As the trials get underway for those who participated in the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, it turns out that the charges against these defendants are not as serious as the public was initially led to believe. The Department of Justice has since said that a portion of the evidence is not actually quite as damning as was previously believed.
Reuters reports that none of those 400 who have been charged have been charged with sedition, which would be an incitement of rebellion. Instead, the most serious charge brought against any of the defendants has been assault. Two of the men who were charged with assault on Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick used bear spray in the attack.
Others have been charged with conspiracy, and obstruction. While five people lost their lives during the riot, only one was killed with a weapon, and that was Ashli Babbit, who died after being shot by an unnamed Capitol Police Officer. Sicknick was assaulted with bear spray, but died some time later and a cause of death has not been released. The other three suffered medical emergencies.
Much of the work of prosecutors has been in an attempt to prove that conspiracy. Less than 25 people are facing that charge, and ten people are said to have ties to the Oath Keeper militia movement.
Arizona prosecutors who detained Jacob Chansley, the horned "shaman" styled figure, had initially said that they had "strong evidence," inclusive of his "own words and actions," that indicated that the "intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials." This did not prove out, and no evidence of that nature was submitted.
Another man, Ethan Nordean, was accused of sending "encrypted communications" to the Proud Boys, but this, too, was dropped when it turned out that his phone battery died and he was unable to use it. The judge in Nordean's case said there was a "dearth of evidence" and declined to jail him. Prosecutors are trying again, however.
Michael Ferrara, an attorney with Kaplan Hecker & Fink, LLP, who was formerly a federal prosecutor, said that if it becomes clear that prosecutors overreached, engaged in hyperbole, of simply misunderstood social media and text messages, it would be no "small error."
In fact, Ferrara said, the prosecutors' zealotry could "color the way the judge see the case going forward," which would impact outcomes for defendants.
It was widely pushed in media after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that those who engaged in the activity of disrupting congress were armed and violent and that senators and representatives feared for their lives. However, the investigation into the actions of that day have revealed that no one was armed with a fire arm, and the most egregious assault charges are against men who were armed with bear spray.