July 15, 2022
A late news dump tonight: the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol has subpoenaed from the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) the text messages between agents on January 5 and January 6, 2021, that it learned Wednesday had been deleted. Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) told Secret Service director James Murray, who recently announced his upcoming resignation, that the committee wants all the texts by July 19, 2022.
Politico legal affairs reporter Kyle Cheney noted that this is the first time the committee has subpoenaed an agency in the executive branch, at least publicly.
That joins other legal news today.
Trump confidant Steve Bannon tried again today to get his trial for contempt of Congress dismissed, arguing that because the court has refused to let him subpoena members of Congress, he cannot have a fair trial. That trial is due to start Monday.
Fani Willis, the Fulton County, Georgia, prosecutor, today told the chair of the Georgia Republican Party, David Shafer, as well as two state senators, that they could be indicted for their participation in the attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.
And the Department of Justice requested that the first defendant from the January 6 insurrection to be convicted at trial, Guy Reffitt, be sentenced to 15 years in prison. This is an upward adjustment of sentencing guidelines because the department is asking the judge to consider Reffitt’s actions as terrorism, since the offense for which he was convicted “was calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.”
Reffitt was a leader of the Texas Three Percenters militia gang, which calls for “rebellion” against the federal government. He came to Washington, D.C., for January 6. He attacked U.S. Capitol Police officers and encouraged others to do so before entering the Capitol armed with a handgun, where he targeted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
A camera on his helmet recorded Reffitt’s words that day. “I’m taking the Capitol with everybody f*cking else,” Reffitt told the people around him. “We’re all going to drag them m*therf*ckers out kicking and screaming. I don’t give a sh*t. I just want to see Pelosi’s head hit every f*cking stair on the way out. (Inaudible) F*ck yeah. And Mitch McConnell too. F*ck ‘em all. They f*cked us too many g*dd*mn years for too f*cking long. It’s time to take our country back. I think everybody’s on the same d*mn wavelength. And I think we have the numbers to make it happen…. [W]e’ve got a f*cking president. We don’t need much more. We just get rid of them m*therf*ckers and start over.”
Afterward, he boasted, “We took the Capital [sic] of the United States of America and we will do it again.”
Back in Texas, Reffitt deleted a thread of messages between him and another planner—the FBI was able to recover it—and threatened to hurt his teenaged children if they reported him. Reffitt has a history of domestic violence, including threatening his wife with a gun.
The hefty sentence request for Reffitt is likely to convince others implicated in the insurrection to cooperate.
The timing of today’s legal news highlights that the prosecution of those who tried to destroy our government is imperative to uphold the rule of law.
On this date in 1870, Congress voted to readmit Georgia to the United States after the Civil War. So far as the people living through that era thought, this ended Reconstruction, which they conceived of as the reconstruction of the U.S. government.
And that was it. While there were military tribunals for those who had committed war crimes– most of them concerning the treatment of prisoners of war—there was never a legal reckoning for even the leaders of those who had tried to destroy the nation, although their efforts had led to the deaths of 620,000 soldiers and sailors and cost the country more than $5 billion.
In an attempt to be magnanimous, U.S. officials gave former Confederates no reason to abandon their loyalty to their failed nation. They clung to it through Lost Cause mythology, convincing themselves that theirs was the true version of America despite their defeat, and that their cause was noble. Georgia’s return to the Union depended on the state’s ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing Black men the right to vote, but within a year of Georgia’s readmission, white southerners were already undermining Black voting. Within a decade, they had regained control of their states and were pushing their Black neighbors into second-class citizenship.
Without any cost for adherence to the Lost Cause, there was no reason for Confederate symbols to disappear. They have continued to play an astonishingly large role in our society, and not just in the South. They have inspired those eager to dismantle the government ever since the Civil War. They have made a spectacular comeback since the 1980s until finally, on January 6, 2021, the Confederate battle flag flew in the U.S. Capitol.
This time, though, there is a chance to change the story. Prosecutions have January 6 participants like Reffitt trying to hide their actions, and jail time will almost certainly dampen the enthusiasm of those who were happy to be part of an insurrection until they discovered there was a legal cost. While U.S. leaders after the Civil War thought their best hope of building a nation based on racial equality was to avoid prosecutions, scholars who study the restoration of democracy after an authoritarian crisis are very clear: central to any such restoration is enforcing the rule of law.