Guilty Verdict for Capitol Rioters Also Applies to Trump

But if the former president gets away with his lies about election fraud, the most recent verdicts will seem less fair.

You almost feel sorry for them, the Capitol rioters from Jan. 6, 2021, who one by one are being sentenced to multi-year prison terms. From their perspective, they were just carried away by the crowd and didn’t mean to cause mischief, let alone a coup. They just believed the “lie” about the stolen election, according to the two leading figures of the Proud Boys, the right-wing extremist group, who were sentenced to 17 and 15 years in prison, respectively, on Thursday.

Pity has no place here; the storming of the U.S. Capitol was a crime that perpetrators must atone for in a constitutional democracy. In issuing a harsh sentence, which was also meant to serve as a deterrent, Judge Timothy Kelly indirectly declared guilty those men and women who spread the lies then and continue to do so today — above all, Donald Trump. They are facing charges in Georgia, and Trump has also been indicted in federal court in Washington, D.C.

But the Georgia case and the case in Washington will likely prove to be significantly more difficult than the cases brought against the men who physically entered the Capitol on Jan. 6. Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and the others can all invoke the constitutional right to free speech, claiming that they didn’t do anything, after all; they only said what they were thinking.

If Trump and his co-defendants win this argument and avoid punishment, the sentences handed down to the Capitol rioters will be seen in a different light, and they may even be deemed unfair.

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