Thomas Sibick was one of the protesters who stormed the Capitol on January 6. Unlike many of the protesters, Sibick seems to have done more than mill around. He is accused of assaulting a police office and stealing his badge and radio.
Sibick has been held in jail pending trial. The basis for his detention, I take it, is that he’s considered a potential participant in future lawless protest activity.
Now, however, Sibick has been released thanks to federal judge Amy Berman Jackson, an Obama appointee and anti-Trump partisan. Sibick’s lawyer made two related arguments perfectly tailored to persuade Judge Jackson to release his client.
The first argument was that holding Sibick in jail together with other January 6 participants subjected him to a “cult-like” atmosphere. As evidence of cult-like behavior, the attorney noted that the prisoners sing the National Anthem every night. The horror!
Perhaps Judge Jackson viewed having to hear the National Anthem as cruel and unusual punishment.
The second argument in favor of Sibick’s release was that, somehow overcoming the “cult-like” atmosphere, Sibick now hates Donald Trump. This argument goes to the question of whether Sibick poses a risk of future violent pro-Trump protesting. In addition, it undoubtedly was intended to gain the sympathy of the anti-Trump judge hearing his case.
The attorney went so far as to produce a handwritten statement from Sibick denouncing Trump. Sibick wrote, in part:
January 6 was a disgrace to our nation that left a scar Trump is ultimately responsible for, but we are strong [and] will heal from it. While many praise Trump, I loathe him.. His words and actions are nefarious, causing pain and harm to the world. He is not a leader and should be ostracized from any political future. What he honestly needs to do is go away!
Based on these two arguments, Judge Jackson released Sibick. She declared that he deserves a chance. The prisoners who still support Trump apparently don’t.
Releasing a protester who has renounced the political views that landed him in prison while continuing to hold protesters who adhere to their political views is a bad look, to say the least. It reminds one of what happens to political prisoners in authoritarian regimes (if they are lucky).
In this case, though, there is no indication that the state (i.e. Judge Jackson) demanded that Sibick renounce Trump as a condition of his release. The rather abject renunciation note appears to have been the lawyer’s idea. And Sibick’s change of heart, if sincere, is relevant to the likelihood of him engaging in future violent protests (assuming he doesn’t join Antifa).
The release following the renunciation is still a bad look, but standing alone it doesn’t quite rise to the level of authoritarianism, in my view.
But there’s more. As a condition of his release, Jackson said to Sibick, “You must not watch any political television programs.” She also told him to stay away from political rallies.
When a judge tells a defendant what television programs he must not watch, she crosses the line. At that point, I think we really are veering into authoritarianism.