Dr. Timothy Snyder: Lessons on Fighting Tyranny (Lesson #12)

This is a series of posts involving Dr. Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny. In the book, Snyder, a professor at Yale University who specializes in the history of tyrannical movements, shares twenty lessons on how to address and defeat tyranny.

Each lessons contains a short amount of text as well as a video featuring Snyder expanding on the text. This is lesson #12:

Lesson #12: Make Eye Contact and Small Talk

“This is not just polite. It is part of being a citizen and a responsible member of society. It is also a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down social barriers, and understand whom you should and should not trust. If we enter a culture of denunciation, you will want to know the psychological landscape of your daily life.”

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Dr. Timothy Snyder: Lessons on Fighting Tyranny (Lesson #11)

This is a series of posts involving Dr. Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny. In the book, Snyder, a professor at Yale University who specializes in the history of tyrannical movements, shares twenty lessons on how to address and defeat tyranny.

Each lessons contains a short amount of text as well as a video featuring Snyder expanding on the text. This is lesson #11:

Lesson #11: Investigate

“Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate propaganda campaigns (some of which come from abroad). Take responsibility for what you communicate to others.”

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Dr. Timothy Snyder: Lessons on Fighting Tyranny (Lesson #10)

This is a series of posts involving Dr. Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny. In the book, Snyder, a professor at Yale University who specializes in the history of tyrannical movements, shares twenty lessons on how to address and defeat tyranny.

Each lessons contains a short amount of text as well as a video featuring Snyder expanding on the text. This is lesson #10:

Lesson #10: Believe in Truth

“To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.”

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Dr. Timothy Snyder: Lessons on Fighting Tyranny (Lesson #9)

This is a series of posts involving Dr. Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny. In the book, Snyder, a professor at Yale University who specializes in the history of tyrannical movements, shares twenty lessons on how to address and defeat tyranny.

Each lessons contains a short amount of text as well as a video featuring Snyder expanding on the text. This is lesson #9:

Lesson #9: Be Kind to Our Language

“Avoid pronouncing the phrases everyone else does. Think up your own way of speaking, even if only to convey that thing you think everyone is saying. Make an effort to separate yourself from the internet. Read books.”

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The Scary Reality of the MAGA Movement

A week or so ago, Tom Klingenstein posted a video encouraging Republican voters to come together behind the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. The video would have gone largely unnoticed had Trump himself not proudly posted it on his Truth Social platform.

The video begins by introducing Klingenstein as a writer, playwright, and investor. On other platforms, Klingenstein refers to himself as an academic and a philanthropist. What Tom Klingenstein is is the manager of a hedge fund who has used his considerable wealth to push far-right extremist ideology. He is a large donor to several far-right groups, including the Claremont Institute, the organization that spawned John Eastman, the attorney who concocted the insane and unconstitutional legal theory that the vice-president, when counting the certified votes from the states, can ignore or dismiss votes he doesn’t like.

Earlier in this election cycle, Klingenstein supported Ron DeSantis. After DeSantis’ campaign imploded, Klingenstein shifted his support (and his money) to Trump. Among other things, the video is an attempt by Klingenstein to get back in Trump’s good graces.

The video itself is disturbing, not only for the content, but for the production quality and apocalyptic tone. If you were to swap out Klingenstein for Joseph Goebbels, and you swapped out “the woke regime” for “Jews and other undesirables,” you would have a video that tracks perfectly with Nazi propaganda. Klingenstein’s awkward look and speech patterns are front and center, with disturbing, often out-of-context images, shown in the background.

The content of Klingenstein’s message is startling and frightening. Klingenstein opens the video by dismissing the notion that voters need to like Trump or that Trump even needs to be a good person or have good character. None of that matters. Republican voters, Klingenstein demands, must get behind Trump because “the woke regime” threatens the American way of life, and won’t stop “until it destroys America.”

“It’s time for Republicans, including those that doubt him (Trump) or even can’t stand him, to get behind him.  The times demand it. We are in a war fighting an enemy of revolutionaries that kick and spit on America. I call our enemy the woke regime or the group quota regime.”

Let’s break down Klingenstein’s opening paragraph.

He claims that Republican must come together to support Trump, even if they doubt him or can’t stand him. This is now what is required of members of the Republican Party. Regardless of their own thoughts or beliefs, they must follow in lock step behind the great leader. “Times demand it.”

Klingenstein apparently does not believe in the Republican Party being a “big tent” party. He expects Republicans of all stripes, from institutionalists to chamber of commerce types, from conservatives to libertarians and to the few remaining progressives, to put their own beliefs aside and support a man that he acknowledges, many of them can’t stand. He expects Republicans to sacrifice their beliefs and morals on the alter of Trump.

