A Society Without Justice Is On A Countdown To Oblivion
Koln, 1945-- Hrodebert 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. He was kind to his dog. The 24-year-old had no criminal history when he joined the SS and, through no fault of his own, was posted to the Treblinka extermination camp northeast of Warsaw. Less than a million Jews were gassed there and only 2,000 gypsies. Does he really deserve to have his whole life ruined with a stiff sentence?
I took some liberties with a report by Dan Zak and Karen Heller in the Washington Post that began with a description of Robert Gieswein, a member of a far right domestic terrorism group, the Three Percenters, one of the groups key to the failed Trump coup and the sacking of the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Gieswein is also the leader of a "private paramilitary training group" called the Woodland Wild Dogs. Zak and Heller wrote that Gieswein-- the Three Percenters, not the SS one-- "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." Inspiring... and what a work ethic!
Since then Gieswein pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts, including assaulting an officer and destruction of government property. And he wants to be let out of jail while awaiting trial. His public defender and his family describe him as a really good man, not the villain the government paints him as. The public defender insists he isn't incorrigibly violent and wants the court to consider his whole history. Being nice to his pet and going to work on time must mean something, no? Same as with the 535 or so other domestic terrorists who stormed the Capitol and who have been apprehended so far. The question before judges, for some reason, is "Were these people acting on their most deeply held convictions, or were they somehow not themselves on Jan. 6?" Are they traitors or just "boneheaded?" What about the boneheaded traitors? Like our invented SS officer, Hrodebert Gieswein up top, they say they were fighting for their country. Like Robert E Lee. Maybe someday the right-wings will erect statues of Gieswein and of Trump... and Giuliani and Steve Bannon.
"Some defendants," they wrote, "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. 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 209 years-- this time by Americans, not invading foreigners-- has prompted extraordinary attempts to explain the actions of participants... The mob mentality made them do it."
Is Fox News' and the GOP's campaign of lies plus naivete, trauma, unemployment, the pandemic, a hatred for Washington elites, stress, bad childhoods and low IQs an excuse for treason and violent assault? Lucky these folks are white. They certainly would have all been massacred on the Capitol steps if they were people of color.
Now these domestic terrorists and traitors want to get off lightly with the equivalent of Dan White's "Twinkie Defense," basically that too much sugar in his bloodstream made him assassinate San Francisco Supervisor and LGBTQ civil rights icon Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone. The community reacted to the jury's accepting that bogus defense by sacking City Hall and defeating the San Francisco police department in a violent confrontation. The LGBTQ community, though, has always had more guts than Democrats.
The organizers of the Twinkie Defense protest may well have been Democrats (like Milk and Moscone) and they were surely intending to lead a peaceful protest march of a couple of hundred people up Market Street from the Castro to City Hall. That didn't last and when the infuriated crowd reached City Hall, there were over 5,000 people-- mostly gay but not entirely so-- under no one's recognized leadership and united more in furious anger than any other emotion... anger towards Dan White, towards Dianne Feinstein and, mostly, towards the establishment and its police and their systematic abuse of the gay community. That anger turned to violence very rapidly. I can't say with any certainty that I started it, but my pals-- punk rockers who were all about solidarity-- turned over the first police car and set it on fire. And the second and third. I think there were 6 or 7 police cars burned before the police, who had barricaded themselves in City Hall-- along with the police chief-- were reenforced by a large contingent of violent cops eager for revenge. They used tear gas and indiscriminately attacked everyone with night sticks. The police prepared for the battle by covering their badge numbers with black masking tape. The police were shocked that "the gays fought back" and several dozen police suffered the righteous indignation of decades of abuse from the department towards the community. Far more protestors/rioters were injured, but the official count of injured police was over 50. (None died... until October 1985 when Dan White was taken into custody by a small citizens' vigilante group-- not part of history-- and "committed suicide" in his garage.)
After the rioting petered out at City Hall, gangs of violent police, badges still taped over, headed to the Castro for revenge. They went to the most bourgeois gay bar in San Francisco, the Elephant Walk, the least likely place to find someone who had been to the City Hall riot. The clientele was basically old fashioned drinkers of martinis and tropical drinks with fruit and paper umbrellas. The police went inside and beat everyone up brutally and smashed everything smashable, then spilled out onto the street and and beat up everyone they came across. The chief of police, Charlie Gain, rushed down to Castro Street and ordered the vicious cops off the street before they killed anyone. The cops celebrated their riot (and the deaths of Moscone and Milk and the slap on the wrist for White) but that was the beginning of the end of systemic police brutality towards the gay community in San Francisco. 100 of us were injured but that's what it costs for that kind of change. The following year, the police department started a campaign to heavily recruit-- successfully-- gays and lesbians to the force.
