The Justice Department (DOJ) on Tuesday said federal prosecutors will be working to build “seditious and conspiracy charges” against some rioters and protesters who breached the U.S. Capitol last week.
“Yesterday, our office organized a strike force of very senior national security prosecutors and public corruption prosecutors. Their only marching orders from me are to build seditious and conspiracy charges related to the most heinous acts that occurred in the Capitol,” Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, said in a press conference. “And these are significant charges that have felonies with a prison term of up to 20 years.”
The DOJ has so far opened 170 cases related to the events on Jan. 6 where civil unrest and acts of violence at the U.S. Capitol marred otherwise peaceful protests. A group of rioters and some protesters waving American and Trump flags illegally stormed the Capitol building. The mayhem on the grounds left at least five people dead, including a police officer, and dozens of police officers injured.
Sherwin said he expects the number of cases to grow into the hundreds in the next coming weeks. He added that as of Tuesday, over 70 individuals have been charged in connection with the rioting and breach of peace, and warned that many more cases will follow.
He said individuals are being charged with various offenses ranging from simple trespass, theft of mail, theft of digital devices, assault on local and federal officers to more serious offenses such as theft of potential national security information or national defense information and felony murder.
“The gamut of cases and criminal conduct we’re looking at is really mind-blowing,” he said. “And that has really put an enormous amount of work on the plate of the FBI and field offices throughout the entire United States.”
In addressing public misconceptions, Sherwin said that in order to press charges against certain individuals as quickly as possible, a large proportion of cases were opened on initial misdemeanor charges such as trespass. But he said that prosecutors have the ability to then indict these individuals on more serious offenses after their arrest.
“After these criminal charges are filed via criminal complaints, that allows us that allows law enforcement across the United States to arrest people from Dallas to Arkansas, to Nashville, to Cleveland to Jacksonville. That’s what’s happened over the past several days,” Sherwin said. “After those charges are filed, then we have the ability to then indict these individuals on more significant charges. And that’s exactly what has happened.”
The top prosecutor for the district also said that the department is prioritizing cases related to weapons and destructive devices such as bombs. On the day of the protests, several pipe bombs were found near the U.S. Capitol—one in headquarters of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and another one in the Republican National Committee (RNC) building. Molotov cocktails were also found in a vehicle on the Capitol grounds, local police confirmed.
Sherwin said that the department is also cracking down on violence against law enforcement and members of the press. One U.S. Capitol police officer died after sustaining injuries while responding to violence at the Capitol. Meanwhile, an off-duty death of another U.S. Capitol police officer was announced several days after the incident, however, it is unclear whether his death was linked to the protests.
“It’s going to come into laser focus. I think over the next weeks and days, and I think people are going to be shocked with some of the egregious contact that happened within the Capitol,” he said.
Over the past week, authorities have been identifying protesters who allegedly participated in the Capitol breach on Jan. 6, including Richard Barnett from Arkansas, who was allegedly photographed sitting with his foot on a desk inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office; Derrick Evans, a Republican member of the West Virginia House of Delegates; and Adam Johnson, 36, who apparently appears in a widely circulated photo carrying Pelosi’s podium.
The violence at the Capitol has been condemned by President Donald Trump, President-elect Joe Biden, as well as lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.
The event has sparked various investigations and reviews and had prompted officials to ramp up security in the upcoming inauguration on Jan. 20.
United States Capitol Police’s (USCP) Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman announced late Monday that several Capitol Police officers have been suspended following a review of video and other open source materials of Wednesday’s Capitol breach.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch, told reporters on Monday that the USCP is cracking down on all individuals involved “that potentially facilitated, on a big level or small level in any way,” in the assault on Capitol grounds. The USCP investigations are still ongoing.
The civil unrest also triggered an effort by big tech companies to ramp up its policing of content that they claim could lead to potential harm offline. Much of their enforcement actions have been directed toward President Donald Trump, his supporters, conservatives, as well as QAnon followers.