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Rantz: Seattle lawyers upset feds prosecuting arsonists at ‘peaceful protests’

A witness photographed accused arsonist Isaiah Willoughby in the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. Screen shot from criminal complaint.

Seattle lawyers are concerned and upset that the Department of Justice is prosecuting arsonists and other serious felonies at so-called “peaceful protests” on Capitol Hill.

The charges come as U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran has stepped up enforcement against agitators at riots and protests-turned-criminal-demonstrations. Moran has charged eight activists for their roles in arson or use of Molotov cocktails and other weapons.

But some local lawyers have expressed “concern” over Moran’s involvement. One lawyer even questions the political motivation of at least one charge, arguing it is meant to portray protests as dangerous even though the felonies were committed at actual violent demonstrations.

Rantz: 30 photos of weapons, violence at ‘peaceful protests’ in Seattle

Seattle lawyers upset DOJ prosecuting arsonists

The claims of consternation appear in a report by KUOW.

Amy Radil reports that, “Defense attorneys say the Justice Department is going out of its way to try to discredit the protests.” Among them is Dennis Carroll, an assistant federal public defender that represents Isaiah Willoughby.

According to the criminal complaint, Willoughby tried to burn down the East Precinct during the height of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). Moran notes that Willoughby tried to delete social media posts that tied him to the arson. He now faces a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, which could extend up to 20 years.

Carroll doesn’t like that his client now faces harsher penalties with the federal charge. He notes the lighter sentence if the Willoughby case was handled locally.

“This is a uniquely local matter that should be handled in state court,” Carroll told Radil. “However, the Department of Justice came in, and took the cases to federal court where they can levy draconian mandatory minimum penalties against the people who are charged.”

The stiffer penalty, on top of the seriousness of the alleged crime, is likely the reason why Moran took the case. If you don’t make an example out of these acts, more people will do the same.

Lawyer claims political motivation

Apparently, Carroll doesn’t think Moran’s involvement is to deter future crimes. Though he has no proof, Carroll claims there is political motivation.

“We think bringing these cases to federal court is an effort by the Department of Justice to mischaracterize these protests and make them seem more violent and damaging than they actually are,” Carroll told Radil.

On its face, the argument makes no sense.

By punishing the people who are clearly not protesting, Moran is giving space to actual protesters to peacefully assemble. He notes that he supports the right to peacefully protest but when you get violent, it’s no longer protected.

There’s also no mischaracterization. The CHAZ was not a peaceful protest. It was a chaotic hellscape that resulted in two teenage homicides. And arson is neither an acceptable nor legal way to express your activism. It literally was as violent and damaging as honest observers of CHAZ note.

DOJ does what locals won’t

Seattle and King County County officials have a lousy record of punishing criminals. The DOJ needed to step in.

Prosecutors routinely plea down and judges seem averse to putting criminals in prison. We already have a serious and dangerous problem with prolific offenders. You know who we don’t need on the streets? Ideologues willing to use violence to forward a political agenda. To me, that makes them domestic terrorists.

When local prosecutors and judges take this more seriously, perhaps the U.S. Attorney’s office can step back and let locals handle these issues. Until then, Moran should lead the charge and take down these criminal agitators. And the people who should want this the most are the actual peaceful protesters who shouldn’t want to be defined by violent activists.

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow @JasonRantz on Twitter and Instagram or like me on Facebook

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