Reagan-appointed judge warns GOP's 'preposterous' claims about Jan. 6 could pose threat

WASHINGTON — A Republican-appointed federal judge who has served on the bench for 37 years slammed prominent politicians for their “preposterous” claims about how the courts have handled Jan. 6 cases and their attempts to “rewrite history” about the U.S. Capitol attack, saying such rhetoric could foreshadow future far-right violence.

Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, appointed to the bench by former President Ronald Reagan in 1987, said at a resentencing hearing Thursday that he is “shocked” at how prominent political figures have talked about the convicted criminals who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, calling the politicians’ remarks “preposterous” and warning that such rhetoric “could presage further danger to our country.”

While Lamberth did not refer to the politicians by name, he used quotations from Reps. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga. (who said rioters behaved “in an orderly fashion” like tourists), Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. (who called Jan. 6 inmates “political prisoners”), and Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y. (who, echoing former President Donald Trump, called Jan. 6 criminals “hostages”). In 2022, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution referring to the events of Jan. 6 as “legitimate political discourse.”

“The Court is accustomed to defendants who refuse to accept that they did anything wrong. But in my thirty-seven years on the bench, I cannot recall a time when such meritless justifications of criminal activity have gone mainstream,” Lamberth said, according to his prepared remarks.

“I have been dismayed to see distortions and outright falsehoods seep into the public consciousness,” Lamberth continued before he issued a stark warning: “The Court fears that such destructive, misguided rhetoric could presage further danger to our country.”

Lamberth, a former Judge Advocate General Corps captain who served in Vietnam, said he could not “condone the shameless attempts” to misrepresent what happened on Jan. 6. The court, he said, “cannot condone the notion that those who broke the law on January 6 did nothing wrong, or that those duly convicted with all the safeguards of the United States Constitution, including a right to trial by jury in felony cases, are political prisoners or hostages.”

Lamberth then made an effort to “set the record straight, based on what I’ve learned presiding over many January 6 prosecutions, hearing from dozens of witnesses, watching hundreds of hours of video footage, and reading thousands of pages of evidence.”

“On January 6, 2021, a mob of people invaded and occupied the United States Capitol, using force to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power mandated by the Constitution and our republican heritage,” he said. “The rioters interfered with a necessary step in the constitutional process, disrupted the lawful transfer of power, and thus jeopardized the American constitutional order. … This was not patriotism; it was the antithesis of patriotism.”

Lamberth went on to say that it was “a matter of right and wrong” and that it fell to judges to say the actions of those who broke the law on Jan. 6 were wrong.

“The Court does not expect its remarks to fully stem the tide of falsehoods. But I hope a little truth will go a long way,” he said.

More than 1,250 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to the Justice Department. More than 700 defendants have entered voluntary guilty pleas, meaning they appeared before judges and admitted under penalty of perjury that they had, in fact, engaged in criminal activity on Jan. 6, according to the Justice Department.

Just this week, Edward Richmond Jr. of Louisiana, who was previously convicted of voluntary manslaughter for killing an Iraqi civilian while deployed overseas, was arrested and charged with assaulting law enforcement officers at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Richmond, federal authorities say, used a baton to assault law enforcement officers battling rioters at the lower west tunnel, where some of the most extreme violence of the day took place. Richmond will plead not guilty, said John McLindon, an attorney for his son.

Federal authorities on Tuesday also arrested Andy Steven Oliva-Lopez, whom online sleuths identified as the man who was photographed and recorded using chemical spray to assault law enforcement officers at the west tunnel on Jan. 6, according to the FBI. It is unclear whether Oliva-Lopez has entered a plea.

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