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Jan. 6 investigations update

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

And while Congress continues to deal with the aftermath of January 6, the FBI continues to investigate the people who attack the Capitol. So far, the FBI has arrested more than 1,200 people in connection with the insurrection. NPR's Tom Dreisbach has been covering those cases for the past three years and joins us now. Hey, Tom.

TOM DREISBACH, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: You know, I think one thing about all of this - people may be surprised to learn that arrests are still being made. Where does the investigation stand?

DREISBACH: I mean, yes, it is striking how many arrests are still happening three years later. But keep in mind that this is believed to be the single largest criminal investigation in American history. The FBI estimates that around 2,000 people took part. People from every state in the country, outside researchers, the so-called sedition hunters, think that number is even higher. And the FBI and investigators are dealing with an enormous number of tips from the public, tens of thousands of hours of video footage, social media posts. And this week, the top federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C. - Matthew Graves is his name - he gave a presentation and said they are still asking for help finding suspects.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTHEW GRAVES: We request the public's continued assistance in identifying individuals who committed crimes on January 6, 2021, particularly the roughly 80 still-unidentified individuals who were believed to have committed acts of violence against law enforcement officers.

DREISBACH: And we should say those tips from friends, even family members, even open-source researchers online, those have been really crucial in many of these cases in making arrests. The government, I should say, is also working against the clock. If Trump wins the presidential election this year, he could end these investigations as soon as he takes office. He has also promised to pardon a number of the rioters. Even if these investigations continue, the statute of limitations for these crimes is set to run out on January 5, 2026, five years after the attack, so the government has a big task ahead of itself.

DETROW: So two more years to do this - but again, it is worth pointing out that Trump has pretty clearly promised to pardon people and would almost certainly shut down these investigations. That's just something that's worth noting, like you said. There've been already more than 1,200 arrests. Where are those cases in the pipeline?

DREISBACH: The majority of those folks who have been charged around 900 people or so, they've already pleaded guilty to one or more charges or they've been convicted at trial. There's a wide range of charges. I kind of put them in a few buckets mentally. The largest is the relatively low level of people who entered the building, did nothing else. Then there's the people who the government says intentionally, corruptly obstructed the proceedings of Congress that day. Then there's the people who committed violence against police, sometimes members of the media.

And at the very most serious end are the people who have been convicted of seditious conspiracy against the United States. There were two major cases on that seditious conspiracy charge involving members of the far-right extremist groups, the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers. The government succeeded in securing convictions against the top leaders of both groups.

DETROW: What kind of sentences have we seen being handed out?

DREISBACH: As you can imagine, you know, there's a wide range of conduct and a wide range...

DETROW: Yeah.

DREISBACH: ...Of sentences as a result. On the high end are in those seditious conspiracy cases. The former leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, was sentenced to 22 years in prison, the leader of the Oath Keepers, Stewart Rhodes, sentenced to 18 years in prison. There's been some fairly stiff sentences for people convicted of assault. Just this past week, a man was convicted of assaulting police with pepper spray and then - and fleeing after his trial, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

On the lower end, around a third of defendants have received no jail time at all. They may have a fine to pay, probation, sometimes requirements like seeking mental health treatment. Judges have a lot of discretion at sentencing. In addition to the conduct of the defendant, they also look at things like whether someone expresses regret for what they did.

DETROW: And you have spent a lot of time monitoring these trials, reading these transcripts. Generally speaking, have people been really expressing remorse?

DREISBACH: It's been all over the map. You know, I don't think I can make a sweeping judgment about where people end up on their conduct that day. A number of people have expressed some form of remorse, said they got caught up in the moment, felt like they were lied to by Trump about the election. They regret their actions that day. Others are totally unrepentant, even proud of what they did.

There's this one case that I think of where a defendant told his judge at sentencing that what he did was, quote, "unacceptable." He said he disgraced his country. He was a veteran. He said he disgraced his uniform. He apologized to members of Congress, the Capitol Police. And then recently, when he got out of prison, he fully embraced the false conspiracy theories about January 6. He says he's a political prisoner and that January 6 was a setup by the feds.

DETROW: Yeah.

DREISBACH: And I think one factor in all this is what former President Trump has said about January 6. He has fully embraced the events of that day. He says that day was beautiful. He calls the defendants patriots and has promised them pardons, and I think all of that rhetoric does have an effect.

DETROW: And he, of course, is a January 6-tied defendant himself. We're going to talk about that later in the show. That is NPR investigative correspondent Tom Dreisbach. Tom, thanks so much.

DREISBACH: Scott, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Dreisbach is a correspondent on NPR's Investigations team focusing on breaking news stories.