Why are judges going so easy on the insurrectionists?

Over half of the federal sentences handed down have involved no prison time at all.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 06: Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to...
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More than 700 people have been arrested and charged with criminal actions for their role in the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. But only about 10% of those charged have been sentenced so far, according to a report from The Washington Post. Troublingly, despite the fact that the FBI called the attack “a form of domestic terrorism” and scholars have determined that it was, in fact, an attempted coup, federal judges appear to be issuing lenient sentences for those who are found guilty of participating in the violent attempt to overthrow the government.

According to an analysis published by the Post, about two-thirds of defendants involved in the Capitol riot have received sentences that are less severe than those recommended by federal prosecutors. In 49 out of the 74 sentences handed down by federal judges, the defendants have gotten off with lighter sentences. Just 10 have been sentenced to more than two months in jail. The majority of those who have been sentenced so far — 39 in total — have received no jail time at all.

The data seems to reveal a trend: Very few people have faced real consequences for their attempt to thwart democracy, and the justice system appears either unwilling or unable to issue real consequences for those actions.

The inability to impose any real punishment extends to the prosecution as well. According to the Post’s data, 174 people have pleaded guilty to charges stemming from their actions on Jan. 6, 2021. Yet while half of those people faced felony charges, about 90% of the actual guilty pleas were to misdemeanor crimes. That includes 11 cases, according to BuzzFeed News, in which prosecutors allowed a defendant to plead down from a felony to a misdemeanor.

There are explanations for this, though they are unlikely to be satisfying. Federal prosecutors have so far mostly charged lower-level offenders, attempting to get as many cases out of the way as possible so they can focus their time and effort on the organizers of the coup attempt. That includes members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys — two violent, far-right groups that are accused of conspiring to lead the riot and stop the certification of the 2020 election.

There are also still far more people who’ve been charged and are yet to be sentenced. At least 367 people have been charged with at least one felony so far, and only seven of those cases have reached sentencing. A total of 527 cases are still open, so there are still plenty of lesser charges that will need to be sorted out as well.

But, if you’re hoping to see some meaningful consequences for those who participated in the attempted coup — including sitting members of the House and Senate, as well as former members of the Trump White House — you probably shouldn’t hold your breath. There have been zero charges of sedition or insurrection brought against any of the more than 700 people who have been charged so far.