A US district court judge sentenced a Texas man, who was part of the 6 January Capitol riots, to 45 days in prison stating that she could not let the protester get away with just a “slap on the wrist.”
The punishment for Matthew Mazzocco was over and above the prosecutor’s suggestion of three-month home arrest. This is the first Capitol riots case where the judge ordered a jail term even though prosecutors did not seek it.
“Because the country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in this country before, for actions and crimes that undermine the rule of law and our democracy,” judge Tanya Chutkan said while ordering the prison term, reported The Washington Post.
The judge also criticised the comparisons between the Capitol riots and anti-racism Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.
Comparing the “actions of people protesting, mostly peacefully, for civil rights” to that of the Capitol riots mob that was “trying to overthrow the government” is false equivalence, the judge said. It ignored the “very real danger that the 6 January riots pose to the foundation of our democracy,” Ms Chutkan added.
Her remarks came days after another judge in Washington asked why federal prosecutors had not brought more cases against those who had participated in protests condemning the killing of George Floyd by a police officer last year. The US Justice Department “would have more credibility if it was even-handed in its concern about riots and mobs in this city,” judge Trevor McFadden had said last week.
On Monday, Judge Chutkan acknowledged that some Floyd protests had turned violent but “flatly” disagreed with the suggestion that the Capital riots protesters were being treated unfairly. In fact, she said that she believed the pro-Trump mob that attacked the prestigious administrative building in Washington was being treated leniently.
Most protestors like Mazzocco were allowed to return home and charged with misdemeanours despite participating in a “premeditated decision to come to the district to try to stop the peaceful transfer of power,” Judge Chutkan added.
About 90 Capitol riots protesters have pleaded guilty. Mazzocco is the tenth to be sentenced for misdemeanour and the fourth sentenced to prison. The FBI has arrested more than 600 people in connection with the riot.
On 6 January, Mazzocco spent 12 minutes inside the Capitol building and shared a selfie captioned “the capital is ours” on Facebook.
Describing his act to enter the building as “one of the most foolish and impulsive decisions” of his life, Mazzocco said he was truly sorry for his action and said that it had taken a toll on him and led led to countless death threats.
In a letter to the judge, Mazzocco said: “Since that day, I’ve lived with the feeling of shame, sorrow and remorse, not because I’m going through legal troubles, but because I’m seeing the country I love so dearly divided like never before.”
Even though he did not steal, destroy anything or hurt anyone on 6 January, his participation warrants time behind bars, the judge said. She added that the rioters who committed violence that day did so because they had the safety of numbers thanks to those like Mazzocco.
The judge also accused the Texan of participating in the protest to support former US President Donald Trump “who he viewed had the election taken from him”, adding that he did not go there out of love or support for the country.
On 6 January, a pro-Trump mob laid siege to the Capitol to stop the certification of president Joe Biden’s election victory. The attack followed an incendiary speech by Mr Trump, as part of his “stop the steal” campaign, in which he repeated his false claim that the 2020 election had been rigged.
Judge McFadden’s views are shared by several Capitol Hill protesters and their Republican allies. They believe that the top US federal law body is treating rioters harshly for their political views but letting off those involved in BLM protests.
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