More Capitol Riot Sentencing

A woman who declared "Civil War is coming" and "they have to kill me" has asked for and received leniency.

Yesterday, I noted the disparate sentencing of Capitol rioters, with some whose crimes appeared comparatively minor receiving harsher sentences than more serious offenders based on the whims of judges. Business Insider (“A Capitol rioter who declared ‘Civil War is coming’ just avoided the prison sentence prosecutors wanted“) provides another curious case.

A New Jersey woman who declared “Civil War is coming” just days after January 6 was sentenced to two months of home confinement Tuesday, avoiding the month-long prison term that prosecutors had requested for her role in the Capitol attack.

Judge Carl Nichols handed down the sentence during a virtual hearing where the woman, Rasha Abual-Ragheb, pleaded for leniency and said her conduct was motivated by a legitimate belief that her vote was not counted in the 2020 presidential election. Nichols, a 2019 appointee to the federal trial court in Washington, DC, described Abual-Ragheb as “relatively mild in comparison to others” and noted she “showed up in a tutu, not — as many did — in military gear.”

So, the astute OTB reader—and, really, is there any other kind?—will immediately note that Nichols is a Trump appointee and wonder if this is some MAGA self-dealing. But, if so, he’s playing it well.

Still, Nichols said he was troubled by her social media posts, in which she “predicted if not hoped for civil war and violence.” The judge said the January 6 attack was not an “ordinary violent riot” but one that interrupted a tradition of peaceful handing off of power dating back to former President George Washington. “Being part of a violent riot is unacceptable at all times, especially it’s such a sensitive time for our nation,” he said.

While these words would have seemed pro forma not all that long ago, they’re fighting words in MAGA Country.

Abual-Ragheb pleaded guilty in August to a single misdemeanor charge — parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol — carrying a maximum sentence of six months in prison. In addition to her two months of home confinement, her sentence included three years of probation and a $500 fine.

Granting that I am not an attorney, I believe that I read somewhere that peaceably assembling and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances was a thing we allowed in America. How “parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol” could be a crime punishable by six months in prison is rather a mystery.

Now, she actually went inside the Capitol during a riot. Which should absolutely be a crime! But it’s weird that a lesser crime that shouldn’t be a crime exists. Maybe there’s a missing “without a permit” or some such? But even then, absent a failure to disburse upon lawful order of peace officers, one wouldn’t think it would be a jailable offense.

During a nearly 90-minute virtual hearing, federal prosecutor Michael Liebman highlighted social media posts in which Abual-Ragheb put her political advocacy in starkly violent terms. After her home state of New Jersey went to now-President Joe Biden by a wide margin, she wrote on Facebook, “I won’t stop. They have to kill me.”

Later she invoked the year 1776, a “direct reference for the need, in her view, for violence,” Liebman said. And as Congress’ certification of the presidential election results drew near, she posted on Facebook that she was coming to Washington, DC, with “toys” — referring to a Taser — and encouraged others to bring firearms.

“The intent she had, her purpose, and the fact that it was done with thousands of others, merits — in the government’s view —  a brief period of incarceration of 30 days,” Liebman said.

Either the reporting here is just awful or something just doesn’t make sense here. People are free to rant on social media.

In court filings, prosecutors featured social media posts in which Abual-Ragheb lamented the pro-Trump mob’s treatment at the hands of law enforcement. Days after January 6, she posted on social media, “Civil War is coming and I will be happy to be a part of it.”

Abual-Ragheb appeared to grow emotion in the virtual hearing, which the public could hear through teleconference. In brief remarks to Nichols, she said, “I never intended to cause any harm or violence.”

Her defense lawyer, Elita Amato, stressed that Abual-Ragheb was inside the Capitol for only about two minutes and did not cause any damage or commit any acts of violence.

“Her actions were of a person who came not to cause havoc and not to be violent … but someone who came just to rally and protest,” Amato said.

“In terms of things that she wrote, either before or after, she recognizes that many of them were stupid,” the defense lawyer added.

Nichols said it was not appropriate to “infer the very worst intentions” behind the social media posts, and he sympathized with Abual-Ragheb’s assertion that she has a limited grasp of English.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to conclude she was planning to be an active participant in a civil war,” he said.

The juxtaposition of violent shit-posting after the event and her current claims that she never intended harm or violence certainly casts doubt on her sincerity. But predicting a civil war—and even encouraging people to fight in one—isn’t necessarily a crime. It doesn’t sound like she was a participant in any meaningful sense in a conspiracy and the circumstances wouldn’t seem to support an incitement charge. (To return to a topic of periodic conversation here over the years, it’s noteworthy that these actions may well be a crime in other Western democracies, including the UK and Canada. But our 1st Amendment has been interpreted in a maximalist way.)

I have no way to know for sure what she was planning or thinking when she arrived at the Capitol. She was certainly angry and amenable to be goaded into participating in a riot. But, even with others around her committing acts of mayhem and destruction, she did not. Really, she just sounds like a confused woman who got caught up in the conspiracy hype fomented by Trump and his accomplices in the Republican Party and the right-wing media.

Oddly, according to various other media reports, she escaped the Lebanese civil war as a child and has been living in the United States for 21 years. You would think she would therefore have an above-average understanding of the awfulness of domestic strife and reverence for the institutions of democracy.

FILED UNDER: Capitol Riot, Crime, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Joe says:

    [she] has been living in the United States for 21 years.

    You would also think she would have a better grasp of English.

    ReplyReply
    1
  2. James Joyner says:

    @Joe: Especially if she came as a child, and therefore went to US schools.

