The Biden administration has been busy clearing the docket of federal cases levied against Portland rioters who threatened a federal courthouse last summer and provoked a federal response, both on the ground and from the Attorney General’s office.
The Wall Street Journal reported late last week that the federal government has dropped nearly half of all cases against suspected Portland rioters. Most of the remaining cases will not go to trial and many of the defendants will receive lenient penalties: probation and community service.
“Of 96 cases the U.S. attorney’s office in Portland filed last year charging protesters with federal crimes, including assaulting federal officers, civil disorder, and failing to obey, prosecutors have dropped 47 of them, government documents show,” per the WSJ. “Ten people have pleaded guilty to related charges and two were ordered detained pending trial. None have gone to trial.”
“The penalties levied so far against any federal defendants, most of whom were arrested in clashes around federal buildings in Portland including the courthouse, have largely consisted of community service, such as working in a food bank or encouraging people to vote,” the outlet added.
“In recent weeks, prosecutors have approved deals in at least half a dozen federal felony cases arising from clashes between protesters and law enforcement in Oregon last summer,” Politico added. “The arrangements — known as deferred resolution agreements — will leave the defendants with a clean criminal record if they stay out of trouble for a period of time and complete a modest amount of community service, according to defense attorneys and court records.”
The most notable case — an activist who traveled from Chicago to Minneapolis to take part in riots following George Floyd’s death last year — ended in a guilty plea, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Matthew Rupert faces five years in prison.
In the waning days of the Trump administration, it seems, prosecutors began the process of disposing of the Portland rioter cases. “More than half of the around 30 so-called deferred resolution deals, in which prosecutors ask the court to drop cases once defendants complete volunteer work, were initiated last fall under the Trump administration, interviews and a review of cases shows,” according to The Wall Street Journal, which noted that the Biden administration has largely followed this same strategy, even though it has more than enough time to pursue the cases.
The plea deals bring a swift end to what the Trump administration had hoped would be an all-out assault on “Antifa” and networks of “anti-Fascist” protesters who, then-Attorney General William Barr contended, were part of a well-funded national campaign to destabilize cities using peaceful protests as cover. The Trump administration urged prosecutors, the WSJ said, to seek a “full slate” of federal charges for rioters, including, in some cases, “racketeering and sedition” charges.
A Chicago Tribune report of rioters arrested on Federal charges, though, seems to show no deep connection to a national Antifa network; instead, those taken into federal custody for setting fires and assaulting police officers were mostly “people caught up in the moment” — “young suburban adults” who were not “affiliated with highly organized extremist groups.”
Now, the Biden administration’s Department of Justice has shifted focus from the Portland riots to the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol.
“Attorney General Merrick Garland said at his confirmation hearing that while he was concerned about the Portland violence, he viewed the Capitol riot as a domestic extremist attack, seeing it as directed at interfering with government functions while the Portland violence targeted unoccupied buildings at night,” the WSJ reported, adding that federal prosecutors are seeking a full range of charges against more than 400 individual defendants who allegedly took part in the January 6th riot.
“Many charges arising from the Capitol riot have been more serious, including conspiracy and obstructing official proceedings, which could carry a 20-year sentence, and several dozen of those defendants remain in detention awaiting trial,” the outlet noted.
As Politico reported, late last week, the Biden administration’s decision to drop charges against most of the Portland defendants, however, could weigh in the January 6th defendants’ favor. “Five of the Portland cases in which deals were recently struck involved a felony charge of interfering with police during civil disorder” — a charge that is being widely used against individuals who are alleged to have assaulted members of law enforcement at the Capitol.
Although prosecutors in Washington, D.C., say the Capitol riots present a “category” of crime “all its own,” defense attorneys for those accused of rioting at the Capitol say the two incidents are similar, and they intend to use the Portland cases as a shield for their clients in negotiations with federal attorneys.
“I think they’re very relevant,” one defense attorney told Politico. “The individual conduct is actually not all that different: You’re at a protest that turns into a riot. … The core conduct is the same, so if people out there are getting deferred prosecution for that conduct, then my guy should be.”
Most of the alleged January 6th rioters are being held pending upcoming pre-trial hearings expected to take place in May.