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Feds want tougher sentencing for U.S. military vets who took part in Jan. 6 Capitol protest

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The Justice Department is seeking tougher penalties for U.S. military veterans who were part of crowds that breached the U.S. Capitol Building during the Jan. 6 riot.

As reported by The Associated Press, the DoJ considered whether veterans should be given leniency due to their service to the country or treated more harshly because of the perception they broke their oaths to defend the country, choosing the latter.

“During his 27 years in the U.S. Army, Leonard Gruppo joined the Special Forces, served in four war zones and led a team of combat medics in Iraq before retiring in 2013 as a lieutenant colonel,” The AP noted, citing one example.

“During his six minutes inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Gruppo joined a slew of other military veterans as a mob of pro-Trump rioters carried out an unparalleled assault on the bastion of American democracy,” the newswire continued. “He’s among dozens of veterans and active-service members charged in connection with the insurrection.”

Not all Americans view what happened on Jan. 6 as an “insurrection;” they see it as a riot on the level of hundreds of others around the country throughout 2020.

“Prosecutors have repeatedly maintained that veterans’ service, while commendable, made their actions on Jan. 6 more egregious,” the AP noted.

Federal officials have viewed U.S. military veterans’ participation in the Capitol breach in a different light because it appears as though some may have used their training during the incident, the AP reported.

But prosecutors who argued that a rioter’s military service should come with more dire consequences did not wash with the federal judge who presided over Gruppo’s sentencing hearing on Friday.

“I don’t view his military service that way. I just can’t bring myself to do that,” Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell, an Obama appointee who was born at Fort Benning, Ga., said, ahead of sentencing Gruppo to two years’ probation and 90 days of house arrest.

One federal prosecutor, Assistant U..S. Attorney Hava Mirell, said that Gruppo’s military experience supported the recommendation by the Justice Department that he be sentenced to 30 days behind bars. Mirell noted that the New Mexico-based Gruppo was trained to see the developing dangers at the Capitol Building and “to assist rather than to harm.”

“But the fact that he did receive that training and the fact that he intentionally overlooked his oath to commit one of the most destructive acts against our Constitution and our democracy, that does affect the government’s view of his conduct,” she noted.

Daniel Lindsey, Gruppo’s defense lawyer, argued in turn that his client’s military service should not be used against him and that Gruppo at first wanted to remain quiet about his service because he felt as though he dishonored his time in uniform.

“And he did,” the judge interjected. “Let’s not mince words.”

But, she added, she was nevertheless taken aback by the DoJ’s position on recommending a tougher sentence for Gruppo because he served in uniform because she believes most Americans would express “enormous respect” for it.

“And it’s not just because I grew up on military bases around the world,” Howell added.

James Markham, a public law and government professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the AP that ordinarily, a defendant’s military service can be a positive mitigating factor in terms of sentencing. However, he said he also sees the DoJ’s point.

“It’s obviously not related to their military service directly, but it’s also not entirely conceptually unrelated that somebody who is a veteran or had military service could be viewed as having a more refined understanding of the importance of civilian control and electoral stability,” Markham, who is a lawyer and an Air Force veteran, told the newswire.

More than 650 people have been charged in relation to the Jan. 6 breach.

Jon Dougherty

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