A federal judge suggested Friday that former President Donald Trump had some responsibility for the January 6 attack on the Capitol and that rioters were pawns provoked into action.
Speaking at sentencing hearing for rioter John Lolos, the judge said rallygoers like him were “called to Washington, DC, by an elected official, prompted to walk to the Capitol by an elected official.”
Judge Amit Mehta called individuals who stormed the building “a pawn in the game played by people who know better.”
“People like Mr. Lolos were told lies, were told falsehoods, were told the election was stolen when it was not,” Mehta said. “Regrettably, people like Mr. Lolos who were told those lies took it to heart. And they are the ones paying the consequences.”
“Those who created the conditions that lead to Mr. Lolos’ conduct have in no meaningful measure been held accountable,” he said. “You were a pawn. You were a pawn in the game played by people who know better.”
While many judges have expressed continuing concern about the volatile political climate, Mehta is one of the first to call out Trump – although not by name – for using his supporters for political gain and then abandoning those supporters to suffer the consequences, something Mehta believes should perhaps weigh in favor of lighter sentences for January 6 defendants charged with less serious crimes.
Mehta is a crucial judge overseeing some of the more than 660 Capitol riot cases in federal court because he is also handling the largest and most significant conspiracy case against defendants connected to the Oath Keepers. It was his first sentencing of a January 6 defendant.
“That kind of conduct needs to be deterred because, frankly, conditions in our country don’t give me a lot of confidence that this sort of thing won’t happen again,” Mehta said.
Lolos, 48, pleaded guilty in August to illegally demonstrating in the Capitol building. Mehta sentenced Lolos to 14 days in jail and ordered him to pay $500 for damage done to the Capitol during the riot. Of the 40 defendants sentenced so far, 18 have been sentenced to jail or prison time.
In a rambling speech to the court, Lolos, at times speaking with different accents, rehashed debunked claims of widespread voter fraud, said police encouraged him to go into the Capitol, claimed evidence against him was tainted, and encouraged anyone listening in on the court’s public call-in line to look up a video of himself online. Lolos refused to speak to his defense attorney, who repeatedly tried to stop Lolos from talking.
“I may have failed to explain why incarceration is necessary here, but I think Mr. Lolos just summed it up,” prosecutors said when Lolos was finished talking.
Mehta said it was ‘regrettable” that Lolos still believes that the election was stolen, but said it was understandable because “a lie isn’t easy to unhear.”
According to court documents, Lolos spent almost 45 minutes inside the Capitol on January 6, and was videotaped shouting, “They left, we did it” as he exited the building.
On January 8, a Delta flight crew decided to turn the plane around because Lolos, a passenger on the flight, was continuously yelling, “Trump 2020!” Lolos was escorted off the plane by a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Department officer, and was rebooked on a later flight. About 45 minutes later, the same officer recognized Lolos in an Instagram video that showed him leaving the Capitol. The officer reported Lolos to Capitol Police officers in the airport, and Lolos was arrested.