Capitol Riot criminal investigation continues one year later; still a long way to go

One year ago, pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, disrupting Congress' duty to certify the 2020 presidential election results. Many laws were broken that day, setting off the largest criminal investigation in the history of the United States.

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705 individuals have been charged in connection with the Capitol Riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Suspects hail from nearly every state in the country, and they are overwhelmingly male with 614 men compared to 91 women, according to George Washington University's program on extremism.

172 individuals have pleaded guilty, mostly to low-level crimes. A small few have been sentenced to prison time including Robert Palmer from Florida who was sentenced to more than five years for assaulting police officers.

Palmer sprayed a fire extinguisher at officers and threw the canister at them. Before he was sentenced, Palmer wrote a letter to his judge expressing regret and an understanding that Trump had lied to his supporters.

Capitol Riot: A look back on year since January 6 insurrection

"Little did I realize that they were the tyrannical ones desperate to hold on to power at any cost," Palmer wrote, "even by creating the chaos they knew would happen with such rhetoric."

A year into the investigation and the Department of Justice and FBI still have a long way to go.

"It's too early in the process to get a full picture of January 6," says Seamus Hughes from GWU's program on extremism. "If you look at the sentencing so far, they've been low-level misdemeanor crimes. Trespassing, taking selfies in the Senate rotunda, that type of thing. That's going to be probation, 30 days, 60 days. The more complex cases, the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, they're looking at much longer sentences. So I wouldn't look at the early sentences as an indicator of where January 6 is going. I also wouldn't look at January 6 as the end date. The FBI is still working cases on the weekend, they're still looking for 250 individuals." 

The first trial in any Capitol Riot case is scheduled to begin in February, but it may get pushed back due to complications with COVID-19.

READ MORE: FBI hunt for who placed pipe bombs outside RNC, DNC offices day before Capitol riot continues

17 members and associates of the Oath Keepers face charges of conspiracy and are scheduled for trial in April.

Processing these cases has not been easy as the sheer volume has strained resources at the DOJ. Prosecutors have also received criticism for going too easy on certain defendants.

"On the one hand it's a mob, so everyone counts," says Senior Editor at Lawfare Roger Parloff. "Everyone who is there is helping to overrun the police and prevent them from doing their jobs, so there is culpability. But on the other hand, it's just not something that judges or even prosecutors typically want to put people in jail for."


The question remains regarding what will happen with former president Donald Trump. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a speech on Wednesday, "the actions we have taken so far will not be our last."