Klingenstein goes on to describe the enemy. Who are they? They are revolutionaries who “kick and spit on America.” Ignoring the awkward grammar, Klingenstein calls these people “the woke regime” and “the group quota regime.”

In his phrasing, Klingenstein let’s his mask slip a bit. He’s talking about Democrats, particularly progressives. The people he has labeled “enemies” are his fellow citizens. And he claims Republicans are “at war” with these fellow citizens. This language points to what he has referred to elsewhere as a “cold civil war” that far-right extremists believe is currently underway. And if it’s a war, then violence is justified. That’s slip number one: We’re in a war and violence is an acceptable remedy.

Slip number two comes in his preferred name for the enemies he and his fellow Republicans are fighting, “the group quota regime.” Klingenstein let’s Trump supporters and those he is trying to recruit know that there’s a racial, gender, and sexual preference component to this fight. “We’re not just fighting progressives,” he might as well say. “We’re fighting all supporters of blacks, Hispanics, LGBTQ, and anyone else that isn’t straight and white.” If you doubt this analysis, consider that Klingenstein chose to run video of Barack Obama in the background while he made these comments. Obama hasn’t been President for nearly eight years. Not only is he not running for President, he’s Constitutionally forbidden from running. Yet, Klingenstein’s inclusion accentuates the point he is making. The fight is against “those people.”

The video continues and Klingenstein claims that, although we are at war, we do not have a commander-in-chief. This is an odd claim. He shows video of Biden in the background, but doesn’t explain what he means.

He continues:

“We shouldn’t much care whether our commander-in-chief is a real conservative, whether he is a role model for children, or says lots of silly things, or is modest or dignified. What we should care about is whether he knows we are in a war, knows who the enemy is, and knows how to win. Trump does. His policies are important, but not as important as the rest of him. Trump grasps the essential things. He understands that the group quota regime is evil, and will not stop until it destroys America.”

Really? We shouldn’t care about the character of the man we elect to be President? His politics don’t matter and we shouldn’t care if he spouts nonsense? We shouldn’t care if he is dignified or modest in his manner? None of these things matter?

This line of thinking is reminiscent of Hitler’s road to power. He was viewed as a strange little man, who was gruff in his demeanor and full of unearned confidence. But, as his supporter’s argument went, he understood what needed to be done. He understood who the enemies of the state were and how to defeat them. He was a true patriot, the only one who could make Germany great again.

For Klingenstein, he is willing to overlook all of Trump’s worst traits if it means striking a blow against the group quota regime (i.e. liberals). Does that strike anyone else as a bit shortsighted? Klingenstein is willing to turn the country over to an immodest moron (his description, not mine) as long as that moron defeats those he views as enemies. This is exactly how Hitler came to power.

The video is short on information about electing Trump (or voting at all), instead spending eight-plus minutes laying out justification for fighting and winning the war against wokeism. Journalist, documentarian, and professor at Arizona State University, Steven Beschloss commented on this point:

“Put aside Trump losing the 2020 election and significantly contributing to the GOP losses in 2022. The video never discusses voting or the need for Republicans to win elections; the focus is on fighting and winning a war. It is laced with malice, an unspoken readiness to pursue political violence if that’s what it takes.”

Klingenstein not only admits that Trump is neither dignified nor modest, he turns those negative traits into a positive.

“Trump never apologizes for America, Trump says in effect we have our culture, it’s exceptional and that’s the way we want to keep it. And we won’t keep it if we usher in millions of immigrants with cultures different from our own. Trump knows his job is to protect Americans—and just Americans. Protect them not just from enemies abroad, but from the woke globalists within. He knows America does not need more diversity. It needs more cohesion.”

The idea than Trump wants cohesion is laughable. There has never been a more divisive figure in the White House, according to the American Political Science Association. His entire MO is to divide and conquer. Even in Klingenstein’s one paragraph, he pits immigrants against American citizens, and real “patriotic” Americans against “woke” Americans and non-Americans. Klingenstein’s words betray the fact that Trump is all about dividing people, not bringing them together.

“Trump hates his enemies every bit as much as they hate him. His enemies are America’s enemies,” Klingenstein claims. The video shows images of Gen. Mark Milley and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

These are America’s enemies, an elected senator and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff? Does that sound like someone that loves America? It sounds to me like a petulant child who hates anyone that can get in his way or hold him accountable. It also sounds like someone who conflates himself with America. I have bad news for Mr. Klingenstein. No President is synonymous with America. We elect presidents. They work for America. They do not become America or vice versa.

