FBI Director Says No Imbalance Between Jan. 6 and 2020 Riot Prosecutions

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
February 3, 2022Updated: February 3, 2022

The FBI’s top official has defended the bureau against critics who say its more aggressively pursuing people who committed crimes on Jan. 6, 2021, compared with people who torched buildings and carried out other illegal acts during the riots in 2020.

The FBI has opened hundreds of investigations and made hundreds of arrests involving each matter, Director Christopher Wray said during a Jan. 31 talk. The bureau has also utilized nearly all of its 56 field offices and its Joint Terrorism Task Force to investigate both the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol and the 2020 riots.

“We have one standard, which is, I don’t care whether you’re upset about an election, upset at our criminal justice system, whatever it is you’re upset about, there’s a right way and a wrong way to express your being upset in this country. And violence against law enforcement destruction of property is not it. That’s what the rule of law is about,” Wray said, speaking at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in California after delivering a speech warning against China’s communist government.

Moderator John Heubusch, the library’s executive director and a former top official for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, referred to the breach as a tragedy and called it a “very good thing” to go after the “bad actors” responsible, but also voiced a concern that people who committed crimes in 2020 did similar things and that the FBI may not be giving “equal justice to law.”

After Wray, a Trump nominee, defended the bureau, the director said there were key differences between the breach and the riots.

On Jan. 6, people stormed the Capitol in broad daylight, and the events were “photographed extensively,” Wray said. In contrast, the riots often took place “under the cover of darkness, with people’s faces concealed,” and some of the buildings rioters attacked weren’t federal property.

“So the federal hook, the federal jurisdiction is sometimes a little different, and the ability to prove it is more challenging,” Wray said. “But we’re still working those cases. We’re aggressively pursuing both. And as I said, we have one standard, which is you don’t get to commit violence.”

The FBI has continued to pursue people involved in the Jan. 6 breach and announces new charges regularly, though less often than soon after the breach. Prosecution of crimes committed during the tumult in 2020 has mostly petered off.

Overall, the FBI has arrested about 250 people linked to 2020 riots, versus over 725 related to Jan. 6.

Additionally, many of those hit with charges stemming from actions in 2020 saw their charges dropped, while prosecutors have rarely done the same in the cases involving Jan. 6.

Kyle Shideler, director and senior analyst for homeland security and counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy, said that Wray’s contention that the FBI and its parent agency, the Department of Justice (DOJ), have treated both groups the same was “an embarrassing falsehood.”

“Nearly three times as many individuals have been federally charged for an incident which lasted four hours, compared to violent rioting that lasted for a period of four months, and featured near-nightly attacks against government buildings in multiple states,” he told The Epoch Times in an email.

Government prosecutors have even sought lower sentences for some riot defendants because of their support for so-called social justice, including in the case of a Minneapolis arsonist who burned down a pawnshop where a man was later found burned to death, Shideler noted, adding that “DOJ attorneys have dismissed numerous charges against 2020 rioters, including nearly all charges against those who sought to attack the White House on June 1, 2020.”

Some Jan. 6 defendants have attempted to draw attention to the apparent discordance. Most federal judges in Washington have rejected those attempts, though U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, said in a ruling in December 2021 that he was troubled by the treatment of 2020 rioters.

“Rarely has the Government shown so little interest in vigorously prosecuting those who attack federal officers,” he wrote.

But the judge turned down a request from defendant David Judd, saying he had not shown that the 2020 defendants were similarly situated to him.

“He cannot do so. Although both Portland and January 6 rioters attacked federal buildings, the Portland defendants primarily attacked at night, meaning that they raged against a largely vacant courthouse,” McFadden said. “In contrast, the January 6 rioters attacked the Capitol in broad daylight. And many entered it. Thousands of congressional staffers walked the Capitol’s corridors that day. So did hundreds of legislators and the Vice President, all of whom appeared for a constitutionally mandated proceeding.”

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