Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

In this Jan. 6, 2021 photo, supporters of then-President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP) In this Jan. 6, 2021 photo, supporters of then-President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)

In this Jan. 6, 2021 photo, supporters of then-President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher July 28, 2021

Jailed defendants in Jan. 6 attack aren’t 'political prisoners.' They’re charged with real crimes.

If Your Time is short

  • Defendants in the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol face charges that include violent acts and attacks on officers. 

  • The defendants are not being prosecuted for political beliefs and, based on the charges, are not mere trespassers.

  • Most have been released from custody while awaiting trial, but some remain in jail and some in solitary confinement.

Some of the people charged with crimes in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol have been held in solitary confinement while they await trial.

An Instagram post mischaracterizes why they were charged and what they are accused of doing.

"FREE JAN 6 POLITICAL PRISONERS," the claim begins. "NON-VIOLENT TRESPASSERS HAVE BEEN IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR THE PAST 6 MONTHS."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Versions of the claim have been made on Twitter.

The defendants were charged with crimes not because of their political views, but because they allegedly committed violent acts or other crimes during the riot.

Most are not in custody while awaiting trial, but some are in jail and some have been held in solitary confinement.

The violent acts

Let’s start by dispelling the notion that the armed insurrection was merely a political protest by trespassers.

We rated as Pants on Fire a claim that the riot resembled a "normal tourist visit," and we gave a Pants on Fire rating to the claim that it was a "completely peaceful protest." 

The protesters supporting then-President Donald Trump forced their way through barricades and past law enforcement to breach the building. They smashed windows and broke doors. They ransacked offices. They chanted about the vice president, "Hang Mike Pence!" They attacked police officers. They caused the House and Senate to shut down for several hours on the day lawmakers were certifying that Joe Biden won the presidential election.

The Justice Department has charged 551 people — 481 men and 70 women — in connection with the siege, according to a database run by the George Washington University Center on Extremism. Charges include obstruction of law enforcement; violence with a deadly weapon; assault; disorderly conduct; and unlawful possession of firearms. The latest arrest, of a 32-year-old Houston man on charges including assaulting an officer, was made July 23.

Featured Fact-check

In reviewing court filings, news reports and other information for approximately 430 defendants who had been arrested through June 1, PolitiFact found the key driver behind what happened on Jan. 6 was acceptance of the false narrative that Democrats stole the election with widespread voter fraud.

Solitary confinement

News reports have detailed some of the cases in which suspects have been held in solitary confinement.

Politico reported in April that most of the defendants had been released from custody while they await trial, but dozens deemed to be dangerous, flight risks or at high risk of obstructing justice were ordered held without bond. Washington jail officials later decided for safety reasons that all of those defendants would be placed in so-called restrictive housing, which meant 23 hours a day of isolation.

In May, The Guardian reported that of the 398 defendants charged as of May 10, at least 330 were listed on the Justice Department website or in federal court records as having been released from custody.

New York State resident Edward Jacob Lang, whose charges include assaulting, resisting or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon, was arrested on Jan. 16, largely based on social media posts he made of the Jan. 6 riot. 

According to reporting from the Middletown, N.Y., Times Herald-Record, the 26-year-old Lang interrupted a federal judge during a July 16 status hearing on his case, saying that he has been held in solitary confinement for six months, that his treatment is "inhumane" and that "I have been stripped of all human dignity." The judge did not respond.

The newspaper also said that another area defendant, Thomas Webster, was kept alone in his cell for 23 hours a day until being released June 30 to home detention. He was prevented from getting court papers and a computer thumb drive his lawyers mailed him, according to a court filing by his lawyer. Webster, whose charges also include assaulting, resisting or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon, was arrested Feb. 22.

Democratic and Republican senators have expressed concerns about the solitary confinement of Jan. 6 defendants.

The District of Columbia Department of Corrections would not answer our questions about how many of the defendants have been held in solitary confinement. The department sent a statement that said: "The safety and security of DOC’s facilities remain our highest priority. It is our mission to protect and treat every resident humanely and respectfully while they are in our care awaiting due process. DOC carries out its mission for every individual regardless of their background and political affiliations."

Our ruling

An Instagram post says people charged in the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol are "political prisoners" and "non-violent trespassers" who have been held in solitary confinement for the past six months.

The vast majority of defendants have been released from custody while awaiting trial, but some held in jail have been kept in solitary confinement.

The defendants face numerous charges that include violent acts and attacks on officers. While many defendants may have been inspired to participate based on their political beliefs, there is no evidence they are being prosecuted for those beliefs; the charges and court documents show they are being prosecuted for actions that law enforcement officials say violated the law.

The post contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression — our definition of Mostly False.

Our Sources

Instagram, post, July 24, 2021

PolitiFact, "No, the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6 wasn’t a ‘completely peaceful protest,’" June 4, 2021

PolitiFact, "The ridiculous claim that those at the Capitol Jan. 6 resembled a 'normal tourist visit,’" May 13, 2021

PolitiFact, "Misinformation and the Jan. 6 insurrection: When ‘patriot warriors’ were fed lies," June 30, 2021

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Yes, Jan. 6 Capitol assault was an ‘armed insurrection,’" Feb. 15, 2021

George Washington University Program on Extremism, "Capitol Hill Siege," accessed July 27, 2021

U.S. Department of Justice, "Capitol Breach Cases," accessed July 27, 2021 

U.S. Senate, letter, June 7, 2021

Email, District of Columbia Department of Corrections statement, July 28, 2021

Politico, "Jan. 6 defendants win unlikely Dem champions as they face harsh detainment," April 19, 2021

Times Herald-Record, "Capitol riot suspect from Newburgh tells judge his solitary confinement is 'inhumane,’" July 19, 2021

Washington Examiner, "Solitary confinement for Jan. 6 riot participants draws criticism from Democratic senators and ACLU," June 8, 2021

The Guardian, "Revealed: majority of people charged in Capitol attack aren’t in jail," May 28, 2021

WUSA9.com, "VERIFY: Yes, some Capitol Riot defendants are being held without bond before their trials," July 27, 2021

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Tom Kertscher

Jailed defendants in Jan. 6 attack aren’t 'political prisoners.' They’re charged with real crimes.

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up