Klingenstein ends his disturbing video by suggesting that Trump was sent by God to save a United States that is under attack and at risk of losing it’s way.

“Trump, the politician, came seemingly out of the blue. An unconventional commander against an unconventional enemy. Almost inconceivable as President at any other time, Trump fits this turbulent moment to a tee. Is it too much to wonder whether the appearance of this most unconventional man is providential? Lincoln spoke of Americans as the ‘almost chosen people.’ Trump gives us hope, that the God that has never forsaken his ‘almost chosen people,’ will not do so now?”

Honestly, I gagged a little bit while writing that previous paragraph. It sickens me that there are people who believe and claim that Trump–a man his own Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly, called the most flawed man he had ever met–was sent by God to save us, making Trump into a savior-like figure. It boggles my mind that any Christian could look at Trump, look at the life he has lived, the things he has said and done, and the things he continues to say and do, and conclude that he is God’s choice to lead our nation. It defies explanation.

University of Michigan Law Professor Barbara McQuade, who recently wrote a book on disinformation entitled Attack from Within: How Disinformation is Sabotaging America, had this to say about Klingenstein’s video:

“Master class in disinformation tactics. Demonizing and scapegoating others, embodying every man yet claiming to be godly in ability, exploiting patriotism, portraying the most extreme parts of the left as equal to the whole, and suggesting that desperate times call for desperate measures.”

I encourage everyone to watch Klingenstein’s video (below). It’s important to see how pundit’s like Klingenstein talk to Trump supporters, and to be able to dissect and understand the tactics being used to convince people that Trump should be back in the White House. It’s also important for people to be able see the way the far-right MAGA movement uses racial dog whistles and justification for violence in their rhetoric. I suspect it will only get worse as we draw closer to the upcoming election.

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Russia’s Fifth Column in the U.S. Congress

What would you think if I told you that there are Republican members of the United States Congress who are working on behalf of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to undermine our democracy and create chaos in our political process? Would you think I was crazy? Would you write off my claims as “lies from the left?” Would you say I’m lying to try to damage Republicans? Would you accuse me of Trump Derangement Syndrome?

I have good news. You don’t have to believe me. In fact, I’m not the one making these charges. The charges are being made by two high-ranking Republican Congressmen, and their accusations are not getting nearly enough attention.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX), Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in an interview with Puck News, charged that Russian propaganda had “infected a good chuck of my party’s base.” He went on to blame conservative media–like Fox News–for spreading Russian talking points.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), Chair of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, echoed McCaul’s concerns. “We see directly coming from Russia attempts to mask communications that are anti-Ukraine and pro-Russia messages — some of which we even hear being uttered on the House floor,” Turner said.

Such a charge, particularly coming from a Republican talking about his own party, is huge news. When he was pressed about the charges he leveled, Turner doubled down, saying that it was “absolutely true” that some members of the Republican Party were repeating Russian propaganda on the floor of the House, as well as in comments they’ve made on TV, in interviews, and on social media.

Neither McCaul nor Turner pointed the finger at any single member of the Republican Party, but it isn’t too hard to figure out who they are likely talking about. Members of the House Freedom Caucus, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), have often repeated Russian propaganda. In the Senate, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), Sen. J.D. Vance (R-OH), and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)* have also been known to parrot Russian talking points.

But no one has spread more Russian propaganda in recent months that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA). In the past, MTG has blamed the United States for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. More recently, she posted the following message on X (formerly Twitter):

“Why doesn’t anyone in Washington talk about a peace treaty with Russia?? A deal with Putin promising he will not continue any further invasions. Answer: Washington wants war, not peace.”

She followed up that message with an accusation that Ukraine has been attacking Christians and Christian churches, while the Russians have been protecting both. This was a lie. In fact, according to Christianity Today magazine, since they first invaded Ukraine, Russia has destroyed more than 500 religious sites inside Ukraine, one-third of them Christian. In addition, within their own borders, Russia routinely persecutes members of non-Christian religions, as well as Christian denominations other than the Russian Orthodox Church.

MTG has also led the charge to deny funding to Ukraine. Last week, she indicated that she would file a motion to vacate to unseat Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) if Johnson allows a vote on Ukraine funding to take place. She seems to be getting increasingly desperate to stand in the way of funding for Ukraine, and her efforts have earned her the nickname, “Moscow Marjorie” from another Republican, former Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO).

