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Chief judge slams comparison between Capitol riot and George Floyd protests

Dispelling the perception that Jan. 6 defendants have been singled out for excessive punishment, one judge contrasted their largely misdemeanor cases against the felony cases of protesters charged in the summer-long demonstrations against excessive police force.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The chief federal judge in Washington kept prison off the table Friday for a man who stormed the U.S. Capitol, but she took care to correct his insinuation that people who protested the murder of George Floyd in summer 2020 were shown leniency.

“The goal of a lot of protests in 2020 were to hold police and politicians accountable. ... It was to improve our political system,” U.S. Chief Judge Beryl Howell said during the sentencing this afternoon of Glenn Wes Lee Croy. “What happened on Jan. 6 is in a totally different category. That was to stop the government from functioning at all. They are not comparable.”

Howell told Croy and his attorney Kira Anne West that many summer 2020 protesters came before her with felonies, but most Jan. 6 protestors, including Croy, have been slapped only with misdemeanors.

“For people that say that people who protested didn’t receive any punishment, that’s not my experience,” Howell said, noting that if Croy was upset about the rioting that happened in the aftermath of the George Floyd protests, he shouldn't have repeated that behavior. 

In a letter to the judge, Croy said that he wasn’t in the right headspace — erratic and frustrated from Covid, the Floyd protests and dwindling savings — when an insurrection broke out at the U.S. Capitol.

“Two wrongs don’t make a riot, it’s as simple as that,” Howell said. 

Howell sentenced Croy to three years of probation and 90 days of home detention on Friday, marking her fourth probationary sentence for Capitol rioters, and her fourth time grilling prosecutors over sentencing recommendation disparities. 

Prosecutors recommended two months of prison for Croy — a heftier sentence than they have recommended for many rioters who have pleaded guilty to the low-level misdemeanor charge of unlawful picketing. 

“This is a very hard task,” Howell told Justice Department attorney Clayton O’Connor on Friday, lamenting that the government hasn’t provided her with either data from the sentencing commission or more concrete guidelines — as ordinary sentencing guidelines don’t apply to petty offenses. “We have to do this without guidelines … we have to find alternative mechanisms.”

Last month, in what was her first sentencing of a Capitol rioter, Howell called the government’s approach to punishing Capitol rioters “schizophrenic.” In the intervening weeks, she has only given out probationary sentences, noting that her hands are tied thanks to the low-level plea deals the Justice Department has been giving out to rioters. 

O’Connor explained that Croy’s criminal history, coupled with his behavior during and after the riot, warranted prison time. 

Croy, from Colorado, was part of a crowd of rioters who collectively pushed past several law enforcement officers, and hurled insults at police. Prosecutors say that Croy traipsed through the Capitol as if he was “at an amusement park,” joining in chants, taking photos and texting a friend, “Hell yeah bro haven’t had good mosh in awhile” and “we stormed that shit.”

Croy then left the building, and reentered once more, even though he had seen someone leaving with a bloody shirt. 

“I am guilty of being an idiot,” Croy told Howell in his letter, describing how he fell into internet rabbit holes that led him to come to Washington on Jan. 6. “I regret being part of the activity that day and I have no excuse for following along.”

The sentiment was markedly different than Croy’s feelings a few days after the riot, when Croy texted a friend: “I don’t regret it needed to be done it felt good to let them see what their antifa thugs have been making Americans across the country feel good the let them know we are fed up.”

Croy told Howell that he had learned his lesson, and wouldn’t repeat his mistake. 

"I hope one lesson is that you have to learn to think for yourself," Howell told Croy. "Especially as a mature adult. You have a responsibility to learn what the facts actually are."

Earlier on Friday, Joshua Wagner, from Indiana pleaded guilty to unlawful parading, picketing or demonstrating in a Capitol building. In recordings, Wagner can be heard telling his friend, Israel Tutrow, that he wished they had assault rifles so they could “take over this whole place.”

Samuel Fox, from Pennsylvania, also pleaded guilty to unlawful picketing on Friday. 

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