Klete Keller at the Capitol riot in 2021, left, and the US Swimming Olympic Trials in 2008.
Olympic gold medalist charged for alleged role in Capitol riots
01:04 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

A federal judge rejected comparisons between the January 6 Capitol insurrection and civil unrest that at times accompanied racial-equity protests during a sentencing for a Capitol rioter on Monday, just days after a judge in the same court had questioned the difference.

“To compare the actions of people around the country protesting, mostly peacefully, for civil rights, to a violent mob seeking to overthrow the lawfully elected government is a false equivalency and downplays the very real danger that the crowd on January 6 posed to our democracy,” DC District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan said.

Chutkan added that the rioters “soiled and defaced the halls of the Capitol and showed their contempt for the rule of law.” She said: “The country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in the country before.”

Her comments came during a sentencing hearing for Matthew Mazzocco of Texas, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of illegally demonstrating in the Capitol building – a typical plea deal that the Justice Department has offered to nonviolent rioters charged with a number of lower-level offenses.

On Friday, Judge Trevor McFadden, also of the DC District Court, said during another Capitol rioter’s sentencing that he believes the Justice Department should have been more “even-handed” in their prosecution of the Capitol rioters, suggesting that they’ve been treated more harshly than the rioters in last year’s racial unrest.

The Justice Department has argued the violent breach of the Capitol – in which members of Congress and the vice president had to be evacuated for their safety, halting the vote confirming the presidential election – was far worse than other riots, in both the scale of the attack on the federal building and its disruption of the congressional session.

Some riot defendants have argued in court that they shouldn’t face felony-level charges for obstructing the congressional proceeding, but judges have not yet ruled on those arguments.

Chutkan, without directly commenting on the case McFadden handled, said that the riot was “no mere protest” and that defendants, including Mazzocco, were facing lenient treatment “despite his deliberate, premediated decision to come to the District and try to disrupt the peaceful transition of power.”

“Mr. Mazzocco did not go to the United States Capitol out of any love for our country,” Chutkan said. “He went for one man.”

So far, more than 90 Capitol riot defendants have pleaded guilty to federal charges. Twelve have been sentenced. Mazzocco is the sixth Capitol riot defendant who has received jail time.