January 6th, 2021, remains a contentious and divisive chapter in American history. While some characterize it as an insurrection, others view it as a protest gone awry. Regardless of perspective, the aftermath of that day has had far-reaching implications, raising concerns about the erosion of fundamental constitutional principles. This article delves into the impact of January 6th on individual liberties, examining the erosion of Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
On January 6th, 2021, an estimated 120,000 people were at Capitol Hill to protest irregularities they believed were signs of a stolen election. Law enforcement was woefully unprepared for the sheer number of attendees, even though national news outlets were reporting the expectation for at least a week before the planned protest.
On one side of the Capitol building, violence broke out. Some protesters turned into rioters and forced their way inside the building. These violent videos were played repeatedly by mainstream media outlets.
On the other side of the Capitol building, police removed barriers and allowed protesters to enter the Capitol. Security videos show police moving barricades, protesters peacefully walking between velvet ropes, and posing for pictures with police. Mainstream media did not widely share these videos.
Jacob Chansley, known as the QAnon Shaman, was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison even though there is a video of him receiving a police escort through the halls of Congress and calling for his fellow protesters to respect the space and remain peaceful. The jury was not allowed to see those videos.
In November 2023, the House of Representatives released more security videos. Many of these videos show protesters peacefully walking past Capitol Police Officers who were not trying to stop the protesters. These videos were not available as evidence for any of the defendants tried thus far.
Newly released footage from January 6, 2021, shows Matthew Perna calmly strolling through the building alongside other protesters and even many police officers. Perna killed himself after prosecutors in his case added a terrorism enhancement in advance of his sentencing. Perna is one of over a dozen protesters who have taken their own lives.
Affects on Liberty
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” - Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution
In the aftermath, extensive intrusive surveillance methods by the Federal Bureau of Investigation employed cell phone location data, credit card transactions, and airline flight information without adherence to constitutional standards. This mass data collection, enabled by National Security Letters under the Patriot Act, raises concerns about privacy and individual liberties, a departure from the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. Thousands of people were interviewed, and hundreds were arrested within weeks. Facial recognition software was applied to the thousands of hours of security video, and hundreds more were arrested.
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”- Sixth amendment to the US Constitution
The right to a speedy trial, a cornerstone safeguard against government overreach, has been compromised for several individuals associated with the events of January 6th, 2021. As of November 2023, some defendants languish in federal prison for over 1,000 days without standing trial, a clear violation of their Sixth Amendment rights.
According to the Bureau of Prisons, at least one defendant, Samuel Lazar, was sentenced in Washington’s federal court to 30 months in prison, but there’s no public record of such a hearing. That is definitely not a public trial.
Many defendants and their attorneys have reported being denied the right to cross-examine witnesses. Some witnesses told stories on the stand that contradicted their previous statements to law enforcement. Without cross-examination, the juries are unaware of these contradictory statements.
Much of the security videos of that day have not been made available to defense teams, and much of what has been made available has been denied admission as evidence, further undermining the principles of fair and public trials. The same government prosecuting the accused owns thousands of hours of video footage from that day. Denying the defense access to this footage is a clear violation of the rules of discovery and handling of exculpatory evidence.
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” - Eighth Amendment to the US Constitution
The excessive and prolonged detention of accused individuals, often held in solitary confinement without bail for extended periods, raises questions about the application of the Eighth Amendment. Many detainees, lacking criminal records and including military veterans, face conditions inconsistent with the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. Many were held for years without being allowed to see their families, even via Zoom, until their trial.
“…nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” - Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution
The prisoners of January 6th, 2021, have been denied their fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property without due process of law. The unequal application of due process is evident in the stark contrast between the treatment of these defendants in Washington DC jurisdiction and the leniency towards violent criminals within the city, where cash bail is lowered or eliminated.
The aftermath of January 6th, 2021, has cast a long shadow over the American legal system. The erosion of constitutional principles, particularly the Fourth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, raises concerns about all Americans’ fundamental rights and protections. Whether these prisoners are patriots, insurrectionists, or both; it is imperative to uphold these principles and ensure that the equal application of justice aligns with the foundational values of the United States.