Gohmert Files Bill to Halt Abusive Prosecution of Nonviolent Political Protesters

Gohmert Files Bill to Halt Abusive Prosecution of Nonviolent Political Protesters
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 13, 2017. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)
Ross Muscato

Retiring U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) on Dec. 21 introduced a bill that would a number of concerns Republicans have about the detention, treatment, and prosecution of Jan. 6 defendants.

Gohmert filed the “Matthew Lawrence Perna Act of 2022,” which he says would prevent overzealous prosecution, detainment, and sentencing of nonviolent political protesters.

Following more than a year of the federal government continuing and postponing his case—Perna pleaded guilty, but then, facing enhanced charges and a harsher sentencing recommendation, committed suicide.

The bill is named for Matthew Perna, a Pennsylvania man who was arrested for being present in the Capitol building during the Jan. 6, 2021, protests. The bill, if passed, would prohibit the detention of political activists arrested during the course of a protest for non-violent crimes. The bill would also allow for speedy trials for detainees arrested for non-violent crimes during a political protest, among other provisions.

While many Republicans in Congress view the Jan. 6 defendants as political prisoners, Democrats view them as rioters and insurrectionists.

The House Jan. 6 committee on Dec. 19 recommended criminal charges against President Donald Trump in connection to his actions and statements related to Jan. 6.

A year under a cloud of federal charges for his 20-minute walk through the U.S. Capitol led Matthew Perna to take his life on Feb. 25. (Courtesy Perna Family)
A year under a cloud of federal charges for his 20-minute walk through the U.S. Capitol led Matthew Perna to take his life on Feb. 25. (Courtesy Perna Family)

“The Biden administration and the FBI would like to have the public believe that Trump supporters pose the greatest threat to our democracy. However, the greatest threat to our Republic is our own government which grossly abuses its power, uses tools for spying on foreign threats to spy on its citizens, and now holds political prisoners,” Gohmert said in a press release about the bill.

During the writing of the bill, Gohmert’s office stressed and required that the language of the legislation protect nonviolent political protesters no matter the issue and no matter with which segment of the political spectrum the protesters are aligned.

Filing of the legislation is particularly welcome and gratifying news for Geri Perna, aunt of Matthew Perna.

Geri Perna became her nephew’s advocate immediately after his arrest. A primary way she supported him was in researching and forwarding articles on Jan. 6 that might provide information helpful in his defense.

Following his death, the efforts of Geri Perna and Gohmert joined.

Geri Perna has worked closely with Gohmert’s office throughout the development and crafting of the bill.

“From the beginning, Rep. Gohmert has been vocal and hardworking—he has been the loudest and hardest working—in raising the issue of the unjust political prosecution of Matthew, and others protested peacefully and nonviolently on that day,” said Geri Perna in a phone conversation with The Epoch Times from her home in Florida.

The bill also seeks to provide “remedies for malicious prosecution,” and limiting “use of national security authorities against citizens of the United States.”

The bill also intends to limit the “use of national defense or foreign policy justifications as a shield by which the government can deny U.S. citizens’ requests to know whether or not he or she is being surveilled [or] investigated by his [or] her own government.”

The Work Continues

Geri Perna remains angry about the death of her nephew.

“Matthew had never been arrested in his life; he turned himself in when he found out that there was an image of him on video taken at the Capitol that day,” said Perna. “And even when he turned himself into a local FBI field office in New Castle, the agents must have felt that whatever he would be charged with, combined with their observation that he was a respectful and good person, warranted Matthew being processed and released that day.

“But, not long after, the FBI is at the house, and they take his laptop and cellphone and the clothes he wore the day he was at the Capitol. It became one thing after another.”

Then, on that Monday, Matthew took a phone call from his lawyer and was informed that the government was postponing the sentencing to April 1. His lawyer told him that the government was now planning to add the charge of terrorism, and with the added charge, the prosecutors could be looking for him to serve four to six years in prison.

“It was too much. It scared Matthew terribly,” Perna said

Geri Perna takes the pain and channels it to fighting for change. She hopes she will soon have an ally in the Matthew Lawrence Perna Act of 2022.