In an article published in The New Republic, former CIA officer Alex Finley had this to say about MTG and her seeming constant verbal attacks on Ukraine:

“It is naïve to think the same pattern does not exist in the United States, given the ample evidence of coordinated pro-Russian talking points from several Republican politicians. Just this week, Marjorie Taylor Greene spoke to Steve Bannon about Ukraine’s persecution of Christians, which is a Kremlin talking point aimed at boosting the pro-Moscow wing of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church. The U.S. should be spending money on the border with Mexico, not on Ukraine aid? That’s a Kremlin talking point. Russia invaded Ukraine to defend itself against an expanding NATO? That’s a Kremlin talking point. Call for a cease-fire, and give Russia Crimea and eastern Ukraine? That’s a Kremlin talking point.”

Sen. Joe McCarthy (R-WI) made a career out of accusing people of being communists. But even he never claimed that members of Congress had been infected by Russian propaganda. McCarthyism and the Red Scare was a huge deal in the 1950s, and it received a tremendous amount of coverage on TV and radio, as well as in newspapers and magazines. By contrast, the more serious charges being leveled by Reps. McCaul and Turner against members of their own party have gotten relatively little attention.

To my mind, this is a travesty. How can we trust our Representatives in Congress to look out for the best interests of the nation if they are credibly accused of working on behalf of other nations, particularly nations we view as enemies? Is there a more important issue taking place in the United States today? Shouldn’t this be a much bigger story?

I hope some in the media will latch onto this story and determine who in Congress has been infected by Russian propaganda and what those members spouting Russian talking points are getting in return, if anything, for their efforts on behalf of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin. U.S. citizens deserve to know where the loyalty of their elected representatives truly lie.

*In 2017, Sen John McCain (R-AZ) accused Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) of working, not for the people of Kentucky, but for Vladimir Putin.

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Dr. Timothy Snyder: Lessons on Fighting Tyranny (Lesson #8)

This is a series of posts involving Dr. Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny. In the book, Snyder, a professor at Yale University who specializes in the history of tyrannical movements, shares twenty lessons on how to address and defeat tyranny.

Each lessons contains a short amount of text as well as a video featuring Snyder expanding on the text. This is lesson #8:

Lesson #8: Stand Out

“Someone has to. It is easy to follow along. It can feel strange to do or say something different. But without that unease, there is no freedom. Remember Rosa Parks. The moment you set an example, the spell of the status quo is broken, and others will follow.”

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Dr. Timothy Snyder: Lessons on Fighting Tyranny (Lesson #7)

This is a series of posts involving Dr. Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny. In the book, Snyder, a professor at Yale University who specializes in the history of tyrannical movements, shares twenty lessons on how to address and defeat tyranny.

Each lessons contains a short amount of text as well as a video featuring Snyder expanding on the text. This is lesson #7:

Lesson #7: Be Reflective If You Must Be Armed

“If you carry a weapon in public service, may God bless you and keep you. But know that evils of the past involved policemen and soldiers finding themselves, one day, doing irregular things. Be ready to say no.

“Authoritarian regimes usually include a special riot police force whose task is to disperse citizens who seek to protest, and a secret state police force whose assignments include the murder of dissenters or others designated as enemies. Yet, without the assistance of regular police forces, and sometimes regular soldiers, these regimes could not have killed on such a large scale. Some police and soldiers killed from murderous conviction. But many others who killed were just afraid to stand out. Other forces were at work besides conformism. But without conformists, the great atrocities would have been impossible.”

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These People Don’t Sound Like Hostages to Me

In the hours and days following the January 6 attack on Congress, several Republicans, including Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Marjorie Taylor Green (R-GA) claimed that the people who attacked the Capitol were not Trump supporters, but Antifa instigators. Since then, many of these same people have claimed that the FBI was imbedded with the crowd that gathered that day and encouraged unwitting Trump supporters to enter the Capitol building.

Despite the fact that these claims have been debunked, the unfounded claims have continued. More recently, MAGA Republicans–including FPOTUS Trump–has taken to calling those convicted of violent crimes on January 6–including those that pled guilty–“hostages” or “political prisoners.”

Royce Lambreth, Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, recently presided over the trial of Taylor James Johnatakis, a 40-year old defendant who traveled from Kingston, WA to participate in the January 6 insurrection of the Capitol. Johnatakis contended that he did nothing illegal on January 6, and was simply exercising his First Amendment rights. His family and friends submitted letters of support detailing the good works Johnatakis has committed during his life and claiming that Johnatakis did nothing wrong on January 6.

