Jenna Ryan, the Texas real estate agent, claims she was just out for another tricky day when she hopped on a private plane headed for the Jan. 6 Trump rally.
She ended up marching on the U.S. Capitol Building with hundreds of others at the urging of President Trump and became one of 140 people arrested, so far, on misdemeanor trespassing charges.
At the moment, those charges would amount to a slap on the wrist for participating in one of the most egregious assaults on American democracy in the nation’s history.
Her case raises an important question: Should she, and others like her, face more serious felony sedition charges, even though they played a relatively passive role in the riot?
Whether she’s charged with anything more serious remains to be seen. But there is a strong and growing undercurrent on social media that anything less would be a travesty of justice.
As the arrests mount and the mostly white defendants appear to have no trouble making bail, racism has also become an issue.
“Why was a 16 y-o kid sent to Rikers for pre-trial detention and left there for 3 years just for stealing a back pack? Because he was poor and black? And these white insurrectionists should be let out on bail for violent insurrection against our federal government?” asked one social media commenter.
“Would they release ‘Islamic’ extremists to the custody of their mothers, or set bond for them? I’m sure more serious charges are, in fact, being prepared for many. But white American extremists do seem to get somewhat more lenient pre-trial treatment,” wrote another.
The largely passive reaction of police as rioters poured into the Capitol has also come under scrutiny. An untold number on social media believe the situation would have been far different, if the rioters had been members of Black Lives Matter.
Going forward, one thing seems clear: the criminal justice system will be on trial as much as the those arrested.
Early on, investigator’s focused on the so-called “social media stars,” those who posted their involvement in self-incriminating videos and photos on social media.
“You know, the rebel flag guy, Camp Auschwitz, the individuals in Pelosi’s office. The easily-identifiable individuals that we were able to quickly find and charge with misdemeanors, then we tacked on federal felony charges,” Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., told reporters.
They make up “the low hanging fruit.” Some 200 additional suspects have been identified but still remain at large in that group.
Most are being charged under a provision that makes it a “crime to willfully and knowingly utter loud, threatening, or abusive language, or engage in disorderly or disruptive conduct… with the intent to impede, disrupt, or disturb the orderly conduct of a session of Congress.”
A conviction could mean fines between $500 and $5,000 and up to six months in jail. If a firearm is involved, the penalty could rise to five years.
In contrast, sedition is a serious felony punishable by fines and up to 20 years in prison. It involves the act of inciting a revolt or violence against a lawful authority with the goal of destroying or overthrowing it.
A number of those who have been arrested are already facing more serious charges. They involve assaults against police officers and conspiracy charges against those who planned in advance to storm the Capitol and do violence.
Investigators say those cases take more time and more evidence to bring charges.
Some reports have circulated that conspirators planned to take mostly Democrats hostage and threaten to assassinate them unless President Joe Biden conceded the election to Trump.
Bolstering that theory was the arrest of a Capitol rioter known as the “Zip Tie Guy.” He was photographed with flex cuffs used by police to restrain suspects. He faces a conspiracy charge and other offenses.
In another telling instance, three members of the Oath Keepers, a self-described militia group, have been charged with conspiracy based on text messages detailing logistics and plans to commit violence. They were written weeks in advance of the riot.
Conspiracy charges fall short of sedition and carry fines and up to five years in prison or both. Such serious charges obviously hinge on intent.
In the case of “Zip Tie Guy,” “the nature and circumstances of the alleged offenses all indicate forethought and specific intent to obstruct a congressional proceeding through fear, intimidation, and, if necessary, violence,” a court filing asserted .
“These threads—planning, forethought, intent—are all indicative of a capacity and willingness to repeat the offense and pose a clear threat to community safety.”
But that begs another question.
Why do you draw a line between those who committed more serious offenses and those who were merely “trespassing.”
The fact is, anyone, who entered the Capitol was contributing to an atmosphere that aided and abetted those who had plans to do violence.
Without them, it would have been much easier for police to identify and focus on the more dangerous characters. In many capital crimes, those acting as an accessory is just as culpable as those committing the offense.
In that light, many of those arrested for passive involvement like “trespassing” should be viewed in the broader context of riot itself.
They were active participants in a riot that would not have happened without their presence and are equally seditious.
They posed the most serious threat to democracy in the nation’s history just as much as “Zip Tie Guy” and need to be held equally accountable.