It’s a common refrain from some of those charged in the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol and their Republican allies: The Justice Department is treating them harshly because of their political views while those arrested during last year’s protests over racial injustice were given leniency.
Court records tell a different story.
An Associated Press review of documents in more than 300 federal cases stemming from the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death last year shows that dozens of people charged have been convicted of serious crimes and sent to prison.
The AP found that more than 120 defendants across the United States have pleaded guilty or were convicted at trial of federal crimes including rioting, arson and conspiracy. More than 70 defendants sentenced so far have gotten an average of about 27 months behind bars. At least 10 received prison terms of five years or more.
The dissonance between the rhetoric of the rioters and their supporters and the record established by courts highlights both the racial tension inherent in their arguments — the pro-Donald Trump rioters were largely white and last summer’s protesters were more diverse — and the flawed assessment at the heart of their claims.
“The property damage or accusations of arson and looting from last year, those were serious and they were dealt with seriously, but they weren’t an attack on the very core constitutional processes that we rely on in a democracy, nor were they an attack on the United States Congress,” said Kent Greenfield, a professor at Boston College Law School.
To be sure, some have received lenient deals.
At least 19 defendants who have been sentenced across the country got no prison time or time served, according to the AP’s review. Many pleaded guilty to lower-level offenses, such as misdemeanor assault, but some were convicted of more serious charges, including civil disorder.
In Portland, Oregon — where demonstrations, many turning violent, occurred nightly for months after a white Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd — more than 60 of the roughly 100 cases that were brought have been dismissed, court records show.
Most of those defendants received deferred resolution agreements, under which prosecutors agree to drop charges after a certain amount of time if the defendant stays out of trouble and completes things such as community service. Some Capitol riot defendants have complained it’s unfair they aren’t getting the same deals.
Conservatives have sought to equate the attack on the Capitol with the Black Lives Matter protests, accusing Democrats of being hypocrites for not denouncing the violence after Floyd’s death as loudly as the Capitol insurrection.