Judge Amit Mehta of the District Court of the District of Columbia on Monday denied a motion to dismiss charges against 17 defendants accused of conspiring to disrupt an official proceeding of Congress during the January 6 Capitol riots.
The 17 involved in this particular proceeding are all members or affiliates of the group called the Oath Keepers, who are alleged to “believe that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”
By storming the US Capitol during the certification of the Electoral College vote, the government alleges that the defendants violated Section 1512(c)(2) of Title 18, which states that “[w]hoever corruptly . . . or . . . otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”
In addition to arguing over whether this statute was properly applied or constitutional, the defendants attempted to convince Mehta that they could not be charged because their actions were protected by the First Amendment. Mehta disagreed, writing that “[t]he court is persuaded by none of their contentions.”
Using standard modes of statutory interpretation, the judge held that the wording of the statute allowed the government to bring the conspiracy charges against them. Additionally, the judge stated that “forcibly storming past exterior barricades, Capitol Police, and other law enforcement officers to enter the Capitol building” was not protected conduct under the First Amendment.
Dozens of individuals were charged following the Capitol attacks of January 6. While some individuals have since made plea deals or been sentenced, many others are still moving through the courts.