Indefinite Incarceration for Protesters With ‘Wrong’ Politics

Joe Biden’s Justice Department wants to keep Richard Barnett in jail—indefinitely.

The Arkansas man, photographed showboating inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office on January 6, has been behind bars for more than three months. Barnett occupied Pelosi’s office for six whole minutes; he absconded with a piece of mail and left her a note that read “Nancy, Bigo was here, you Bitch.”

The desk belonged to a Pelosi aide, not the speaker herself. Several reporters and photographers who also happened to be in Pelosi’s office at the very same time prompted Barnett to sit at the desk and “act natural” as they took a series of photos.

Death threats against Barnett’s family immediately started when a press photograph of Barnett went viral that afternoon; Pelosi’s daughter tweeted the picture right after it was taken. Upon his return home, Barnett met with FBI investigators without an attorney present, allowed for a search of his home, and turned himself in.

He was taken into custody on January 8 and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and possession of a “deadly or dangerous weapon,” to wit, a walking stick that also can be used as a stun gun. He never used it.

A local judge authorized Barnett’s conditional release a week later but federal prosecutors, as they’ve done in many cases, immediately appealed to the chief judge of the D.C. district court, which is handling every Capitol breach case, to deny Barnett’s release.

Judge Beryl Howell sided with the Justice Department and ordered Barnett, a retired firefighter with no criminal record, transported to Washington, D.C. where he remains incarcerated awaiting trial next month. (He is one of more than three dozen Capitol protesters denied bail and currently held in solitary confinement conditions at the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility. Barnett reportedly has been attacked by prison guards; one allegedly told the inmate that he “hate[s] all white people.”) 

A grand jury subsequently returned an eight-count indictment against Barnett including one charge of “parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building.” The U.S. landmark is once known as the “People’s House” now is considered “Pelosi’s House.” Lowly Americans are not welcome.

But it isn’t just the felony weapons charge that convinced prosecutors Barnett poses a threat to society. He can’t go home, according to the Justice Department, because Barnett is too controlling of his common-law wife, Tammy Newburn.

Under intense interrogation by Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Harris in January, Newburn admitted sometimes Barnett “interrupts me.” Harris was alarmed Barnett stopped his wife from allowing FBI agents to look at her phone without a warrant when investigators first arrived at their home for questioning.

Harris: “You didn’t think it was weird that he wouldn’t just let you show the agents yourself on your phone?”

Newburn: “No.”

Harris: “Do you recall how he interrupted you several times while you were trying to tell about different events that had gone on and he interrupted you and said, ‘let me tell the story.’”

Newburn: “He could have.”

Harris: “It appears that during that whole interaction, he ordered you around and that you really had no voice of your own during that conversation with the FBI.”

Newburn: “No, I have a voice.”

Harris: “Do you really think you have the ability to report to this Court if he violates any condition if the Court were to release him?”

Newburn: “Yes.”

But Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in charge of the initial phase of the Justice Department’s “unprecedented” probe into the events of January 6, didn’t believe her. 

Sherwin—who recently bragged his office arrested more than 100 people prior to January 20 in a show of “shock and awe” to stop people from protesting Joe Biden’s inauguration—argued Newburn would not be an appropriate custodian. “The evidence shows that the defendant actively seeks to hinder and control Ms. Newburn,” Sherwin wrote to Judge Howell on January 27. “The defendant’s bullying and obstructive behavior further weighs in favor of detention.”

Howell once again concurred with the government. In her January 29 ruling, Howell called Barnett’s conduct “brazen,” and scolded Barnett for “bragging” about what he had done.

But Barnett’s lawyers finally are fighting back. Joseph McBride, Barnett’s attorney, petitioned the court last week to release his client pending a May 4 trial.

McBride’s brief details a long list of constitutional violations, including Barnett’s Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights. Exculpatory statements were omitted from the record; the so-called stun gun had no batteries when Barnett brought it to the Capitol—it was used solely as a walking stick.

And as for the FBI interview that so alarmed investigators, prosecutors, and the judge: “This sophisticated duo of government agents purposefully camouflages questions designed to illicit [sic] incriminating information with small talk in a deliberate effort to get Mr. Barnett to waive his rights against self-incrimination and to counsel,” McBride wrote on April 5. Barnett and his wife believed law enforcement agents were interested in the multiple death threats made against the family but in reality, the FBI was collecting evidence to be used against him.

In an interesting twist, McBride took aim at the “smug, elitist, condescending members of America’s ruling class” who mock regular Americans. “[A]s members of the non-college-educated working class, they struggle to pay bills, have no savings, are crippled with debt, and are increasing[ly] silenced.” They are “the constant butt of jokes about needing to shop at Walmart because they are poor—and they carry a great deal of shame because of it.”

Where is the lie?

Despite the fact Barnett didn’t assault anyone, vandalize government property, attack a police officer, pose any sort of lethal danger to lawmakers, let himself be photographed and interviewed by reporters, and cooperated with law enforcement, Biden’s Justice Department continues to treat him as a hardened criminal. The new acting U.S. attorney overseeing the agency’s sprawling manhunt filed a motion late Monday to keep Barnett incarcerated for at least another month.

“[T]his defendant showed off his stun gun to a crowd, posed for photographers while occupying the office of the Speaker of the House, stole a piece of her official correspondence, left a disturbing and menacing handwritten note in her office, and repeated that message on video to the media as well as on a bullhorn to a crowd outside the Capitol,” Channing D. Phillips wrote April 12.

Phillips, without evidence, accused Barnett of having a “connection to QAnon” and believing a “fictitious, politicized conspiracy theory” about the 2020 presidential election. “The defendant’s actions and statements could not be more clear: He has no regard for the rule of law and he will flagrantly violate it to further his interests and goals.”

D.C. District Court Judge Chris Cooper, an Obama appointee married to a top aide of former Attorney General Eric Holder, soon will decide Barnett’s short-term fate.

Capitol defendants denied bail received some relief last month when a D.C. appellate court denounced the pre-trial detention for the “zip tie guy,” Eric Munchel, and his mother, Lisa Eisenhart. (Both finally were released after more than two months in jail.)

The Munchel ruling is affecting other cases as several defendants, including Barnett, now cite the court’s decision as justification for release; Judge Howell has made her displeasure with the order well known in court.

As a Minnesota town devolves into chaos and destruction after a police shooting over the weekend with no sign anyone has been arrested, Americans are once again reminded of the two sets of rules for protestors: one group gets cover from the news media, the political class and Joe Biden and the other group is held hostage for low-level offenses with no support whatsoever.

About Julie Kelly

Julie Kelly is a political commentator and senior contributor to American Greatness. She is the author of Disloyal Opposition: How the NeverTrump Right Tried―And Failed―To Take Down the President. Her past work can be found at The Federalist and National Review. She also has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, and Genetic Literacy Project. She is the co-host of ‘Happy Hour podcast with Julie and Liz.’ She is a graduate of Eastern Illinois University and lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two daughters.

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

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