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Capitol rioters’ social media posts influencing sentencings

Image: CNN

Self-incriminating words, images, and videos posted on social media before, during, and after the riots are impacting even their jail punishments for many of the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on Jan. 6.

Russell Peterson’s postings about the riot were read aloud by US District Judge Amy Jackson earlier this month before she sentenced the Pennsylvania man to 30 days in jail. On Facebook, Peterson wrote, “Overall, I had fun lol.”

The court stated that Peterson’s social media posts made it extremely difficult for her to offer him mercy.

The ‘lol’ got into my head because, as I’m sure you’ve figured out, nothing on January 6th was humorous,’ Jackson wrote.

No one was laughing when they were imprisoned in a room for hours, crouching under a table.

One of the most important conclusions from the Justice Department’s investigation of the insurgency thus far is the use of social media, with most of the most incriminating evidence coming from rioters’ own comments and recordings.

Using public tweets and records obtained from social media networks, FBI agents have identified dozens of rioters.

The posts are used by prosecutors to develop cases. Judges are now examining defendants’ statements and photos as factors in deciding whether or not to impose harsher penalties.

More than 50 people had been sentenced for federal offences related to the insurgency as of Friday.

According to an Associated Press study of court documents, prosecutors included a defendant’s social media posts into their arguments for harsher sentencing in at least 28 of those cases.

Many rioters took to social media to glorify the violence or to spread hate speech. Others used it to disseminate false information, promote unfounded conspiracy theories, or minimise their acts.

Prosecutors have also accused a few defendants of deleting posts in an attempt to delete evidence.

About 700 people have been charged with federal charges in connection with the violence. Around 150 of them have entered guilty pleas.

More than 20 defendants have received jail or prison sentences, or have already served time in prison.

Over a dozen more were sentenced to home confinement.

Prosecutors and courts aren’t solely concerned with rioters’ words, whether made in person or on social media.

According to Justice Department sentencing guidelines, offenders should be judged not just on whether they used violence or damaged property, but also on whether they destroyed evidence, how long they remained inside the Capitol, where they went inside the building, and if they showed genuine contrition.

Prosecutors requested that Dona Sue Bissey, the owner of an Indiana hair salon, be given probation, but Judge Tanya Chutkan sentenced her to two weeks in jail for her role in the disturbance.

Bisssey tweeted a screenshot of a tweet that stated, This is the First Time the US Capitol Has Been Breached Since It Was Attacked by the British in 1814, according to the judge.

Ms. Bissey did not feel guilt or regret for what she had done when she returned home, according to Chutkan.

She is rejoicing and boasting about her role in what amounted to a coup attempt against the administration.

Following a tip that the Maryland man live-streamed video from within the Capitol, FBI agents acquired a search warrant for Andrew Ryan Bennett’s Facebook account.

Bennett wrote on Facebook two days before the riot, “You best be ready chaos is coming and I will be in DC on 1/6/2021 fighting for my freedom!”

Judge James Boasberg cited the position as an aggravating factor in his decision to impose house arrest rather than a full probationary period.

The judge told Bennett that the peaceful transition of power following elections is the cornerstone of our democratic society.

What you and others did on January 6th was nothing short of an attempt to destabilise that government structure.

Lori Ann Vinson publicly displayed pride in her conduct in the Capitol through television news interviews and on Facebook, according to Senior Judge Reggie Walton.

I understand that emotions sometimes get in the way and drive people to do and say terrible things, but what was stated was outrageous. Is this, however, sufficient justification for me to impose a prison sentence or a jail sentence? Walton replied, “That’s a hard question for me to ask.”

Prosecutors requested a one-month prison sentence for Vinson, but the judge instead sentenced the Kentucky nurse to five years of probation, a $5,000 fine, and 120 hours of community service.

Felipe Marquez’s social media posts revealed major mental health issues that required therapy rather than incarceration, according to the judge. Marquez took cellphone recordings of himself and other protesters inside Sen. Jeff Merkley’s (D-Oregon) office.

Marquez posted a YouTube video recounting his riot experience to the tune of Shaggy’s It Wasn’t Me, which he rapped about back in Florida. We even fist-bumped cops, and we were snapping selfies, according to the lyrics.

Marquez donned a T-shirt that proclaimed, “Property of FBI” in the video. Despite prosecutors’ recommendation for a four-month prison term, US District Judge Rudolph Contreras sentenced him to three months of home confinement with mental-health therapy, followed by probation.

I believe you have some significant problems that need to be addressed. “That was a big factor in my sentencing decision,” he explained.

Andrew Wrigley of Pennsylvania was given a history lesson by Judge Jackson before being sentenced to 18 months on probation. During the riot, Wrigley shared a photo on social media of himself clutching a 1776 flag.

The gesture, according to the judge, did not honour the nation’s founders.

The purpose of 1776 was to give the people the power to choose who would rule them. The attack on the Capitol, on the other hand, was intended to prevent this from happening “According to Jackson.

“The attack on the Capitol was intended to undermine democracy by replacing the will of the people with the will of the crowd.

Scott Fairlamb, the proprietor of a gym in New Jersey, was caught on video assaulting a police officer outside the Capitol.

Prosecutors said his Facebook and Instagram posts proved he was planning to perpetrate violence in Washington, DC, and that he had no remorse for his acts.

Senior Judge Royce Lamberth suggested that other rioters in Fairlamb’s situation join him in pleading guilty.

Lamberth remarked while sentencing Fairlamb to 41 months in jail, “You couldn’t have beat this if you went to trial on the evidence I saw.”

However, it worked in one’s favour.

By releasing recordings and images of himself and his cousin at the Capitol, Virginia charter boat skipper Jacob Hiles possibly avoided a harsher penalty.

According to prosecutors, Hiles got a private Facebook message the day after the disturbance from a Capitol police officer who indicated he agreed with Hiles’ political viewpoint and advised him to erase his damning writings.

According to prosecutors, the officer, Michael Angelo Riley, deleted his interactions with Hiles, but investigators were able to obtain the texts through Hiles’ Facebook account.

Riley was charged with obstruction in October.

Source: NBC

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