The 60 Minutes Piece on January 6 Was the Sound of the Ante Being Upped

Charles P. Pierce
·4-min read
Photo credit: ERIC BARADAT - Getty Images
Photo credit: ERIC BARADAT - Getty Images

From Esquire

There are some things in our politics that make me more nervous than Louie Gohmert around a thesaurus. One is the nature of political prosecutions, and the other is prosecutors who ply the media with tales of dark doings and veiled cabals. That’s because I remember the bad old days of COINTELPRO, and the various illegitimate prosecutions contained in the backlash against the civil rights movement, and because I know how federal prosecutors can bully and cajole people out of a proper legal defense. It’s also because I grew up in a home where the Catholic conspiracy theories were alive and well. (I spent one rainy weekend when I was in high school reading John Stormer’s None Dare Call It Treason at my father’s recommendation. I came away from it with an unquenchable sweet-tooth for right-wing political paranoia.) So, when Michael Sherwin, until recently the supervisor of the Department of Justice’s investigation into the events of January 6, popped up on 60 Minutes on Sunday night to talk about what his investigation has uncovered so far, I have to admit that certain bells went off in my head. This is part of what Sherwin said:

Correct. 400 defendants. And the bulk of those cases are federal criminal charges, and significant federal felony charges. Five, 10, 20-year penalties. Of those 400 cases, the majority of those, 80, 85%, maybe even 90, you have individuals, both inside and outside the Capitol, that breached the Capitol, trespassed. You also have individuals, roughly over 100, that we've charged with assaulting federal officers and local police officers. The 10% of the cases, I'll call the more complex conspiracy cases where we do have evidence, it's in the public record where individual militia groups from different facets: Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Proud Boys, did have a plan. We don't know what the full plan is, to come to D.C., organize, and breach the Capitol in some manner.

That’s flatly astonishing to me—not the sheer number defendants, which seems apropos based on what we saw on live TV and what we have seen in videos released in the extended aftermath, but rather hearing a federal prosecutor replying this matter-of-factly about the most profound offense in the political catalogue.

Scott Pelley: I'm not a lawyer, but the way I read the sedition statute, it says that, "Sedition occurs when anyone opposes by force the authority of the United States, or by force hinders or delays the execution of any law of the United States." Seems like a very low bar, and I wonder why you're not charging that now?

Michael Sherwin: Okay, so I don't think it's a low bar, Scott, but I will tell you this. I personally believe the evidence is trending towards that, and probably meets those elements.

Scott Pelley: Do you anticipate sedition charges against some of these suspects?

Michael Sherwin: I believe the facts do support those charges. And I think that, as we go forward, more facts will support that, Scott.

That sound you hear is the sound of the ante being upped. Sedition trials in this country have a history that is decidedly mixed, going back to the Sedition Act of 1798, one of the reasons why John Adams is one overrated president. (Matthew Lyon, a hapless congressman, was hauled into court for calling Adams “pompous,” which was like calling Thomas Jefferson tall.) More recently, and certainly of more relevance to current events, the government brought sedition charges against 13 white supremacists in Fort Smith, Arkansas. An all-white jury acquitted them all. (One of the defendants, Richard Wayne Snell, was already in jail for murder. Snell was executed on the day that Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. Snell spent the morning of his execution watching the news coverage from Oklahoma, and it later was reported that Snell himself had plotted to blow up that same building in 1983.) There are manifest differences between these two cases, the most obvious one being that the insurrectionists on January 6 committed their alleged crimes in Washington and not in Arkansas, and their actions actually were directed at obstructing the operation of the government. I would like the Fed to tread lightly here, but they also should move forward with a kind of unprecedented relentlessness.

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