Federal judge sentencing a Jan. 6 rioter worries Trump could spur another attack


WASHINGTON — A federal judge who has overseen numerous criminal cases against Donald Trump supporters who viciously assaulted police officers during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol expressed concern during a sentencing hearing Thursday that the former president could trigger another violent attack in the lead-up to or aftermath of the 2024 presidential election.

U.S. District Judge Rudy Contreras voiced those concerns while sentencing Jeffrey Sabol, a Colorado geophysicist, to 63 months, or more than five years, in federal prison. Sabol had told the FBI that he believed there was no question the election was stolen and that Dominion voting machines had been tampered with. Sabol also told the FBI he was filled with “patriotic rage” on Jan. 6, that a “call to battle was announced” and that he “answered the call because he was a patriot warrior.”

Contreras said that Trump and his allies had “spurred” the attack on the Capitol, saying he was worried that Sabol would respond once again if a similar “call” was issued.

“It doesn’t take much imagination to imagine a similar call coming out in the coming months,” Contreras said Thursday.

Sabol, who repeatedly assaulted officers at the lower west tunnel during the Capitol attack, was one of a fraction of the Jan. 6 defendants who had been held pretrial, so he’s already served the majority of his sentence. He was arrested on Jan. 11, 2021, just five days after the attack. Sabol destroyed his laptop in a microwave oven, dropped his cellphone in a body of water and tried to board a flight to Zurich, Switzerland, prior to his arrest, prosecutors said.

Contreras on Thursday also ordered Sabol to pay $32,165.65 in restitution and serve three years of supervised release.

Jeffrey Sabol, center, seen during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.  (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia)

Jeffrey Sabol, center, seen during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia)

In the lead-up to the Capitol attack, many Trump supporters saw the former president’s Dec. 19, 2020 “will be wild” tweet encouraging people to come to Washington on Jan. 6 as a “call to arms.” As criminal cases against hundreds of Trump supporters have made their way through federal court, Jan. 6 defendants have said time and time again that they took the actions they did because they believed the former president’s baseless lies about the 2020 election.

Some Jan. 6 defendants have said they were duped and manipulated and expressed retroactive embarrassment about their lack of critical thinking skills, with some defendants even calling themselves idiots.

In the court gallery for Sabol’s sentencing was Micki Witthoeft, the mother of Jan. 6 rioter Ashli Babbit, who was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she jumped through a broken window leading into the House Speaker’s Lobby. Witthoeft attended a vigil for Jan. 6 defendants outside a jail in Washington this week, which was livestreamed, saying that she had spoken with Trump on the phone earlier in the day and that the former president “talked about setting these guys free when he gets in,” a message he asked to be passed along to Jan. 6 defendants.

The former president was supposed to be currently standing trial in connection with his efforts to overturn his election loss. Instead, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Trump’s claims of total presidential immunity from criminal charges next month, and it is unclear if he will face trial before Election Day 2024.

Numerous members of the federal judiciary in Washington have indicated that they believe Trump is responsible for the events of Jan. 6. Contreras said at a prior sentencing against a Jan. 6 rioter that Trump and his allies “bear responsibility for what occurred that day.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, at a prior Jan. 6 sentencing, said that the Republican Party was “actively shunning the few who think standing up for principle is more important than power and have stepped forward to educate the public and to speak the truth.” The threat to democracy, Berman Jackson said, did not evaporate or dissipate just because the 2020 election results were certified.

“The lie that the election was stolen or illegitimate is still being propagated. Indeed, it’s being amplified, not only on extremist social media sites, but on mainstream news outlets,” she said. “And worse, it’s become heresy for a member of the former president’s party to say otherwise.”

More recently, Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth expressed astonishment that Republican politicians had so readily latched onto “preposterous” claims about the events of Jan. 6 itself. He cited claims that criminals convicted in a court of law or ordered held until trial by federal judges because of their danger to the community or risk of flight were “hostages,” a term Trump and his supporters like Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., have used.

“The Court is accustomed to defendants who refuse to accept that they did anything wrong. But in my thirty-seven years on the bench, I cannot recall a time when such meritless justifications of criminal activity have gone mainstream,” Lamberth, who was appointed by former President Ronald Reagan in 1987, said.

“I have been dismayed to see distortions and outright falsehoods seep into the public consciousness,” Lamberth continued. “The Court fears that such destructive, misguided rhetoric could presage further danger to our country.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com



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