Failing to do so simply because most of the rioters are white and regard themselves as “patriots” would be deeply unjust.
Public officials from Vice President Mike Pence on down have sung a consistent refrain since a mob attacked the Capitol on January 6: Those involved should be prosecuted to the “fullest extent of the law.” For those implicated in the murder of the Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, the penalties are obviously severe. Murdering a federal official carries a life sentence and, depending on what is proven at trial, could carry the death penalty.
For the others who swarmed the Capitol, though, the standard penalties could be underwhelming. The federal statute most on point, which is often used against protesters who disrupt congressional hearings, carries a maximum six-month sentence. The government-property statute has been used when protests get violent, but under that law, those who vandalized the Capitol would also face, at most, ten years’ imprisonment. Even those who physically clashed with Capitol Police face a maximum punishment of only eight years, so long as they didn’t use a weapon.
Many of these punishments, well below the mandatory minimum someone would typically face in federal court for growing a small plot of marijuana, are out of step with the gravity of what transpired in Washington, D.C. Evidence is still coming in, but what we know shows that the attack on the Capitol was not a mere disruption of government business. It was a coordinated siege on the heart of our democracy.