The San Juan Daily Star
Lawmakers tour DC jail where Jan. 6 defendants are held
By Luke Broadwater
When Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., arranged a tour of the District of Columbia jail to inspect the conditions of defendants charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Democrats faced a choice: boycott or participate.
House Democrats had watched last Congress as Republican leader Kevin McCarthy pulled his members from a Democratic-led select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, and then found themselves without a voice in the nationally televised hearings. After debating the matter internally, Democrats were determined not to make that same mistake.
So, after a roughly two-hour tour of the jail Friday, when Greene finished her remarks to news reporters gathered outside, Rep. Jasmine Crockett, D-Texas, stepped up to the microphones.
“Somebody’s got to be here to tell the truth,” said Crockett, a first-term member of Congress and a former public defender. “If we weren’t here, there would be no check for whatever it was that they said.”
Crockett is familiar with the jails of Texas and Arkansas, where she said inmates faced much harsher conditions. The nearly two dozen defendants at the D.C. facility charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack were housed in the newer part of the jail, had more open space, and were given tablets for entertainment, she reported.
“My frame of reference comes out of Arkansas jails, Texas jails. Listen, this is so much different and so much better,” Crockett said, adding that detainees elsewhere in the D.C. facility were kept in worse, more cramped conditions. “I don’t think the January 6ers would want to go the other way.”
House Republicans this month opened their long-promised investigation into whether people charged with crimes in connection with the Jan. 6 attack had been mistreated at the D.C. jail, fulfilling a pledge party leaders had made to their right flank. The investigation — part of a broader effort by Republicans to rewrite the history of the riot in part by portraying participants as the true victims — has been a top priority of Greene, who wrote a report in 2021 about poor conditions at the jail and carries significant influence among House Republicans.
Greene and fellow Republicans emerged from the facility Friday afternoon to a raucous scene with a handful of noisy protesters. One repeatedly blew a whistle loudly as Greene tried to speak to reporters, interrupting her. Another man shouted out descriptions of the Jan. 6 defendants’ crimes. “The Capitol Police were attacked!” he yelled. “They need to have long jail sentences!” A vehicle, paid for by a political group aligned with Democrats, displayed screens showing the violence of Jan. 6, when some 150 officers were injured.
Greene’s spokesperson at one point covered his ears as he tried to block a protester from approaching her.
Speaking to television cameras, Greene decried a “two-tier justice system” in which the Jan. 6 defendants were treated like “political prisoners.”
“They told us stories of being denied medical treatment,” she said of her conversations with the Jan. 6 defendants. “They told us stories of assault. They told us stories of being threatened with rape.”
Greene visited the jail in November 2021 and detailed her findings in a report released the next month. She said one inmate had reported being beaten by other detainees and not being provided care.
On Friday, she said conditions had improved since her last visit.
“Throughout the entire jail, it was cleaner. It had been painted,” Greene said, adding: “They are allowed out of their cells a lot longer throughout the day.”
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., credited the Republican-led tour with the improved cleanliness of the facility: “They said in the last month or so, since we took back Congress, that it’s gotten better,” Luna said, referring to the detainees. “But they said they cleaned it up nicely in the last few days since they knew that we were coming.”
Seventeen of the 20 defendants held at the D.C. jail on charges related to Jan. 6 are accused of assaulting law enforcement officers during the Capitol attack, according to research conducted by one of the main authors of the House Jan. 6 committee’s report. The other defendants include a Proud Boys member and an Oath Keepers member, the report stated.
Under a different strategy, Democrats might have opted out of the tour, choosing to ignore an event many on the left viewed as a stunt. But Rep. Robert Garcia of California said Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, had asked him to attend to “ensure there is a fair representation of what happened.”
“These people tried to overthrow our government,” Garcia said. “While Marjorie Taylor Greene wants to treat these folks as pseudocelebrities, these folks are insurrectionists and we can’t forget that.”
But in arguing for the rights of Jan. 6 defendants, Republicans have hit on the issue of prison reform and can find some common ground with Democrats.
Civil rights advocates have long been concerned about conditions at the D.C. jail. The facility received increased attention when defendants charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack were housed there, and their lawyers raised concerns about threats from guards, standing sewage, and scant food and water.
A federal judge in 2021 held top officials of the D.C. jail in contempt of court, ruling they had improperly delayed medical treatment for a Jan. 6 defendant kept in their custody.
Asked whether she was engaged in a whitewashing of the events of Jan. 6, Greene responded that others were whitewashing riots carried out by left-wing groups.
“The Democrats and the media alike are whitewashing all the things that happened with antifa, BLM protests and riots across the country in 2020,” she said. “I don’t know why we have to all forget about those but we have to continue arresting 1,000 more people for Jan. 6.”