Johnatakis was charged with seven crimes, including three felonies. One of those felonies was assaulting a law enforcement officer. He was convicted on all counts, and on April 2, 2024, Judge Lambreth was assigned the task of sentencing Johnatakis. Lambreth submitted Notes for Sentencing, explaining why he chose the sentence he chose. As you read, consider Judge Lambreth’s words and determine for yourself if Johnatakis or the other individuals in prison for their actions on January 6 are hostages and political prisoners, or if they are rightly being punished by our justice system for breaking the law.


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

v

TAYLOR JAMES JOHNATAKIS
Defendant

 

NOTES FOR SENTENCING

Today, the Court sentenced Taylor James Johnatakis. The Court ordered that Mr. Johnatakis be committed to the custody of the Bureau of Prisons for a term of 87 months. The following are the notes that the Court used when delivering portions of its oral sentencing.

***

The Court has received over twenty letters from friends and family of Mr. Johnatakis. Those letters speak to Mr. Johnatakis’s good works, good nature, and good character. Most ask for the Court to release him right away. Many say he did nothing criminal on January 6 and is no danger to society. I appreciate that the defendant has, with exceptions, been courteous and respectful to the Court, and I harbor no personal animosity toward him. The Court agrees that Mr. Johnatakis, like many January 6 defendants, is not an inherently bad person. That is what makes these cases hard. As the Court has said many times, I take no great pleasure in locking up defendants who led good lives until their actions on January 6, 2021. After thirty-seven years on the bench, the Court knows how disruptive a prison sentence can be for defendants and their families. Nevertheless, the Court cannot let people entirely off the hook for their actions that day. In light of the defendant’s supportive letters, the Court would like to take a moment to explain what it is trying to accomplish when it sentences a defendant such as Mr. Johnatakis for events arising out of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

A society in which everyone does what is right by his own lights, where adherence to the law is optional, would be a society of vigilantism, lawlessness, and anarchy. As my late friend Justice Antonin Scalia once wrote, “[i]t is the proud boast of our democracy that we have ‘a government of laws and not of men.’” Morrison v. Olson, 487 U.S. 654, 697 (1988) (Scalia, J., dissenting). A person dissatisfied with the government or the law has various non-violent ways to express his or her views. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech. It also enshrines “the right of the people peaceably”—let me repeat, peaceably—“to assemble.” And history has shown there is some role for the civil disobedience of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr., in which a citizen engages in principled and peaceful—let me repeat, peaceful—disobedience of the law in order to protest a perceived injustice. In that situation, the person acknowledges they have broken the law and accepts the legal consequences that follow.

But what the jury found Mr. Johnatakis to have done on January 6 was neither First Amendment-protected activity nor civil disobedience. As the Court has said before, “the First Amendment does not give anyone the right to enter a restricted area or to engage in riotous activity in the Capitol.” See United States v. Little (Little Notes for Resentencing), No. 1:21-cr-315 (RCL), 2024 WL 386718 (D.D.C. Jan. 25, 2024). It obviously does not give anyone the right to assault the police. Nor was the January 6 riot an act of civil disobedience, because it was violent, not peaceful; opportunistic, not principled; coercive, not persuasive; and selfish, not patriotic.

The portrayal of Mr. Johnatakis as either a peaceful protestor or someone simply swept up by the crowd does not match the reality established at trial. One thing that strikes me about the letters is that few of the authors seem to know what he actually did. One person even wrote me that they know he has never done anything violent and never would. Perhaps Mr. Johnatakis has contributed to this misperception, because although he repeatedly expressed his “heartfelt and sincere” regrets at trial, see, e.g., Nov. 20, 2023 Trial Tr. at 71, ECF No. 256, since his conviction he has denied his conduct and downplayed the January 6 riot itself. But the Court knows the facts of this case because it has heard from the witnesses and examined the evidence, including police body camera footage and videos filmed by Mr. Johnatakis himself. The Court would therefore like to set the record straight about what Mr. Johnatakis did that day.

In any angry mob, there are leaders and there are followers. Mr. Johnatakis was a leader. He knew what he was doing that day. On January 5, he posted on social media: “[B]urn the city down. What the British did to DC will be nothing . . .” Trial Exhibit 904G. The next day, while marching to the Capitol, he recorded and posted a video in which he proclaimed “we’re walking over to the Capitol right now, and I don’t know, maybe we’ll break down the doors.” Presentence Report (PSR) ¶ 26, ECF No. 266. Once he got to the restricted grounds of the Capitol, he made his way to the vanguard of the crowd, all the while yelling into the megaphone he had brought with him. PSR ¶¶ 27–29. As Metropolitan Police Department Captain David Augustine testified at trial, rioters eventually overwhelmed the police line and forced the officers to retreat up the Capitol’s Southwest stairs, under the scaffolding created for the inauguration. The video played at trial shows that Mr. Johnatakis led the charge up the stairs. He soon reached a fallback line of barricades manned by police in order to protect the Capitol building itself and the Members of Congress, staff, and others inside. See PSR ¶¶ 29–31. When he got there, he waved on more people toward the police line, and through his megaphone barked commands to “pack it in!” PSR ¶ 32. So, although one of the letters claims that Mr. Johnatakis “set out with good intentions and ended up in a crowd of orchestrated out of control protestors,” in fact it was Mr. Johnatakis himself who organized protestors to violence that day.

