The anniversary of the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol passed quietly, marked by a scattering of demonstrations in Payson and elsewhere — and deepening political division.
About 12 demonstrators gathered alongside the highway in Payson to protest treatment of the 725 people arrested in connection with the demonstrations a year ago that surged out of control and led to the brief occupation of the U.S. Capitol — disrupting the congressional certification of the vote.
The rioters injured 160 police officers and the riots have been connected to seven deaths.
So far, 71 of the demonstrators have been sentenced, mostly after accepting plea bargains. Some 31 received jail sentences, averaging about 45 days. Several have gotten prison terms of up to five years, mostly for assaulting police officers.
The Payson demonstrators echoed Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) who has called the charged rioters “political prisoners” and decried the conditions in the Washington, D.C. jails.
Meanwhile Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Oak Creek) issued a statement calling on Americans to unify and decrying the continued effort to “undermine faith in our election process by attempting to mislead the American public.”
He said, “On this day one year ago, I sat on the floor of the House of Representatives preparing to speak in support of the validity of Arizona’s election results when armed insurrectionists breached the Capitol and staff and members were rushed from the chambers. All around me I saw people running, calling out to friends, and doing what they could to help one another, their faces full of fear.
“But no fear bothered me so deeply as the alarm I saw in our Capitol Police officers’ eyes. As a former police officer and homicide detective, I’ve seen and felt fear myself. The hardworking men and women of the force sworn to protect and serve the U.S. Capitol, members, and staff knew they were under attack. They were being brutally beaten, were committing heroic and selfless acts to keep us safe, and were, quite literally, holding the line to protect our democracy.”
One officer died of natural causes the day after the riots. Four more subsequently committed suicide.
“Among loss of life, trauma, and a nation shaken, the events of Jan. 6, 2021, showed us the power that lies and division can truly have. But we can heal from this, and indeed we have begun to do so. We certified the 2020 election results, have worked to rebuild trust in our democratic systems, and must continue to protect the right to vote and the power of each American’s vote. We can only do this by working together — continuing to show up to the table, striving to understand one another, and putting aside partisan differences to improve the lives of all Americans.”
On the other hand, Gosar speaking to Congress on Dec. 7 said the treatment of “what is being described by these political prisoners is nothing short of human rights violations. Lacking access to their earnings, to evidence, to their families and even proper nutrition — these inmates are suffering disproportionately from long periods of isolation from the outside world ... these are not hardened thugs, murderers or gang members with long histories of crimes. These are not unruly or dangerous criminals. All political prisoners who continue to be persecuted endure the pain of unjust suffering.”
Claims that hundreds of Jan. 6 rioters remain behind bars after a year have circulated widely on social media. A FactCheck by WUSA9, a Washington TV station, found that as of Sept. 1 only 37 remained behind bars — because they couldn’t make bail or were deemed a danger to the community.
Criminal justice reform groups note that on any given day, 500,000 Americans are in jail awaiting charges or trial — hundreds of thousands of them because they can’t make bail. Some remain in jail for months — sometimes more than a year. Overwhelmingly, they’re poor — often minorities. The population of Washington, D.C. is overwhelmingly black and the half century old Washington, D.C. jails have been harshly criticized by the U.S. Marshals Service for conditions there, including lack of water, inadequate food and standing human sewage. The conditions have long existed, but were largely ignored until complaints about the conditions for the Jan. 6 rioters led to inspections and investigations.
Following the recent inspections, the U.S. Marshals Service concluded that the Jan. 6 prisoners were mostly held in a separate building at the D.C. jail facility that is “largely appropriate and consistent with federal prisoner detention standards,” according to a CNN report.
The events of Jan. 6 initially spurred bipartisan condemnation. However, continued claims the election was “stolen” and the protesters were mostly “peaceful patriots” defending the integrity of elections have increasingly stoked the existing, bitter partisan divide.
Many Republicans like Rep. Gosar have continued to insist that hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes were cast.
However, hundreds of court cases in Arizona and other swing states have failed to uncover significant fraud. A $5 million audit of the vote in Maricopa County by the Arizona Senate majority concluded that President Biden actually got 300 more votes than the official tally indicated.
An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in six battleground states found just 475 disputed votes. Most involved things like voting in the wrong precinct, voting for another person, or ineligible voters casting a ballot. Even if all the fraudulent votes were cast for Biden, they would not have changed the outcome in any of the swing states. The review also found no collusion connecting the fraudulent votes, which in every case stemmed from an individual acting alone. In Arizona, that included the case of a woman who sent in a ballot for her dead mother.
Nonetheless, former President Trump and supporters like Rep. Gosar continue to insist the election was fraudulent.
They have convinced many Republicans.
A poll for the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research in October found that almost two-thirds of Republicans and Donald Trump voters thought votes in the election were not counted accurately. More than half said they didn’t think the counts in this year’s midterm elections would be accurate.
On the other hand, an October poll by Marist College asked, “How much do you trust that elections are fair?” Sixty percent of U.S. adults (and 60% of independents) said “a great deal” or “a good amount.” Some 86% of Democrats said they trusted elections. However, 64% of Republicans said, “Not very much” (36%) or “Not at all” (28%).
The ongoing partisan division played out on Jan. 6, with Democratic senators and congressmen making speeches on the floor of the House and Senate condemning the rioting. Most Republicans stayed home.