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News Roundup

Readers no doubt already are aware of the criminal law news of this sad week in America where President Donald Trump is being blamed for inciting extremist political supporters to engage in a violent siege on the United States Capitol.  One person, Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, was shot dead by police as she and other rioters attempted to breach a barricaded door in the Capitol.  The deadly force used to repel Babbitt was remarkable in its singularity – throngs of rioters beset the Capitol and met little resistance, with video footage showing some police officers moving barriers, standing aside, and even posing for selfies in the midst of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell later called a “failed insurrection.”  Keep reading for more news.

Capitol Attack.  The shocking attack on the Capitol, and the response to it, in many ways are a crystallization of difficult problems that have strained our country in recent years – radicalization rooted in online conspiracy theories, disparate policing based on race, and inability to agree on common facts.

News reports suggest that Ashli Babbitt, who served in the Air Force for 14 years, was actively involved in the online conspiracy theory QAnon.  As the Atlantic recently explained, QAnon theorists believe, based on cryptic anonymous internet posts from a supposed government intelligence insider, that Donald Trump is heroically thwarting an international ring of pedophiles comprised of global elites.  The Pizzagate conspiracy theory that caused a North Carolina man, Edgar M. Welch of Salisbury, to storm a pizza restaurant in Washington with an assault rifle in 2016 under the mistaken belief that he would discover evidence there of child sex trafficking is considered a forerunner to QAnon.

The inadequate preparation for and response to the attack on the Capitol by police has been met with widespread outrage and disbelief.  As mentioned in the lead, video footage from the attack shows that rioters easily overwhelmed police and were able to roam the Capitol building essentially without resistance.  The stark contrast between the meager police response on Wednesday to a largely white crowd and the militarized police presence at Black Lives Matter protests across the country this summer following the killing of George Floyd has been widely cited as yet another example of persistent racism in America.

On Thursday, U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger each resigned in the face of blistering criticism of their handling of the week’s events.

NC Arrests.  The Asheville Citizen-Times reports that two Asheville men were arrested in Washington on Tuesday, the day prior to the attack on the Capitol.  Thomas Gronek was arrested on Constitution Avenue and charged with carrying a pistol without a permit, possession of a large capacity magazine, and possession of unregistered ammunition.  Timothy Keller was arrested along with Gronek on Tuesday.  Keller was charged with not having a permit to drive a spray-painted “hippies 4 Trump” bus that he and Gronek had driven to the city.  Fox 46 reported that several other North Carolina residents were arrested in connection with the events in Washington.

AG Announcement.  On Thursday, President-elect Joe Biden announced that he would nominate D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland to be Attorney General.  Biden also announced Lisa Monaco as his nomination for deputy attorney general and Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general.  Monaco previously served as Homeland Security Adviser to President Obama and Gupta previously served as the head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.

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