Once enough rioters had heeded his calls and swarmed against the police line, Mr. Johnatakis deployed his megaphone to give encouragement and step-by-step instructions for overpowering the police. PSR ¶ 33. As he announced “one, two, three, GO!” he and his fellow rioters—including his co-defendants Craig Bingert and Isaac Sturgeon—picked up the metal barricades and slammed them into the police officers. PSR ¶ 33. Mr. Johnatakis and the others then raised the barriers higher until they were about head-level with the officers, so that the mob could brawl with the officers without the barriers getting in the way. PSR ¶ 33. In the resulting melee, Mr. Johnatakis seized MPD Officer Juan Gonzalez by the arm. PSR ¶ 33. Officer Gonzalez testified at trial that with Mr. Johnatakis holding his arm in place, he was unable to hold back the line of rioters or protect himself. Nov. 20, 2023 Trial Tr. at 67. By effectively disarming Officer Gonzalez, Mr. Johnatakis made him vulnerable to serious injury, or worse. Indeed, Officer Gonzalez said that during the assault, he felt like he had suffered a “serious injury” and perhaps even broken his leg. Nov. 20, 2023 Trial Tr. at 58. Another officer who was standing alongside this officer, Officer Marc D’Avignon, thought he was going to die. Nov. 20, 2023 Trial Tr. at 51.

As Mr. Johnatakis walked away from the Capitol, he recorded several videos in which he expressed his satisfaction with what had occurred and pride in the role he had played. He crowed that “for the first time since 1817 that Capitol was stormed” and that members of Congress were forced to evacuate. PSR ¶ 37. He boasted that the crowd was so “irate” that “we probably would have murdered a few of” the Members of Congress “had we seen exactly who they were.” PSR ¶ 37. He summed up his conduct: “I was on the front line. I was on the gate. I organized a push up to the Capitol because I felt like that is exactly what we needed.” PSR ¶ 37. He also exclaimed it was “1776 again,” as if he were fighting for freedom against a foreign oppressor, rather than battling his own elected, representative government. PSR ¶ 36.

As the Court has said before, “[o]n 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.” Little Notes for Resentencing, 2024 WL 386718, at *3. There can be no room in our country for this sort of political violence. The Framers designed our constitutional system so that the people govern through their representatives, according to law. Decisions are the result of elections, debates, and compromise. The people, through their representatives, decide. By contrast, those who think political ends justify violent means seek to replace persuasion with intimidation, the rule of law with “might makes right.” Violence risks begetting a vicious cycle that could threaten cherished conventions and imperil our very institutions of government. In that sense, political violence rots republics. Therefore, January 6 must not become a precedent for further violence against political opponents or governmental institutions. This is not normal. This cannot become normal. We as a community, we as a society, we as a country cannot condone the normalization of the January 6 Capitol riot.

This is the context in which the Court must sentence those convicted for their actions on January 6. To be sure, many people that day exercised their right to protest peacefully, without violating any laws. But others have pleaded guilty to crimes or been convicted after a bench or jury trial. When it comes to sentencing these defendants, a court must consider the same factors as in any other sentencing, including “the need for the sentence imposed” “(A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense;” “(B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;” and “(C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant.” 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2). When sentencing a person convicted for January 6 offenses, the Court aims to discourage these defendants from future violence, dissuade others from taking inspiration from the Capitol riot, and express the community’s moral disapproval of this conduct. The Court must bear these considerations in mind, even as it is sensitive to the fact that every prison sentence leaves a void in the lives of the defendant’s friends and family.

