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Supporters of then-President Donald Trump storm the Capitol
Supporters of then-President Donald Trump storm the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. Samuel Corum / Getty Images file

In Jan. 6 case, judge warns of ‘the dark shadow of tyranny’

"People need to understand that they can’t do this, or anything like this, again," a federal judge reminded a Jan. 6 rioter who attacked the police.


During the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a man grabbed Police Officer Michael Fanone, dragged him into a mob, all while boasting, “I got one!” At that point, pro-Trump rioters tased the officer, took his badge and radio, and threatened to murder him with his own gun.

The criminal who dragged Fanone was later identified as Albuquerque Head, a 43-year-old Tennessee man who also used a police shield to push against a line of police officers in the Capitol’s lower west terrace tunnel, where the insurrectionists were especially violent.

Yesterday, as NBC News reported, he was sentenced to prison.

[Head] was sentenced to 90 months in federal prison, a bit shy of the 96 months prosecutors had requested but still one of the longest sentences to date in the Capitol riot cases. Head will get credit for the roughly 18 months he has spent locked up already.... Jackson said it was important to send a message to those who would seek to overturn elections in the future.

In fact, just as notable as the prison sentence itself was the way in which U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson contextualized the circumstances.

“Mr. Head didn’t just get caught up in something. This case is not about getting carried away,” the jurist explained. She added that Fanone, she said, “was protecting America. That’s who Officer Fanone was. That’s what Officer Fanone was doing.” She added that the officer, unlike the rioter, “was protecting the very essence of democracy, the peaceful transfer of power after a democratic election.”

Jackson went on to explain, “People need to understand that they can’t do this, or anything like this, again. They can’t try to force their will on the American people once the American people have already spoken at the ballot box. That’s the opposite of democracy — it’s tyranny. And the threat to democracy, the dark shadow of tyranny, unfortunately, has not gone away.

“There are people who are still disseminating the lie that the election was stolen. They’re doing it today,” she continued. “And the people who are stoking that anger for their own selfish purposes, they need to think about the havoc they’ve wreaked, the lives they’ve ruined, the harm to their supporters’ families, even, and the threat to this country’s foundation.”

I can’t say with confidence whether Head fully understood the message, but he’ll apparently have several years to think about it.

If Jackson’s name sounds at all familiar, it was last month, while sentencing a different Jan. 6 rioter, when the judge argued that it’s up to the courts to help draw the line against democratic dangers.

“[The judiciary] has to make it clear: It is not patriotism, it is not standing up for America to stand up for one man — who knows full well that he lost — instead of the Constitution he was trying to subvert,” Jackson said in September.

She also marveled at the extent to which GOP leaders are so beholden to “one man” that it has become “heresy” for Republicans to contradict Trump’s election lies.

A month earlier, with another Jan. 6 defendant in her courtroom, Jackson reminded a rioter, “You called yourself and the others ‘patriots,’ but that’s not patriotism. Patriotism is loyalty to country, loyalty to the Constitution, not loyalty to a single head of state. That’s the tyranny we rejected on July 4th of 1776.”

It’s unexpected, but one of the nation’s most eloquent voices on the significance of Jan. 6 isn’t a politician or a media professional, it’s a federal judge.