A federal judge tore into a low-level defendant in the Capitol Riot Friday, moments after the man entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge stemming from the Jan. 6 unrest.
“You’ve disgraced this country in the eyes of the world and my inclination would be to lock you up, but since the government isn’t asking me to do that … I won’t,” U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton shouted at Fort Pierce, Fla., resident Anthony Mariotto during a video hearing. “I find it outrageous that American citizens would do what you did, so you better walk the straight and narrow, sir, you understand?”
“I do, your honor,” Mariotto replied meekly.
Most of Mariotto’s half-hour-long plea hearing was routine in nature, as the judge led the defendant through a fairly standard series of questions about his competence to enter a plea and about the consequences of doing so.
However, as the subject turned to whether Mariotto should be detained pending sentencing, Walton’s voice rose and he unleashed an angry fusillade over the storming of the Capitol earlier this year as lawmakers were preparing to certify Joe Biden’s win in the presidential race.
“I have real concerns about what you and the other people” did, said the judge, an appointee of former President George W. Bush. “It was an attack on our government, and I love my government. This government has been good to me. To see somebody destroy, or try to destroy, the Capitol is very troubling to me.”
Walton noted that he routinely travels overseas to advise other governments on judicial and legal issues. Now, that task will be more complicated and his credibility will be undercut, the judge declared.
“America was not great on that day and I’m sure when I go to other jurisdictions to say how they can be like America, they’ll say: ‘Why should I want to be like America when you all are trying to tear down your own country.’ I find it very troubling.”
Walton also expressed fears that the Jan. 6 rioters had set a precedent that could lead to unrest and violence in future U.S. elections.
“What if the next time around, the Democrats lose the presidency and start a riot?” the judge asked. “I guess you think that would be all right, in light of what you did, right?”
“No,” Mariotto said.
Walton is among a handful of federal judges in Washington, D.C. — appointed by presidents of both parties — to express open disdain for the riot defendants and their cause.
Chief Judge Beryl Howell, an appointee of former President Barack Obama, has similarly verbally thrashed defendants and suggested even the nonviolent offenders bear responsibility for the most egregious acts committed that day, arguing that they helped overwhelm police and weaken the building’s defenses. Howell has at times questioned prosecutors for not issuing more serious charges against some defendants and pressed defendants directly during plea hearings to own up to their conduct.
Other judges have opined that the Capitol riot was a grave affront to democracy and emphasized that any light sentences they might dole out to low-level offenders will not become the norm, although many of those sentenced on misdemeanor charges so far have gotten no jail time.
Judges routinely comment on the gravity of crimes committed by defendants found guilty, but the attack on the Capitol has put them in a unique position to provide a daily, running commentary on an investigation that has consumed Washington for months.
The case against Mariotto is a relatively routine one among the more than 600 Capitol riot defendants. He is accused of entering the building illegally, but not of committing any violence or property damage. He was hit with one charge most of the Jan. 6 defendants do not face: illegally remaining in a Congressional gallery.
Mariotto entered the Senate chamber and took a smiling selfie while there that he posted to social media.
Under the terms of Mariotto’s plea deal, though, prosecutors agreed to dismiss that charge and three others in exchange for his guilty plea to the charge of parading or protesting in the Capitol. That carries a maximum six-month prison sentence.
Walton, who is known for withering in-court outbursts like a brutal verbal attack last year on Attorney General Bill Barr, initially misstated the charge Mariotto was seeking to plead guilty to as “pandering” in the Capitol. The charge actually covers parading, demonstrating or picketing in any Capitol building.
Mariotto quickly said he thought it was “parading” he was admitting to. Prosecutor Kimberley Nielsen also chimed in to say the charge was parading, demonstrating or picketing. The judge, however, said he didn’t see much difference.
“I’m sure pandering is equal to one of those,” Walton said.