The Court would also like to address Mr. Johnatakis’s conduct since the jury convicted him. At trial, he repeatedly expressed contrition to the Court and the jury. But he changes his story depending on his audience. Since conviction, he has frequently offered public commentary about his actions and January 6, including by issuing letters and giving speeches and podcast interviews from jail. The D.C Jail and United States Marshals Service have reported to me that to give interviews, he purposefully bypassed the D.C. Jail’s safeguards. When the jail blocked him from calling into a podcast directly, rather than consult the jail’s authorities to see if such an interview would be permitted, he devised a workaround to reach the podcast host. It has come to the attention of the Court that this particular podcast episode was ultimately published on YouTube on January 9, 2024. See Quite Frankly, “D.C. Gulag & NYC Tunnels” ft. Taylor James Johnatakis 1/9/24, YouTube (Jan. 9 2024), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXKBKeJBQas&t=1756s [https://perma.cc/NP55-YWZT]. Mr. Johnatakis’s message was this: “[W]e did nothing. We touched a gate. We got pepper sprayed, we moved back. That was it.” He also said that “[e]verything about January 6 is just overblown.” Similarly, in a December 12, 2023 letter, he explained his actions by saying: “I chose to get rowdy, but not violent, at the time I felt it was a right born of necessity.” See Gov. Sentencing Mem. 16, ECF No. 270. These comments suggest that Mr. Johnatakis sought to mislead the Court and the jury when he repeatedly expressed his contrition for his actions on January 6, for instance by asking witnesses to “please accept my sincere apology for my role in the events of that day.” See, e.g., 11/20/23 Trial Tr. at 30; see also at 51, 71, 127. Moreover, these remarks leave no doubt that Mr. Johnatakis, unlike many January 6 defendants sentenced by the Court, does not accept responsibility for his actions and does not show true remorse. Indeed, he did not do so today.

And although his speech itself is protected, a person who violates the rules of his confinement through subterfuge nevertheless does not demonstrate that the court should depart from the guidelines for these offenses, or even give him a low end of the guidelines. This subterfuge recalls his brazen attempts to abuse the trial process by making improper comments to the jury. Before the trial began, the Court went to great pains to remind Mr. Johnatakis that in exercising his Constitutional right to self-representation, he would be expected to adhere to “the same rules, the same procedure and the same substantive law as any other defendant.” Nov. 17, 2023 Trial Tr. at 37, ECF No. 252. The Court specifically advised him that if he was “unsure whether a particular argument is appropriate for the jury,” he should either consult with his standby counsel or speak to me outside earshot of the jury. Nov. 17, 2023 Trial Tr. at 39. In response, Mr. Johnatakis said that he “accepted” the Court’s statement. Nov. 17, 2023 Trial Tr. at 40. For most of the trial, Mr. Johnatakis was courteous and respectful to the Court. But he as soon as he began his closing arguments, he started telling the jury facts not in the record. He was effectively trying to testify without being subject to cross-examination. Then, he tried to argue for jury nullification. See Nov. 20, 2023 Trial Tr. at 159–161. After the Court shut down both attempts, it required Mr. Johnatakis to read to the Court what he planned to say next to the jury. Yet as soon as the Court approved his remarks, he began making further improper remarks that he had not cleared with the Court. See Nov. 20, 2023 Trial Tr. at 163–65. His efforts to subvert the judicial process through various unorthodox means, combined with his lack of remorse, make me worry that if given the chance he will again engage in violent, criminal activity.

Finally, the court would like to address the insights into Mr. Johnatakis’s character offered by his letters of support. Under 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(1), one factor the court considers in every sentencing is the ‘history and characteristics of the defendant.’ The Court is grateful that so many people took the time to submit thoughtful letters in support of the defendant. The court respects their views of Mr. Johnatakis. I read every letter and took into account their comments about the good qualities he has exhibited over a lifetime. Yet in our system of justice, we punish people not for their overall character, but for their actions. Living an otherwise-blameless life does not grant anyone a free pass. Mr. Johnatakis is not here today because of who he is, but to be accountable for what he did. Like the jury, I listened to the witnesses and examined the evidence of his actions on January 6. Having done so, the court concludes that, unfortunately for him, his friends, his family, and our society, it seems Mr. Johnatakis left his good qualities at home when he went to the Capitol on January 6. The actions of Mr. Johnatakis are inexcusable, and his choices have consequences. The Court takes no pleasure in sending any defendant to prison, but it will not shirk its solemn duty to enforce law and order.

So that Mr. Johnatakis friends and family can understand the sentence imposed today, the Court will order the Clerk of Court to send a copy of these remarks to each person who submitted a letter on behalf of Mr. Johnatakis. I am pleased that some of his family can be here today to hear my words. I will decline to vary or depart upwards from the sentencing guidelines, and I will impose a guidelines sentence in this case.

Dated: 4/2/24

Signed: Royce C. Lambreth, United States District Court

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What’s Old Is New Again

In 1864, the United States was in the midst of a Civil War. The Union was at risk of being dissolved, and the outcome of the war was anything but certain.

