Harsh sentencing and labeling rioters ‘terrorists’ is a threat to everyone’s speech

Just ask Black Lives Matter.

Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the January 6th, 2021 Capitol Hill riots. He received the longest sentence for what occurred on that day among a number of what many consider excessive sentences. Prosecutors wanted 33 years. 

The average prison time served for murder is 18 years, and for rape, 7 years. 

The Department of Justice described Tarrio as a terrorist: “Tarrio, who was monitoring the attack from afar, posted encouraging messages to his tens of thousands of social media followers, including: ‘Proud of my boys and my country’ and ‘Don’t f****** leave…”’

The DOJ concluded, “During the hearing, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly found that Tarrio’s conduct constituted an official act of terrorism and applied an enhancement to his final sentence.”

A man who ran over an 18-year-old Trump supporter last year with his car, killing him, recently received a 5-year sentence.

There have certainly been other public protests where critics have wanted to apply unduly harsh punishment.

Just ask Black Lives Matter.


As riots raged in multiple cities over the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, Republican Senator Tom Cotton wanted the president to invoke the Insurrection Act to put down the mob, deploying federal troops on American citizens. Arguing, basically, that the protesters who engaged in violence made them insurrectionists and they should be treated as such.

In Atlanta, protesters have opposed the construction of a police facility for over two years. Calling their movement, ‘Stop Cop City,’ Law and Crime reports, “Some 61 people have been indicted in Georgia on racketeering charges after a state-run investigation into protests opposing the construction of a sprawling police training facility known as the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center.” All 61 have been charged with some degree of conspiring to “foment violence, intimidate people and destroy property.”

“Five of the named defendants have been hit with domestic terrorism charges already as well for their alleged attempt of arson in the first degree,” Law and Crime noted.

What do we do with all of these alleged ‘terrorists?’


On January 6, 2021, as awful as that day was for so many Americans, including me, there was no possible way the 2020 presidential election was actually going to be overturned and there was no real coordinated effort to overthrow the U.S. government. It was a protest that became a riot where acts of violence and trespassing occurred and those criminal acts deserve reasonable sentencing, but the overwhelming majority of political activity on Capitol Hill on that day was still legally protected speech. 

That the oversentencing for the rioters—compared to unquestionably violent acts like murder and rape—has been obscene is best viewed by what has happened to Donald Trump himself regarding any supposed ‘insurrection.’

 Writes National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, “The Biden Justice Department, the most unabashedly political Justice Department in American history, has prosecuted about 1,100 people in connection with the riot, while blinking at the more lengthy and lethal rioting of the radical left. It has been moving heaven and earth to make criminal cases against the former Republican president, indicting him twice, even as it turns a blind eye to the Biden family influence-peddling scandal and willfully allows the statute-of-limitations on the crimes of the sitting Democratic president and his family to expire rather than filing indictments…”

“The Justice Department — the arm of the United States government vested with responsibility to enforce the insurrection law — has not charged Trump with insurrection because it can’t prove Trump committed insurrection,” McCarthy noted. “Not with anything we would recognize as due process of law… Nevertheless, gifted with this greatest home-field advantage of all time, (DOJ-appointed special counsel Jack Smith) and his team haven’t charged Trump with insurrection. That’s because they don’t have a case. They desperately want to bring one, but they know that nothing would explode the Democrats’ January 6 myth-making like an acquittal of Donald Trump.”

Point taken – if you can convince the authorities and a significant part of the public that the January 6 riots were an act of insurrection carried out by domestic terrorists, no less, it comes with harsher sentencing. It becomes a federal crime.

It becomes a different thing.

In the summer of 2020, there was no possible way the government was going to be overthrown or even that police departments were going to be shut down permanently. It was protests that eventually became riots where acts of violence and trespassing occurred and those acts deserved reasonable sentencing, but the overwhelming majority of the George Floyd protests still represented legally protected speech. 

Still, with the violence, much of it went beyond peaceful protest. It became a different thing.

Today, you would be hard pressed to find many Democrat-leaning Americans who have much sympathy for the January 6 protesters who received excessive sentences. Similarly, when Sen. Cotton called for invoking the Insurrection Act to put down George Floyd rioters in 2020, most Americans agreed with him.

If Donald Trump began referring to those protesters as ‘terrorists’ it might have caught on.

The George Floyd protests, too, would have become a different thing.

There are plenty of Americans who would have gladly agreed with Cotton and would have had no problem labeling Black Lives Matter protesters as insurrectionists or terrorists, including whatever heightened or extra-constitutional punishment might have happened to them. They would even be gleeful, even, similar to progressives’ reactions to many of the J6 sentences.

The line between protester and terrorist is becoming more blurred than ever, across the ideological spectrum, where crimes high and low are now being largely judged through the political bias of suspects’ enemies, not just the reality of the actual crimes. In this context, speech has become now part of the crime and partisans are punished accordingly.

That’s not how justice is supposed to work in America. It’s a dangerous trend, and it is a threat to everyone’s most basic liberty.

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Jack Hunter
Jack Hunterhttp://LibertyTree.com
Jack Hunter is a freelance writer, the co-author of Sen. Rand Paul’s 2011 book ‘The Tea Party Goes to Washington’ and the former politics editor for Rare.us.