GUEST EDITORIAL: Let facts drive riots cases

Dallas Morning News editorial board (TNS)
A Pro-Trump mob storms the U.S. Capitol following a rally with President Donald Trump on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/TNS)

One of the largest criminal investigations in American history is happening right now, and it’s one we should not forget.

Well over 300 people have been charged with crimes in connection with the historic events of Jan. 6 when a violent mob stormed the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., and disrupted the functions of government.

According to news reports, investigators have identified more than 540 suspects. More arrests are likely.

More charges are too. New developments last week have revealed that prosecutors are building cases for more serious charges. According to The New York Times, about two dozen people face charges of conspiring to overturn election results. The most serious charge being considered is seditious conspiracy, which is partly defined as using force “to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

What was clear, even before the Capitol insurrection ended, was that our country’s response to these crimes would be just as important as the spectacle itself. When violent actors break the law, the democratic response is not to strike back with equal lawlessness, but to rejoin by affirming the rule of law. Each of the people who stormed the “temple of democracy,” as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called it, must answer for individual actions, not the actions of any other. And each must be given due process. That is the hallmark of equal justice.

It’s also a standard that means prosecutors have their work cut out for them. In January, Steven D’Antuono, head of the FBI’s Washington field office, said his team has been inundated with more than 140,000 videos and photos of the attack. There is an enormous amount of data to sift through.

The Times has parsed video of critical moments of the siege. And USA Today is compiling dossiers on each of the defendants, 29 of which, we’ll point out, are from Texas.

More details will emerge in the weeks and months ahead, but as they do emerge, everyone should be careful not to get out in front of proven facts. Last Tuesday, news broke that the Department of Justice has launched an internal probe into its members making so-called inappropriate comments to journalists, including unnamed sources who spoke with The Times, and Michael Sherwin, the former acting U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., who gave an extensive interview to "60 Minutes."

Transparency in government is crucial to fostering public trust, so we hope officials continue to speak to journalists and media outlets continue to compile key details. But false narratives can foul cases, so our hope is that facts continue to drive this story regardless of where it ends.

The shock of seeing a mob scale the walls of the Capitol is fading. The headlines have moved on. But America’s reputation and long tradition stand on doing the slow, exacting work of upholding the rule of law. And for that, we’re glad to see progress in these cases.

— From the Dallas Morning News editorial board.