    ReplyReply
  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    I would expect that if you read the statute described in brief as “parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol” you will find more details that make it make sense. I think “in the Capitol” might refer to inside the Capitol building itself, and such behavior located there is presumed to be disruptive and threatening to Members and Senators and the workings of government itself. It isn’t “private property”, and yet I can see a desire to treat it as such as reasonable.

    Otherwise, I would agree that simply parading, demonstrating and picketing are all protected behaviors.

    ReplyReply
  4. Thomm says:

    @Joe: using latent racism for an advantage in sentencing would be my guess.

    ReplyReply
  5. Thomm says:

    @Joe: Plus, it isn’t like she was putting out complex thoughts. They were pretty simple statements using basic vocabulary.

    ReplyReply
  6. MarkedMan says:

    Maybe there’s a missing “without a permit” or some such? But even then, absent a failure to disburse upon lawful order of peace officers, one wouldn’t think it would be a jailable offense.

    I’m frankly dumbfounded by this comment. A riot broke out in the capital. During the riot she illegally entered the capital grounds. She claims she was just an innocent protester? OK, let’s give her the benefit of the doubt and look at anything that might display intent. Oh wait, here are some internet posts where she called for violent revolution immediately before she arrived in DC. That should end taking her pleadings at face value.

    You seem to be saying that a) what she got caught on film doing wasn’t really very bad (it was), and b) we are somehow obligated to accept her protestations that she had no violent intention despite her social media statements and therefore should cut her slack.

    Actually, you go even farther. You seem to be saying that if her social media statements aren’t a crime then they can’t even be used to judge intent. James, this is special pleading to a bizarre extent.

    ReplyReply
    4
  7. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I’m saying that the description of the crime to which she pled guilty doesn’t make any sense but that the thing she actually did should be a crime. And I directly state that her social media postings reasonably lead us to doubt her current remorse. At the same time, though, the fact that she was only inside the building for two minutes and in fact engaged in no violence would seem more meaningful than shit-posting on the internet.

    ReplyReply
  8. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: OK, I apologize. I thought you were saying exactly the opposite.

    ReplyReply
  9. gVOR08 says:

    One of these days the criminal justice system should try to figure out what it’s supposed to do. If the goal is “justice”, whatever that means, she is just a confused nobody who wasn’t violent, so fine. If the purpose is deterrence, all these low sentences are outrageous. If, as seems apparent, the purpose is simply to process cases, what difference does it make?

    ReplyReply
    2
  10. Stormy Dragon says:

    Granting that I am not an attorney, I believe that I read somewhere that peaceably assembling and petitioning the government for a redress of grievances was a thing we allowed in America. How “parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol” could be a crime punishable by six months in prison is rather a mystery.

    If I stand up in the gallery of a trial I’m not a party to and start delivering a speech about how we need to immediately replace federal reserve dollars with bitcoins as the national legal tender, I’m going to get thrown out, and if I resist getting thrown out, I’m going to get arrested.

    This doesn’t mean my right to petition the courts has been infringed. Likewise the right “to petition the government” doesn’t translate into permission to enter any government space at any time and take over whatever was going on there before for purposes of getting out my message in whatever format I see fit to use.

    It never has. Do you seriously not understand this, or are you just deliberately playing dumb for rhetorical effect?

    ReplyReply
    2
  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    How “parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol” could be a crime punishable by six months in prison is rather a mystery.

    As a child of the sixties growing up in a city that claimed fame for founding the Weather Underground and having a fairly significant and active Black Panther Party presence, my parents continually warned me of the potential that by going to the Capitol to parade, demonstrate, or picket, I might be unfairly lumped together with others who were storming police barricades and running rampant through the halls of Congress seeking opportunities to put bullets in Nancy’s head and hang Mike Pence. It’s all sets of comparative risks. Overall, 2 months of at-home confinement and a $5oo fine is pretty good compared to what might have happened in…

    1970s Uganda, for example.

    ReplyReply
  12. James Joyner says:

    @Stormy Dragon: I understand time, place, and manner restrictions and generally find them reasonable. I think I was reading ‘in the Capitol’ in a generic sense rather than literally inside the Capitol building.

    ReplyReply
  13. dazedandconfused says:

    “Oddly, according to various other media reports, she escaped the Lebanese civil war as a child and has been living in the United States for 21 years. You would think she would therefore have an above-average understanding of the awfulness of domestic strife and reverence for the institutions of democracy.”

    More than most Americans, she probably sees just how fragile and important democracy is, and was being told by nothing less than the President of the United States it was being stolen.

    I’ve said many times most of these people should probably be granted a one-time special leniency due to that truly extraordinary condition.

    ReplyReply
  14. Scott O says:

    @dazedandconfused: “ I’ve said many times most of these people should probably be granted a one-time special leniency due to that truly extraordinary condition.”

    I agree that the dupes, the nonviolent ones that show some contrition, shouldn’t get much more than a fine. The instigator is the one that needs to be punished. Not gonna happen, not in our world.

    ReplyReply
    1
  15. Chip Daniels says:

    @Scott O:
    The whole point of a democracy is that there is no such thing as “dupes”.

    We all are citizens, equal under the law, equal in our ability to direct the course of government, and equally responsible for our actions.

    These people made their choices.

    ReplyReply
  16. The Q says:

    Wow, can you imagine the audacity of trumped up charges regarding unlawfully “parading, demonstrating and picketing”. How can this be possible?

    Signed….BLM protesters

    ReplyReply

Speak Your Mind

*