A federal judge on Wednesday wrote that Donald Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was stolen from him could still inspire some of the former President’s supporters to take up arms, as they did in January during the deadly US Capitol insurrection.
The judge’s blunt assessment of the current, charged political climate came in a legal decision about a defendant who was drawn to Washington, DC, in January. And it adds to a growing chorus of warnings from the officials most closely weighing the aftermath of the Capitol riot about what the threat level still might be.
“The steady drumbeat that inspired defendant to take up arms has not faded away; six months later, the canard that the election was stolen is being repeated daily on major news outlets and from the corridors of power in state and federal government, not to mention in the near-daily fulminations of the former President,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the DC District Court wrote in an opinion to keep defendant Cleveland Meredith Jr. in jail because he could endanger the public if released.
Meredith allegedly had texted that he wanted to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, on live TV and had hauled a trailer of guns and ammo to Washington in January. He has pleaded not guilty.
Federal judges have for weeks been warning that the continued push of Trump’s baseless claim that the election was “stolen” – sometimes called “the Big Lie” – from right-wing media, Republicans and the ex-President himself may be keeping alive the same grassroots zeal that led to the insurrection in January. Because of this, some of the alleged rioters are still considered potentially dangerous. Judges have had to make decisions case by case on keeping the defendants in jail.
The Justice Department, as it argues to keep them in jail, has noted that Trump supporters – especially when they’re affiliated with extremist groups like the Proud Boys – could attempt another insurrection.
The lawyer for one defendant, Anthony Antonio, has spoken about what he calls “Foxitis,” saying his client became convinced of the lie that Trump was robbed of reelection.
And another judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, kept another man – a Vietnam veteran who allegedly parked a cooler full of Mason jar bombs on Capitol Hill on January 6 and was inspired by the same election lies that Republicans still push – in jail this week.
The man, Lonnie Coffman, had tried to reach Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, in December and looked for contact info for Sean Hannity and others, prosecutors said. One of Cruz’s staffers told police that Coffman seemed “to be coming from the ‘friend’ angle in wanting to … help with the election fraud he saw.”
Other judges in Washington handling the Capitol riot cases have previously noted how much members of the far right continue to reject the results of the election, and how self-described revolutionaries could want to act again. But politics alone wouldn’t be enough to keep riot defendants in jail pending trial.
“The Court is not convinced that dissatisfaction and concern about the legitimacy of the election results has dissipated for all Americans. Former President Donald J. Trump continues to make forceful public comments about the ‘stolen election,’ chastising individuals who did not reject the supposedly illegitimate results that put the current administration in place,” Judge Emmet Sullivan wrote in April, keeping a man accused of dragging and beating police officers in jail.
Judge Paul Friedman, in considering whether to release a man who had driven cross-country with guns then allegedly assaulted police at the Capitol, considered prosecutors’ assertion that defendant Nathaniel DeGrave could still be a threat because even after the riot, he idolized Trump and believed lies about election fraud.
“Of course, Mr. DeGrave has a First Amendment right to express his views on politics, the 2020 election, and the government. The Court need not consider Mr. DeGrave’s political preferences to conclude that he poses a serious risk of committing acts of violence in the future. His conduct speaks for itself,” Friedman wrote. “Mr. DeGrave was not carried away in the excitement of the moment; rather, his statements show that he planned to confront and perpetrate violence at the Capitol.”
Jackson, in another Capitol riot defendant’s case, noted in April in the case of Joshua Black that he had claimed he had been called upon by God to enter the chamber and had said he would take up arms in a revolution if needed.
“It’s not as if the effort by some political leaders and media figures to stoke this sort of anger has abated in any way,” Jackson said at a court hearing for Black. “Isn’t it fair to say that the same political issues and the same political concerns are being pumped out into the airways on a daily basis?”
She released Black, before warning him that even if he felt called back to Washington by a higher power, he could not violate the court’s orders without consequence.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.