During the exact hours U.S. President Donald Trump was being inaugurated, a tide of mass arrests and policing engulfed the steps of Capitol Hill as nearly 230 people were taken into custody and now face up to 10 years in prison and up to a quarter-million-dollar fine on felony riot charges.
What’s being cast as a massive new wave of repression also swept up legal observers and journalists who were there on the job. The day saw the deployment of riot police, the National Guard, Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, as well as heavy surveillance. Police used tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons and pepper spray on demonstrators, many of whom were a part of the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist bloc, Disrupt J20 Collective.
“These charges are absolutely horrifying. They are just trying to stop any resistance to the Trump administration,” Samantha Miller, an organizer with the Disrupt J20 Collective, told AlterNet. “Many of these demonstrators were showing rage and fear of what’s coming. It’s going to take a lot more than asking nicely to create change and stop the threats from the Trump administration.”
The majority have been charged under the felony riot act, explained Mark Goldstone, a National Lawyers Guild-affiliated attorney who has defended protesters in Washington, D.C., for more than 30 years.
“I have been representing protesters for 13 years now, and I have never seen felony rioting charges in Washington, D.C. It is not one of the standard laws that they tend to use. This is unusual. It is rare to use that charge,” said another lawyer, Jeffrey Light, who provided legal support to the Disrupt J20 Collective.
On Sunday, Mark Goldstone, a lawyer representing about 50 of those arrested, said police “basically identified a location that had problems and arrested everyone in that location.” He said that not all 230 people were engaged in what would merit a felony rioting charge.
“They arrested everyone in a single location including reporters, lawyers, law students, and non-riotous protesters,” Goldstone said.
Those arrested faced a litany of support from the hundreds gathered outside the jail Saturday, chanting their support with cries of “anticapitalista!”