Progressives should not, under any circumstances, allow slap-on-the-wrist sentences for the domestic terrorists who smashed their way into the Capitol. If they get off lightly it will serve as a signal that that behavior can be repeated with impunity. And it will be. I'm not saying anyone should suicide and of these people... but 8 months is not enough time. It's a joke.
“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.
Hodgkins got a slap on the wrist-- 8 months in prison-- which is absolutely guaranteed to encourage more domestic terrorism. I asked Twitter users if they agreed with Hodgkins' lenient sentence. They didn't:
One of Gieswein’s friends wrote to the court about the Woodland Wild Dogs, the purported “paramilitary training force” that Gieswein leads in his hometown, not far from Colorado Springs. The friend described it as a group of buddies with a shared interest in camping, shooting and outdoor survival-- not in overthrowing the government.
“I considered the idea of naming us as a bit silly,” the friend admitted.
“I have never seen Bobby threaten violence, let alone commit violence against another person,” another friend wrote in his own declaration.
In a February interview, another character witness told the FBI: “Bobby has been going through a lot in his life recently.”
Many of the Jan. 6 defendants had been going through a lot. This is both a sad truth and a crucial part of their legal strategy. The pandemic triggered job losses, and losses of direction and security. Searching for order and meaning, they immersed themselves in politics, conspiracy theories, Trump’s rhetoric and right-wing media. One attorney has cited “Trumpitis” and “Foxmania.” Lawyers have mounted what you might call an externalized-insanity argument: The defendants were hearing voices saying the presidential election would be stolen by sinister forces unless they intervened. It was a delusion, but the voices were real. And one of them belonged to the president of the United States.
Anthony Antonio lost his job because of the pandemic, moved in with friends who watched Fox News constantly and says he came to Washington because Trump commanded him. (Antonio, charged with five counts including obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, has yet to enter a plea.)
“The reason he was there is because he was a dumb-- and believed what he heard on Fox News,” Antonio’s attorney, Joseph Hurley, said in an interview in May.
Folly and sadness abound in these cases. When a Pennsylvania man was arrested last month on charges of stealing government property amid the chaos, among his possessions were literature titled Step by Step to Create Hometown Militia and a model of the U.S. Capitol made of Legos.
Eric Munchel, who was photographed leaping through the Senate gallery carrying zip-tie handcuffs, was there to protect his mother, according to his attorney. Inside the Capitol, Munchel attempted to limit her movements, and he was recorded yelling things like: “What’s your goal here, Mom? . . . Wait, Mom. Mom! . . . Mom, where are you going? Mom, focus, don’t lose me.” (Munchel and his mother pleaded not guilty last month to eight counts, including conspiracy to obstruct Congress.)
Patrick Stedman, a self-proclaimed dating guru from New Jersey, was flagged to the FBI by former classmates who saw him bragging publicly about participating in the first wave of rioters to breach the building, according to an affidavit. After being charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of government procedure, Stedman continued to share his wisdom on Twitter.
“The essence of the masculine spirit is the impulse toward oblivion,” he tweeted shortly before his indictment was filed. (He has pleaded not guilty). Days later, he posted: “Women will fall in love with any man so long as he’s in the arena.”
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 President of the United States, to demonstrate that he was a ‘true patriot.’ ”
A sense of victimhood still burns in some defendants, who have offered a litany of grievances while caught in the gears of the legal system.
“It’s not fair,” yelled Richard Barnett-- who famously propped a foot on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office-- referring to his detention during a March 4 hearing. “Everybody else who did things much worse are already home.”
In trying to secure his release, Barnett’s attorney described him as a retired firefighter “beloved” in his community in western Arkansas. On Jan. 6, he was “swept inside with a mass wave of people.” The attorney accused government prosecutors of concocting a “cocktail of mischaracterization of truth and invention of fact” about his client and urged the court to “resist the temptation to consume its cocktail.” (Barnett has pleaded not guilty to seven counts, including obstructing an official proceeding.)
Other lawyers have argued that their defendants are the ones who were served cocktails of misinformation. Albert Watkins, who represents multiple Jan. 6 defendants, likened them to the followers of Jim Jones, the 1970s cult leader who persuaded his followers to commit suicide by drinking grape punch spiked with cyanide.
