Has the politicization of all aspects of life in America taken a dangerous turn? Now the once-cherished right of individual protest threatens to become wholly subsumed by partisan feeling. If we become a nation where citizens support fundamental rights only when those attempting to exercise them happen to agree with their personal views, all is lost.
So it is heartening that two prominent Democrat senators have said a few words in defense of the persecution of Trump supporters who have been caught up in the recklessly wide net cast by justice officials over the unrest at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Process as Punishment
Dozens of Trump backers who entered the Capitol grounds on that day who are “deemed to be dangerous, flight risks or at high risk of obstructing justice” have been held without bail for months, Politico reports. They have been placed in “restrictive housing,” a move “billed as necessary to keep the defendants safe, as well as guards and other inmates,” the news site notes. “But that means 23-hour-a-day isolation for the accused, even before their trials begin.”
While Republicans have been far too quiet about this treatment of Americans who traveled to Washington to express their political grievances, progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has stepped up to voice her concern.
“Solitary confinement is a form of punishment that is cruel and psychologically damaging,” Warren told Politico. “And we’re talking about people who haven’t been convicted of anything yet.” Warren stated that “she’s worried that law enforcement officials are deploying it to ‘punish’ the Jan. 6 defendants or to ‘break them so that they will cooperate.’”
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) also spoke up on the issue: “There has to be a clear justification for that, in very limited circumstances.”
While these comments are welcome, it’s a sad reflection of the times that progressives who ardently support “criminal justice reform” aren’t speaking out more strongly against the stunning prosecutorial overreach in this matter. In nearly all of the Jan. 6 cases, the arrests will likely turn out to be the real punishment, especially for those who are being detained without bond. As a March 31 Politico report detailed:
“Although prosecutors have loaded up their charging documents with language about the existential threat of the insurrection to the republic, the actions of many of the individual rioters often boiled down to trespassing. And judges have wrestled with how aggressively to lump those cases in with those of the more sinister suspects.”
In this regard, process is being used as a weapon to discourage political dissent. Considering their propensity to demonstrate against the federal government themselves, leftist activists have every reason to be alarmed by the precedents being set here.
‘It’s the Group That’s Criminal’
The notion that all members of a political protest are equally responsible for individual acts of lawlessness that may occur is unacceptable to most Americans on its face. This was a key argument made by socialist “J20” protesters who took part in a 2017 demonstration during the inauguration of President Donald Trump that featured the smashing of store windows and the burning of a car.
It should be stressed that J20 was reported to have been spearheaded by Antifa, a radical group that openly embraces violence. Nevertheless, leftists howled at the “mass arrests” of more than 200 protesters stemming from what they claimed were the actions of a few. An October 2017 article in the radical publication The Nation lamented:
“The prosecution charged all of the defendants (at one point numbering 214) with breaking the same windows. Prosecutors, of course, know that 200 people cannot break the same windows. But the logic of the case dictates that the defendants’ mere presence at a protest during which property damage occurred makes them guilty.”
In fact, this is what happened. “A person can be convicted of rioting when they themselves have not personally broken a window or personally thrown a rock,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff argued at a court hearing in July 2017, The Intercept reported. “It’s the group that’s the danger. The group that’s criminal.”
You don’t need to have any love for Antifa to see the slippery slope that comes with this line of reasoning. “Insurrectionist” Trump supporters are careening down that slope at this very moment.
The prosecutorial process dragged on for months, spilling over well into 2018. Eventually, it all amounted to little. “In all, the J20 fiasco resulted in 205 dismissals, 21 plea deals, and no jury convictions,” The Intercept observed in July 2018.
Common sense was the theme of the progressive critique of the fruitless conspiracy angle aimed at the 200-plus protesters.
“The takeaway is that this case should never have been brought,” Mark Goldstone, a lawyer who represented several defendants, told The Intercept. “If the government had direct evidence of anyone throwing a brick through a window, that was the case they should’ve brought. None of this conspiracy nonsense; none of this riot nonsense. Bring the case you have the evidence to support and no more.”
“To put hundreds of people through a year and a half of misery at the taxpayers’ expense does not make any sense,” Goldstone added.
Why does it make sense today to so many on the left?
Read more from Joe Schaeffer.