News & Politics

Trumped-Up Charges: Feds Try to Criminalize Inauguration Day Protest

Federal prosecutors go after protesters and journalists—while admitting they committed no violent acts.

Photo Credit: Karla Cote / Flickr

While most of America has been preoccupied with year-end holiday festivities and the Alabama U.S. Senate race, federal prosecutors in Washington have been hard at work trying to convict six people who were present during a demonstration against the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The trial, which is taking place in the District of Columbia’s Superior Court, has received comparatively little attention from the national press. It deserves to, since prosecutors are trying to redefine the rules governing public demonstrations. Federal authorities have admitted they have no actual evidence that the defendants on trial committed acts of vandalism, but want to convict them of serious crimes anyway.

“I’ll be very clear. We don’t believe any of the defendants personally engaged in property destruction,” U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff admitted in her opening statement in mid-November.

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Instead of trying to identify and indict the small number of anti-Trump protesters who damaged trash cans or broke windows last Jan. 20, Washington police decided to make mass arrests, rounding up anyone who happened to be near a demonstration that began in the Logan Circle neighborhood, regardless of what they were actually doing.

More than 200 people were arrested that day. Federal prosecutors, who ultimately work under the authority of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have decided to throw the book at the arrestees, vowing to put them all on trial in a succession of small proceedings that will likely last until the end of next year. Among the accused are several nurses whom prosecutors have accused of aiding rioters because they were carrying first-aid materials.

While most of America has been preoccupied with year-end holiday festivities and the Alabama U.S. Senate race, federal prosecutors in Washington have been hard at work trying to convict six people who were present during a demonstration against the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

The trial, which is taking place in the District of Columbia’s Superior Court, has received comparatively little attention from the national press. It deserves to, since prosecutors are trying to redefine the rules governing public demonstrations. Federal authorities have admitted they have no actual evidence that the defendants on trial committed acts of vandalism, but want to convict them of serious crimes anyway.

“I’ll be very clear. We don’t believe any of the defendants personally engaged in property destruction,” U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff admitted in her opening statement in mid-November.

Instead of trying to identify and indict the small number of anti-Trump protesters who damaged trash cans or broke windows last Jan. 20, Washington police decided to make mass arrests, rounding up anyone who happened to be near a demonstration that began in the Logan Circle neighborhood, regardless of what they were actually doing.

More than 200 people were arrested that day. Federal prosecutors, who ultimately work under the authority of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, have decided to throw the book at the arrestees, vowing to put them all on trial in a succession of small proceedings that will likely last until the end of next year. Among the accused are several nurses whom prosecutors have accused of aiding rioters because they were carrying first-aid materials.

 

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Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media and technology for Salon. Email him via [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.