence, court filings and motion hearings have created a composite sketch of the people arrested — in all their treachery or boneheadedness — and of the country many said they were fighting for.

Some defendants seemed bent on bloodshed and were charged with felonies including conspiracy. One group dressed in combat attire, used walkie-talkies, adopted code names such as “Gator 1” and “Gator 6” and, once inside the Capitol, appeared to be searching for legislators, according to the government. One militiaman wore a patch on his vest that read: “I don’t believe in anything. I’m just here for the violence,” according to an affidavit from an FBI agent.

Many defendants are charged with misdemeanors, such as disorderly conduct; their legal defense rests on the distinction between causing the chaos and merely being swept up in it.

Lawyers blame Donald Trump, the media, naivete, trauma, unemployment, the pandemic, Washington elites, their clients’ childhoods and the singular nature of the event itself. The first sacking of the Capitol in more than 200 years — this time by Americans, not invading foreigners — has prompted extraordinary attempts to explain the actions of participants.

The insurrection itself, in other words, has been deployed as a defense. The mob mentality made them do it.

“I got caught up in the moment,” said Josiah Colt, the Idaho man who was photographed hanging off the Senate balcony in a helmet and kneepads and sitting in the chair reserved for the vice president. (Last week he agreed to plead guilty to felony obstruction of Congress.)

A “momentary lack of restraint” is how an attorney for Thomas Webster describes his tackling a police officer outside the Capitol. (Webster has pleaded not guilty to seven counts, including assaulting an officer with a dangerous weapon.)

“Never mistake the man for the moment,” said attorney Patrick Nelson Leduc, arguing Monday for a lenient sentence for his client Paul Hodgkins, who pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding.

If you believe many of the defense arguments made during the past half year, you might conclude that what happened Jan. 6 was a brief eruption of collective madness, and that responsibility for the event is spread so thin that true culpability doesn’t exist.

Lawyers blame Donald Trump, the media, naivete, trauma, unemployment, the pandemic, Washington elites, their clients’ childhoods and the singular nature of the event itself. The first sacking of the Capitol in more than 200 years — this time by Americans, not invading foreigners — has prompted extraordinary attempts to explain the actions of participants.

Personal baggage has been submitted as evidence. Douglas Jensen — the Iowa man who wore a “Q” shirt and stalked Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman up a flight of stairs — is “the product of a dysfunctional childhood” spent mostly in foster care, according to his lawyer. Jensen, saddled with stress, the lawyer said, became a “true believer” in QAnon, an extremist ideology that the FBI has deemed a domestic terrorism threat.

“Maybe it was midlife crisis, the pandemic, or perhaps the message just seemed to elevate him from his ordinary life to an exalted status with an honorable goal,” his lawyer wrote last month in a petition to release Jensen from jail as he awaits trial for disrupting government business and obstructing an officer during a civil disorder. (He has pleaded not guilty.)

“In any event,” the lawyer continued, “he fell victim to this barrage of Internet sourced info and came to the Capitol, at the direction of the the President of the United States, to demonstrate that he was a ‘true patriot.’ ”

Jan. 6 was a product of the nation’s “divisiveness, intolerance, untruths, misrepresentations, and mischaracterizations through an unrelenting multi-year propaganda odyssey,” Watkins wrote last month in defense of Chansley, who was photographed on the dais of the U.S. Senate bare-chested and sporting a horned headdress of animal pelts. Now in jail awaiting trial, Chansley “struggles to cling on to and salvage his mental health,” Watkins wrote, and continues “to reconcile his role in his current lot in life” — as if the Capitol breach was something that happened to Chansley, and not the other way around.

The fear of mistreatment persists. One defense attorney referred to the Jan. 6 investigation and prosecutions as “the largest political witch hunt in Department of Justice (DOJ) history.” At least two defendants have requested that their trials be relocated out of the District, citing bias against Trump and his supporters.

His client, who is accused of coordinating with other Oath Keepers, posted video on Facebook from inside the Capitol, according to material obtained by the FBI. “Us storming the castle,” Caldwell wrote in a message, adding: “I am such an instigator!”

Caldwell, as Fischer noted in court filings, is not a “hillbilly” but a retired naval intelligence officer who once held a top-secret clearance. Nevertheless, Fischer put the quest for justice in a specific cultural context: “The ‘Two Americas’ couldn’t be more different and largely despise and distrust one another.”

Some defendants have accepted responsibility and emerged from the legal process with a different view of both themselves and Jan. 6.

The day after the breach, Anna Morgan-Lloyd described it as “the most exciting day of my life.”

Last month, she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of demonstrating inside the Capitol. “I just want to apologize,” Morgan-Lloyd told a judge, becoming the first defendant to be sentenced: $500 in restitution and 120 hours of community service. She said that her goals were peaceful and that she was “ashamed” by the “savage display of violence that day.” At the suggestion of her attorney, she submitted repentant writing to the court, including book and movie reports on “Schindler’s List” and the legal memoir “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.”

Please click on: Capitol Rioters’ Thinking

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Comments (2)

  1. Ute Goetzke

    Appreciate this summary; differing perspectives.
    Rather frightening … how folks behave one violently, then recant, excuse themselves when out of context.

    • Agreed, Ute!

      Our capacity for committing great personal evil–then excusing it–is in us all.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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