A federal judge in Washington warned of the risk of “autocracy” and the rise of lawlessness in America, as she sentenced a convicted U.S. Capitol riot defendant to eight months in prison.  

In lengthy and at times blistering remarks during the Thursday sentencing hearing of a former U.S. Marine, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly warned of parallels between Jan. 6, 2021, and the election that preceded the U.S. Civil War.

Jan. 6 defendant Jesus Rivera approaching U.S. Capitol. Screenshot from live stream.

Government exhibit

Kollar-Kotelly’s remarks five days before the end of this year’s heated midterm election campaigns included references to the risk of the dissolution of democracy in America.  

“We should appreciate what an extraordinary country we live in, with a vibrant democracy,” Kollar-Kotelly said. As she issued a prison sentence to defendant Jesus Rivera, of Florida, the judge said there’s a need for judges to ensure proper deterrence, in order to prevent a recurrence of violence after future elections. “Lawlessness breeds lawlessness,” Koller-Kotelly told Rivera.

She convicted Rivera at a bench trial in June on four federal charges, including disorderly conduct. Prosecutors argued Rivera had livestreamed the riot and made exhortations to the crowd on Jan. 6.   

The Justice Department sought a nine-month prison sentence, emphasizing Rivera’s decision to stream the attack and accusing him a lack of remorse. Kollar-Kotelly criticized Rivera for sharing a meme months after the Capitol siege in which he appears to taunt some of the injured and affected Capitol officers who were shown crying about the riot.

Jesus Rivera shared a meme months after the Capitol siege in which he appears to taunt some of the injured and affected Capitol officers who were shown crying about the riot.

Government exhibit

Rivera, who served as a Marine from 2002 to 2012, sought leniency, telling Kollar-Kotelly he regretted entering the Capitol on Jan. 6. He said he feels apologetic toward the officers and told the judge, “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t have been there that day.”   

As has been the case with many other January 6 defendants who have faced sentencing, Rivera’s request for leniency did not include references to the unfounded claims of election fraud that gave rise to the attack or to former President Trump.

Kollar-Kotelly questioned Rivera’s remorse in the months after the siege, saying, “Shortly after returning home from the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the defendant sent a message (saying) ‘I can honestly say I had a great time.'”

 She added, “Whatever remorse you expressed today cannot obliterate the (damage) to our democracy,” and she chastised Rivera for failing to follow the oath he had sworn as a Marine. She then warned Rivera of the impact Jan. 6 could have on the future of American democracy.   

“Even when you think unlawful action is warranted.. that unlawful action degrades our Constitution,” Kollar-Kotelly said.

The judge said, “There was a group of people who knew the election wasn’t stolen, yet rioted to install “their preferred candidate.”  She also drew parallels between the Jan. 6 attack and the reaction after the presidential election of 1860, referring to the attack as “bloody.”  She drew comparisons to “Chavez’s Venezuela, Pinochet’s Chile and Argentina’s ‘Dirty War'” in describing the ongoing threat to U.S. democracy.

Kollar-Kotelly was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 1997 by President Bill Clinton.

Prosecutors have filed charges against over 900 defendants from coast to coast — arresting defendants in nearly all 50 states. The most common crime alleged amounts to a low-level illegal picketing charge inside the Capitol, which carries a minimum sentence of 6 months in prison, although most get far less time in prison. 

More than 270 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding law enforcement officers on Jan. 6, according to the Justice Department, and more than 20 have faced the most severe seditious conspiracy charge, which amounts to allegations of using force to impede the peaceful transfer of power, 

According to a CBS News count, approximately 440 individuals have accepted responsibility for their crimes, admitting guilt and entering plea deals with the government. 

The less common resolution chosen by defendants has been to go to trial, like Rivera, and face stiffer penalties for refusing to take responsibility for their alleged crimes. Approximately two dozen have so far been convicted at trial.