In an address to the nation ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Capitol Assault on Jan. 6, 2021, the Department of Justice’s Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed to hold accountable those responsible for the riots, “whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.
“We will follow the facts wherever they lead,” he continued, in a much-anticipated address ahead of the anniversary of the attacks, adding that the investigation related to the Jan. 6 insurrection is “one of the largest, most complex, and most resource-intensive investigations in our history.”
So far, Garland said, 725 people across the country have been charged for their roles in the Jan. 6 attacks. Of those charged, 325 defendants were charged with felonies, 20 of whom have pleaded guilty.
Additionally, 145 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors related to the attacks.
“In complex cases, initial charges are often less severe than later charged offenses,” Garland explained. “This is purposeful, as investigators methodically collect and sift through more evidence.”
He added that those who assaulted officers or destroyed the Capitol faced greater charges, while those who cooperated faced lesser charges.
Since the attacks, the Department of Justice has issued more than 5,000 subpoenas and search warrants, seized 2,000 devices, sifted through 20,000 hours of video footage and received over 300,000 tips from citizens.
Garland went on to clarify that they are not basing any conclusions along any partisan lines.
“We must gather the evidence to ensure that those responsible for crimes are held accountable. We use the physical evidence. We follow the digital evidence. We follow the money,”He stated. “But most important, we follow the facts — not an agenda or an assumption.”
Protecting Democracy Continues
Garland also emphasized that the Department of Justice’s role in protecting democracy continues, and offered a big-picture look at the ramifications of what has occurred in recent years, including the many instances of violence faced by teachers, airline staff, police officers and journalists in the last year.
While he also defended the First Amendment right to express a view “no matter how extreme,” Garland also emphasized that that right is no longer protected under the First Amendment once there is a threat of violence, quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
“In a democracy, people must not employ violence or unlawful threats of violence to affect that outcome,” Garland said. “Citizens must not be intimidated from exercising their constitutional rights to free expression and association by such unlawful conduct.”
He cited instances in which members of Congress were threatened with firearms, or had their families threatened, and went on to speak about Judge Esther Salas, the New Jersey federal judge whose son was murdered and husband wounded.
Garland also discussed recent legislation in several states that has hindered people’s ability to vote, including practices that make voting more difficult to redistricting maps for minorities and abnormal post-election audits.
He then asserted the Justice Department’s commitment to protect voting rights, despite “unfounded claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.”
“All Americans are entitled to free, fair and secure elections that ensure they can select the representative of their choice,” he said.