On Dec. 17, 2021, Robert Scott Palmer of Largo, Fla., stood before a U.S. District Court judge and said, “I’m really, really ashamed of what I did,” before receiving the longest prison sentence to date among those convicted for their role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the nation’s Capitol: more than five years in prison.
Palmer initially claimed that he was a victim — that he’d only gone to the Capitol to protest, then had to defend himself from the Capitol Police who attacked him. He later confessed that he’d lied; he was part of a violent mob that struck first, leaving behind broken bones, concussions and emotional turmoil that has led to suicide.
In a letter to the judge in November, he wrote, “I realize that we, meaning Trump supporters, were lied to by those that at the time had great power, meaning the sitting president as well as those acting on his behalf.”
His is just one of many lives derailed because they believed and acted on former President Trump’s Big Lie.
Federal prosecutors have charged more than 725 individuals with various crimes in connection with the deadly insurrection. Of those arrested, more than 75 have been charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon against police officers. Some 640 have been charged with entering a restricted federal building or its grounds; 225 charged with assault or resisting arrest; 75 charged with entering a restricted area with a deadly weapon.
At least 119 defendants have alleged ties — admitted, in some cases — to known extremist groups like the pro-violence Proud Boys and the militia group Oath Keepers.
Some 140 police officers, including Capitol officers and members of the D.C. police department, were victimized during the attack, which they described in a letter to Congress as “hours and hours of physical trauma which has led to months of mental anguish.” The attack also caused about $1.5 million worth of damage to the Capitol building.
The U.S. attorney’s office says the individuals arrested come from nearly all 50 states. Sadly, that includes North Carolina. They include Proud Boy leader Charles Donohoe of Kernersville and Virginia Marie Spencer of Pilot Mountain, who also blames Trump for her participation, as well as “the media.” In court papers, her attorney, Allen H. Orenberg, acknowledged that there was no evidence that the presidential elections were fraudulent, as Trump claimed.
You don’t say.
Yet as we’re learning from the U.S. House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, the siege of the Capitol wasn’t a spontaneous uprising. Evidence now suggests that the attack was planned, coordinated and even funded by influential parties — some of whom may be members of Congress.
And the attack was the back-up plan, in case illegitimate legislative efforts, like Trump lawyer John Eastman’s plans to decertify the valid election results, failed. Which they did.
And yet none of those higher-ups have yet been charged or punished.
So the foot soldiers, so to speak, get prison terms while the ringleaders get to dine out and run for re-election. This should offend the sensibilities of every American citizen.
Equally offensive is the degree to which some Republican officials have thrown the Capitol Police under the bus, downplaying the severity of the attack by describing it as a “mostly peaceful protest” and comparing it to a “normal tourist visit.” Some continue to peddle the baseless claim that antifa or the FBI or anyone else was responsible — anyone except the obvious suspects, many of whom are now in custody. Some have had the sheer gall to describe the violent attackers awaiting trial as “patriots” and “political prisoners.”
As a result, some Capitol Police officials like Sgt. Aquilino Gonell have become disillusioned.
“We risked our lives to give (congressional Republicans) enough time to get to safety,” Gonell said in an interview with NPR in December. “And allegedly, some of them were in communication with some of the rioters and with some of the coordinators or in the know of what would happen.
“And it makes you question their motives and their loyalty for the country, as we were battling the mob in a brutal battle where I could have lost my life and my dear fellow officers, as well.”
In context, the attempt to overthrow the election results begins to look more and more like part of a larger scheme to undermine democracy in the U.S., a topic to which we’ll return at a later date.
But for now, one year later, this cannot stand. Every insurrection schemer needs to be brought to light and punished severely, even if — especially if — their trail goes all the way to the White House.
And it should happen long before Jan. 6, 2023.