Watkins tried the unique tactic of calling his clients “f---ing retarded” in the press. On television, the crowd that overtook the Capitol looked like a powerful, unruly mob, but participants arrived at this historic desecration burdened with “overwhelming hardships and vulnerabilities,” as Watkins said about Jacob Chansley, the so-called “QAnon Shaman,” during a recent hearing. (Chansley has pleaded not guilty to six counts, including obstructing an official proceeding.)
Wouldn't a not guilty verdict for these poor people who were misled by Fox and Trump necessitate indictments and guilty verdicts for the Murdock and Trump families and their retainers-- from Tucker to Meadows? Donald and Rupert being offered last cigarettes as they're placed in front of a bullet-pocked wall that has already been the scene of the end of the QAnon and Proud Boy movements' leaders?
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.
The FBI released 10 new videos on March 18 of suspects in the most violent assaults on federal officers during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“The evidence in this case is emotionally political in every respect,” wrote an attorney for Jenny Cudd, who argued that her “stormed the Capitol” boast on Facebook Live only meant that she wandered around and took selfies. The “jury who would hear the facts in Washington D.C. is the most politically prejudiced jury in the entire country” against Trump. (Cudd pleaded not guilty to five counts, including obstructing an official proceeding.)
Thomas Caldwell, who pleaded not guilty to a conspiracy charge, wants his case heard in the Western District of Virginia, where he’s from, because D.C. residents “not only despise Caldwell’s politics-- they despise many things that traditional America stands for,” wrote his attorney, David W. Fischer, earlier this month, arguing for a change of venue. The people living in the nation’s capital, he contended, “are repulsed by rural America’s traditional values, patriotism, religion, gun ownership, and perceived lack of education.”
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.”
It's a lot to absorb, psychologically and legally. The FBI is still tracking down participants and digging through their life stories. D.C. judges are handling multiple hearings per day; at least 11 were on the court's calendar on Monday alone. Defendants languish in jail as their families suffer. Attorneys are deluged with video and photo evidence produced by their own clients and gathered by the government. Amid the echoes and static of remote hearings, players are debating the differences between a principal actor and an aider or abettor, if a "momentary lapse in judgment" could last multiple hours, and whether a weapon meets the legal definition of "dangerous" if it didn't cause serious harm.
...“The really interesting aspect of this is the difference between moral responsibility and criminal legal culpability,” [former federal prosecutor Aitan] Goelman says. “I don’t think there’s any lawful authority that would agree that because the president was telling me to go, that’s a defense.” Trump has dismissed accusations that he is responsible for any criminal behavior, noting that his speech that day included the word “peacefully” (though it ended with “fight like hell”).
...Before Hodgkins was sentenced Monday to eight months in prison for obstructing an official proceeding, he read a repentant statement in Courtroom 21 of the U.S. District Court of D.C.
“I allowed myself to put passion before my principles,” said Hodgkins, a Tampa resident who is training to be a mechanic. “This resulted in me violating the law for the first time in my life,” which “has weighed heavily on my conscience.”
After half a year in D.C. Jail, Jensen-- the Iowa man in the "Q" shirt who followed Officer Goodman-- now recognizes that he was "deceived" by "a pack of lies," according to his attorney.
“He came to DC to support the president; he did not foresee the destruction of his family,” his attorney wrote in June.
Last week, Jensen dialed in to a hearing on his potential release. For almost an hour, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly explained the calculations behind his decision, saying that Jensen’s conduct on Jan. 6 falls “somewhere in the middle of the spectrum” of other defendants’ behavior. Jensen entered the Capitol, but through a window that was already smashed. He had a pocket knife, but didn’t brandish it. He disobeyed Goodman’s orders but didn’t fight him. He told officers to arrest Vice President Mike Pence, but there’s no evidence that he goaded other rioters, damaged property or planned any actions.
In fact, according to video he took, Jensen seemed to think he was at the White House, not the Capitol.
“I do consider what happened that day to be an equivalent to an attempt to steal one of the crown jewels of our country: the peaceful transfer of power,” Judge Kelly said. Jensen’s actions were “serious,” but “I don’t think the standard of ‘danger’ is met here. Mr. Jensen didn’t topple barricades, fight with anyone, plan or coordinate.” Plus, “he didn’t even know where he was.”
Kelly ordered Jensen to be released last Wednesday, pending trial, into a different kind of incarceration: house arrest back in Iowa, where he will trade his passport, cellphone, any weapons and all access to the Internet for an ankle monitor and court-appointed surveillance by his wife of 20 years, April, who planned to drive the 16 hours to pick him up in Washington.