The Department of Justice carefully crafted the dramatic moment in court.
A federal prosecutor handed an enclosed paper bag to an FBI agent responsible for investigating members of the Proud Boys, now on trial for seditious conspiracy related to their participation in the events of January 6. The bag contained “evidence of the unlawful entry of the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 and evidence of the disruption to the certification of the 2020 presidential election,” FBI Special Agent Elizabeth D’Angelo told assistant U.S. Attorney Nadia Moore on Wednesday.
D’Angelo cautiously pulled the evidence out of the bag to present to the jury.
Spectators in D.C. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly’s courtroom were on the edge of their seats. What would the mystery bag reveal?
Would it disclose the group’s intricate but failed plot to overthrow the government? A detailed list of weapons the “seditionists” planned to use in service of their dastardly deed? Names of targeted officials?
A nervous hush fell over the room; sweat beads formed on furrowed brows. Finally, the big moment arrived.
It was—a set of challenge coins.
Moore: Can you give a brief description of what they are?
D’Angelo: They are challenge coins. This one is black and gold—and this package contains four black and gold colored challenge coins.
Moore: Are these the same coins that were seized from Zachary Rehl’s home?
Like many organizations, the Proud Boys produce coins that depict the group’s motto and attitude. When multiple armed FBI agents raided Rehl’s Philadelphia residence in March 2021, terrorizing his pregnant wife and pillaging his home, investigators found not one but several such coins.
Prosecutors, however, didn’t explain how Rehl and his co-defendants—also found in possession of incriminating challenge coins during similar SWAT raids—deployed the dangerous faux currency that day. (One version included an image of a Pokemon character, apparently an insurrectionist himself.)
Did the Proud Boys hurl the trinkets at officers clad in full riot gear outside the Capitol? Did they open locked doors with the coins? Did they use the coins to bribe “election deniers” in Congress?
After all, no weapons were recovered at Rehl’s house. So what gives?
No one knows. Judge Kelly, a Trump appointee, last month insisted the coins were admissible evidence to show a “relationship” among the defendants.
Welcome to the judicial funhouse formally known as the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse—a maze of distortions created by government clowns and ghouls intended to frighten those trapped within its confines while amusing others behind the scenes. Wednesday’s embarrassing spectacle is only a tiny glimpse into the charade unfolding on a daily basis in the heart of the nation’s capital.
Consider just a few recent events. Last week, relatives of the late Brian Sicknick were allowed to read “victim impact” statements in the sentencing of Julian Khater, the man accused of spraying Sicknick with pepper spray on January 6. Although Sicknick did not die as a result of the spray—the coroner concluded he died of two strokes caused by a blood clot—Sicknick’s immediate family members continue to blame Khater for Sicknick’s passing, disproven claims nonetheless given the court’s imprimatur.
Sicknick’s former girlfriend was allowed to participate in the stunt, even though she admitted the couple was on a “break” months before the Capitol protest. Dozens of Capitol Police officers also attended the hearing. The theatrics worked. Judge Thomas Hogan ordered Khater to serve 80 months in prison.
A D.C. jury on January 23 returned all guilty verdicts in the trial of Richard Barnett, the man photographed with his feet on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office that afternoon. It took jurors less than two hours to convict Barnett on eight counts including obstruction and civil disorder. He faces decades in prison.
The same day, four men were found guilty of seditious conspiracy and other serious crimes tied to January 6. Alleged members of the Oath Keepers entered the Capitol an hour after Congress had evacuated the building, carried no weapons, stayed for less than 15 minutes, and vandalized nothing inside—a humiliating failure to overthrow democracy.
Nonetheless, Matthew Graves, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia handling every criminal case, bragged about his office’s victory.
“For the second time in recent months, a jury has found that a group of Americans entered into a seditious conspiracy against the United States,” Graves boasted. “The goal of this conspiracy was to prevent the execution of our laws that govern the peaceful transfer of power—striking at the very heart of our democracy. We are grateful to the thoughtful, deliberative work of this jury who gave weeks of their lives to carefully consider and deliver justice in this case and in so doing reaffirmed our democratic principles.”
(A week later, Graves charged a California doctor who attempted to save Ashli Babbitt’s life with four misdemeanors including “parading” in the Capitol.)
The jury over which Graves swooned deliberated less than two days in a case comparable to treason.
“You’re entitled to your political views but not to an insurrection. You were an insurrectionist.” So said Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly during the February 1 sentencing hearing for Daniel Caldwell, a Marine veteran who pleaded guilty to spraying police officers on January 6. Caldwell spent 19 months in pretrial detention before accepting the government’s plea offer last September. Through tears, according to Politico’s Kyle Cheney, Caldwell begged Kollar-Kotelly, a Clinton appointee, for mercy.
She gave none.
Explaining how her harsh sentence must “fortify against the revolutionary fervor that you and others felt on January 6 and may still feel today,” Kollar-Kotelly sentenced Caldwell to 68 months in jail.
“Insurrection is not and cannot ever be warranted,” she lectured a man neither charged with nor convicted of insurrection.
But perhaps no one better represents the warped imagination of the prosecutors and judges overseeing January 6 cases better than Tanya Chutkan. The Obama appointee is known for handing down the stiffest punishment against Trump supporters, ordering nonviolent protesters accused of low level offenses to serve time in jail even when the government recommends none. And she’s on a roll.
Clearly agitated that Russell Alford, an Alabama man charged with the four most common misdemeanors in January 6 cases, chose to go to trial instead of accept the government’s plea offer, Chutkan scolded Alford for his 11-minute peaceful jaunt through the Capitol. “You may have not been breaking any glass, but make no mistake, that wouldn’t have been a mob without you,” Chutkan told Alford, convicted on all four counts last October after the jury spent only a few hours considering his fate. “You helped terrorize the real Patriots trying to fulfill their duty.”
Insisting she was not penalizing Alford for exercising his constitutional right to demand a jury trial—the first jury trial in Chutkan’s courtroom since every other January 6 defendant, clearly aware of her reputation, has accepted plea deals—Chutkan commenced to do so, commenting on the number of lawyers on both sides involved in the trial and the jurors’ time. “The same system you are railing against worked.”
While acknowledging Alford has no criminal record, Chutkan explained her ruling must act as “general deterrence” to warn others that the punishment for future insurrections will be “certain, swift, and serious.”
She then sentenced Alford to 12 months in prison, one month less than the Justice Department suggested. (Prosecutors asked for 13 months and accused Alford of spreading “disinformation” about the killing of Ashli Babbitt.) Her sentence is the longest imposed yet for a Trump supporter found guilty of 4 misdemeanors.
One might be inclined to laugh at the absurdity of it all except, of course, it’s not funny. Lives are being systematically destroyed to the obvious pleasure and gratification of taxpayer-paid lawyers and judges, who are the only ones smiling. Unfortunately for many innocent Americans, this theater of the absurd appears for now to be on an unlimited run.