Jan 25, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Judge slams "preposterous" claims by some in GOP on Jan. 6 "hostages"

f Judge Royce Lamberth sheds a tear during a ceremony honoring the chief judge for his service at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on July 15, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Judge Royce Lambert, longest-serving U.S. District Court judge on the federal bench in Washington, D.C. Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A Reagan-appointed federal judge said Thursday he's been "shocked to watch some public figures try to rewrite history" in regards to the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.

The big picture: U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth was referring to comments by former President Trump and other Republicans including Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) who have described imprisoned Jan. 6 rioters as "hostages."

What he's saying: "The Court is accustomed to defendants who refuse to accept that they did anything wrong. But in my thirty-seven years on the bench, I cannot recall a time when such meritless justifications of criminal activity have gone mainstream," Lamberth said during sentencing proceedings in D.C., without naming those who've used such language.

  • "I have been dismayed to see distortions and outright falsehoods seep into the public consciousness," the judge added.

Of note: Lamberth noted some had claimed that "rioters behaved 'in an orderly fashion' like ordinary tourists, or martyrizing convicted January 6 defendants as 'political prisoners' or even, incredibly, 'hostages.'

  • "That is all preposterous," Lamberth added during the proceedings for James Little, a Jan. 6 misdemeanor defendant.
  • The judge said Little had likened himself in social media posts to a political prisoner and claimed in a filing that "they're trying to take" his freedom of speech away.
  • "But the Court fears that such destructive, misguided rhetoric could presage further danger to our country," Lamberth said.

Context: Lamberth sentenced Little in 2022 to 60 days in prison, followed by three years of probation, but the rioter successfully argued on appeal that his split sentence violated federal sentencing statutes.

  • He had already served his time in jail and half his probation sentence when he came back before Lamberth on Thursday.
  • The judge said Little had spent "essentially no time in compliance with the terms and conditions of his probation."
  • Lamberth noted Little's "clear lack of remorse" and disrespect of the justice system. Consequently, the judge sentenced Little to an additional 60 days in jail.

The bottom line: "The Court cannot condone the shameless attempts by Mr. Little or anyone else to misinterpret or misrepresent what happened," Lamberth wrote.

  • "So let me set the record straight, based on what I've learned presiding over many January 6 prosecutions," he continued.
  • "On January 6, 2021, a mob of people invaded and occupied the United States Capitol, using force to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power mandated by the Constitution and our republican heritage," Lamberth wrote.
  • "The rioters interfered with a necessary step in the constitutional process, disrupted the lawful transfer of power, and thus jeopardized the American constitutional order. ... This was not patriotism; it was the antithesis of patriotism."

Go deeper: How the Republican Party memory-holed Jan. 6

Go deeper