Out west, Arizona was still a territory. It would not become a state for another forty-eight years. The Arizona Territory established a government consisting of a territory governor, a House of Representatives (made up of eighteen members) and the upper house (I’m not sure if it was then referred to as a “senate”–made up of nine members). As would be expected for the time, all positions were held by white males.

In Arizona, as in the rest of the nation, woman were not permitted to vote in state or federal elections. In fact, it would be another fifty-five years before the 19th Amendment to the Constitution would be passed, giving women the right to vote. It was a very different time.

The legislature in the Arizona Territory worked very differently than how legislatures work today. They were in session for less than two months to establish new laws for the entire territory. In addition, the legislature was in charge of granting divorces, which took up part of their time in session

Luckily for the members of the Arizona Territory legislature, Judge William T. Hall came prepared. He had written up the vast majority of the territory laws, and all the legislature had to do was vote on the proposals he had prepared.

Leading the House of Representatives was their Speaker, William Claude Jones. Jones was the man who gave Arizona its name. According to his biographer, L. Boyd Finch, he was a politician, poet, fabulist, and “pursuer of nubile females.”

Jones’ life was a combination of mystery and accomplishment. For instance, Jones listed five different places as his place of birth, including the story that he was born to a US consul in Catalonia, Spain. That appears to have been a lie. It’s much more likely that he was born near Mobile, Alabama. Jones claimed to have been a lieutenant during the Second Seminole War, but that claim also was likely untrue.

What we do know is that Jones was part of the territorial governments of Missouri and Arizona, was United States Attorney for the New Mexico Territory, was a member of the Hawaiian Privy Council, and was elected to the Missouri State Senate. We also know that Jones was married five different times during the course of his life. This is what we know about his wives:

  • He married his first wife in Missouri and had three children with her. He abandoned them all when he moved west to the New Mexico Territory.
  • He abducted his second wife from Mexico and brought her back to the New Mexico Territory when he was serving as US Attorney. She was twelve years old. When word got back to Washington, DC about what he had done, Jones resigned rather than be fired by President Buchanan, abandoning his young bride and fleeing to the Arizona Territory.
  • In 1864, at the age of forty-nine, Jones married a fifteen year old girl. A year later he abandoned her and moved to Hawaii.
  • His fourth wife was a fifteen-year-old Hawaiian native. He had four children with her. She died at the age of twenty-eight from smallpox, leaving Jones a widower.
  • It’s unclear how old his fifth wife was when they married.  However, we do know that the marriage only lasted two years. His wife filed for divorce, claiming multiple instances of adultery by Jones

By today’s standards, Jones was certainly a pedophile. However, by the standards of 1864 Arizona, where Jones successfully pushed legislation to set the age of consent to sexual intercourse for females at ten years of age, his marriages were copesetic with the law.

Another law Jones ushered through the Arizona Territory Legislature was a bill outlawing abortion, except in cases where the health of the mother was at risk. But the law isn’t exactly what you might think when you hear about abortion restrictions, In fact, the law passed in 1864 was actually designed to protect women, not control them.

At the time, it was not uncommon for men to injure or kill women in order to do away with an unwanted pregnancy. So, the legislature passed a law designed to protect women from the bad behavior of men. One such law made it illegal for a man to use poison or instruments to induce a pregnant woman to miscarry.

In her “Letters from an American” column, Boston College History Professor Heather Cox Richardson writes:

“In that context, the context of punishing those who secretly administer poison to kill someone, it says that anyone who uses poison or instruments “with the intention to procure the miscarriage of any woman then being with child” would face two to five years in jail, “Provided, that no physician shall be affected by the last clause of this section, who in the discharge of his professional duties deems it necessary to produce the miscarriage of any woman in order to save her life.” 

In other words, the law that the Arizona Supreme Court recently decided was still enforceable as a ban on abortion, was originally passed to protect women from harm caused by men, not to control a woman’s reproductive rights. Regardless, the Arizona Supreme Court said that the Arizona government can use it to restrict the reproductive rights of women throughout the state.

We can argue about who is right in the abortion debate: the pro-life or the pro-choice crowd. That’s a conversation for another day. But no matter which side of the debate you are on, you should be opposed to using these antiquated laws for purposes they were never intended to address. When we start ignoring the purpose of laws and twist them to fit situations they were never intended for, we begin to lose the protections of the laws for which our legal system was designed. Without those protections, we devolve into an authoritarian state, following the arbitrary rule of man rather than the more certain rule of law. That’s not something any of us should want.

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