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RFK Jr. campaign describes Jan. 6 defendants as ‘activists,’ then disavows email

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy’s campaign told supporters Wednesday that those facing charges in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot are “activists sitting in a Washington DC jail cell stripped of their Constitutional liberties.”

Kennedy’s campaign used the language in an email urging his followers to sign a petition calling for the release of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In the email, titled “We Must Free Assange!,” the campaign compared those jailed for their actions on Jan. 6 to Assange and Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor who leaked information about top-secret U.S. surveillance programs and is now living in Moscow.

The campaign claimed Thursday that Kennedy did not approve of the wording in the email, blaming the “error” on a contractor who the campaign later said has since been terminated. But Kennedy himself has previously downplayed the Jan. 6 attack and said he is open to pardoning convicted rioters.

The email, sent from “Team Kennedy,” refers to a British court’s decision to delay Assange’s extradition to the United States until he is guaranteed free-speech protections and U.S. officials offer assurances that he will not incur the death penalty in a U.S. trial. Kennedy — an anti-vaccine activist who rails against government censorship as a major plank of his third-party campaign — has said he would pardon Assange if elected president.

“The Brits want to make sure our government doesn’t kill Assange,” the email says. “This is the reality that every American Citizen faces — from Ed Snowden, to Julian Assange to the J6 activists sitting in a Washington DC jail cell stripped of their Constitutional liberties.”

It’s unclear which Jan. 6 defendants Kennedy’s campaign is referring to — very few of them are in the D.C. jail, where a small percentage await trial, sentencing or transfer to a federal prison to serve out their sentences. Despite complaints from some far-right lawmakers, no court has found that the detention violated their rights.

The naming of the defendants as “activists” echoes Donald Trump’s decision to align himself with the Jan. 6 rioters. He has called them “patriots” and “hostages” and glossed over the violence committed that day in a bid to prevent Joe Biden from being confirmed as president.

At campaign rallies, Trump has played a musical tribute to the jailed Capitol defendants. Meanwhile, President Biden has slammed Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election or take responsibility for the violence. Kennedy has mostly avoided talking about Jan. 6 on the campaign trail, in speeches or social media postings. He did not post on Twitter, now called X, about the riot.

But Kennedy shared his views about the Capitol attack with Politico’s David Freedlander, who asked him in October whether he remembered where he was on Jan. 6, 2021. Kennedy’s comments came after the two had discussed the candidate’s views on government censorship.

“What do you think is more dangerous,” he asked Freedlander. “The censorship by the government of Americans who disagree with its policies or Jan. 6?”

He added: “Jan. 6 was an attack on a building. And we have lots of layers of government behind that building.”

Kennedy previously told The Post that he accepted the results of the 2020 election but would not commit to accepting the results of the 2024 election. He said he would consider pardoning those convicted of their role in the riot.

“If prosecutorial malfeasance is demonstrated, then yes,” he said. “Otherwise, no.”

On Thursday, the campaign said in a statement that the email was “an error that does not reflect Mr. Kennedy’s views.”

The statement “was inserted by a new marketing contractor and slipped through the normal approval process,” campaign spokeswoman Stefanie Spear said.

Kennedy faced criticism when he argued this week that Biden was a greater threat to democracy than Trump, who still falsely claims that Biden was not legitimately elected in 2020. Kennedy’s assertion was based on the Biden administration’s push for social media companies to monitor their sites for medical misinformation; Kennedy was temporarily banned from Instagram for spreading misinformation about vaccines.

“Him trying to overthrow the election clearly is a threat to democracy,” Kennedy told CNN of Trump. “But the question was, who is a worse threat to democracy and what I would say is … I’m not going to answer that question, but I can argue that President Biden is.”

Kennedy started his run for the presidency as a Democrat but decided in October to mount a campaign as an independent and has increasingly ramped up his attacks on Biden. The descendant of the prominent political family holds some appeal for both Republicans and Democrats in what looks to be a Biden-Trump rematch as he seeks ballot access across the country.

More than three years after the Capitol attack, only 30 of the nearly 1,400 people charged with committing crimes that day are in the D.C. jail. All but a few of them have been charged or convicted of assaulting police officers during the riot. Most are awaiting sentencing or transfer to a prison facility. Among the handful being held before trial are a man with a long criminal history charged with firing a gun outside the Capitol building, a man who showed up armed outside former president Barack Obama’s house, and people accused of attacking officers with such weapons as explosive devices and a metal whip.

In late 2021, a federal judge asked the Justice Department to investigate complaints from Jan. 6 defendants that they were being mistreated in the D.C. jail. A surprise inspection found that the facility was unsanitary and that staff members were engaged in abusive behavior — but not in the section where the alleged rioters were being held, where conditions were found to be “largely appropriate and consistent with federal prisoner detention standards.”

The same judge, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth, has joined several colleagues in pushing back publicly on claims that riot participants are being punished for their beliefs or for demonstrating in support of Trump. The Capitol attack, Lamberth said in sentencing one rioter this week, “was neither First Amendment-protected activity nor civil disobedience … because it was violent, not peaceful; opportunistic, not principled; coercive, not persuasive; and selfish, not patriotic.”

Fifty-five percent of Americans believe the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6 was “an attack on democracy that should never be forgotten,” according to a Post-University of Maryland poll from January. However, Republicans increasingly view the rioters in a positive light, with only 18 percent saying they were “mostly violent,” compared with 77 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents.


A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled David Freedlander’s last name. The article has been corrected.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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