Capitol Riot Defendants Celebrate Supreme Court's Ruling: ‘We Won!’

After the U.S. Supreme Court threw out an obstruction charge against a former police officer for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, directly across the street from the court, on Friday morning, other alleged insurrectionists celebrated.

“I should have never been charged with felony Obstruction, and neither should hundreds of other January 6th defendants,” wrote one of the convicted rioters, Alexander Sheppard, in a post Friday on X (formerly Twitter). The Ohio man, who was sentenced to 19 months in federal prison for storming past police lines into the Capitol, was released from prison in May pending the Supreme Court’s decision in Fischer v. United States. 

“For nearly 4 years, the Department of Justice put us through hell for supporting President Trump and taking a stand for Election Integrity,” he wrote. “As one of the 52 defendants where Obstruction was my ONLY felony charge, I feel that a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I will soon be going to resentencing, and I pray that my judge now sees this whole case for what it always has been: a complete and total sham.” 

The high court, in a 6-3 vote, ruled that Joseph Fischer, a former police officer who stormed the Capitol, should not have been charged with obstructing an official proceeding over the attempt to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election by counting states’ electoral votes. The majority decision said that the obstruction statute federal prosecutors used to charged Fischer, Section 1512 of U.S. Code Title 18, was intended only for cases involving tampering with physical evidence. 

“January 6 was an unprecedented attack on the cornerstone of our system of government — the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday, responding to the Supreme Court’s decision. “I am disappointed by today’s decision, which limits an important federal statute that the Department has sought to use to ensure that those most responsible for that attack face appropriate consequences.” 

Fischer, the petitioner in the Supreme Court case, was in a brighter mood. 

“He and his family were ecstatic,” Fischer’s attorney, Jeff Green, told HuffPost on Friday. “This has been a long road for him, but there’s more of that road ahead. This is but one of seven charges, six more pending, and we’ll have to see to that.” Among the other charges Fischer faces is one of assaulting a police officer.  

The Supreme Court decision could have ramifications for more than 200 defendants in cases related to the Capitol riot and will likely reify right-wing and MAGA narratives about the alleged insurrectionists being “political prisoners.” 

According to an NBC tally, out of 1,400 Capitol riot defendants, the obstruction statute at the center of the Supreme Court case was used against 247 people. It is the lone felony charge against only 52 of those defendants. Of those, 27 are currently serving sentences. 

Other Capitol rioters were nevertheless ebullient. “We won!” said a post on an X account associated with Richard Barnett, a self-described white nationalist who was photographed putting his feet on former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk during the riot. “#SCOTUS in a 6-3 decision overturned the 1512 charge. The first light of justice is finally breaking through the bonds of darkness and evil in D.C.” 

Barnett is serving a 54-month prison sentence for his role in the Capitol riot. Of the eight counts in his conviction, one was the obstruction charge shot down by the Supreme Court. (It’s unclear if Barnett tweeted himself Friday, or if someone outside of prison tweeted it for him.) 

William Pope, a Kansas doctoral student and former city council candidate who also faces eight charges related to the riot, including one of obstruction, tweeted Friday that “for almost four years, Biden’s extreme DOJ has falsely accused me of a 20-year felony based on their egregious, unbounded reading of the law.” 

“Many defendants have served time in prison for this charge,” he added. “Today the Supreme Court rightly reprimanded the government for their tyranny.” 

“It’s official,” Tim Hale, another Jan. 6 rioter convicted on the obstruction charge, tweeted. “I just spent 3 years in prison for something that isn’t a crime. #J6 #Fedsurrection.” 

Micki Witthoeft (right), the mother of Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by Capitol Police on Jan. 6, 2021, and Nicole Reffitt, the wife of convicted rioter Guy Reffitt, attend a Sept. 12, 2023, news conference at the U.S. Capitol with members of the House Freedom.
Micki Witthoeft (right), the mother of Ashli Babbitt, who was killed by Capitol Police on Jan. 6, 2021, and Nicole Reffitt, the wife of convicted rioter Guy Reffitt, attend a Sept. 12, 2023, news conference at the U.S. Capitol with members of the House Freedom. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Micki Witthoeft, whose daughter Ashli Babbitt was killed by U.S. Capitol Police as she tried to crawl through a shattered window into the Speaker’s Lobby near the House chamber, was thrilled by the Supreme Court decision. 

“I’m amazed, absolutely amazed,” Witthoeft, who has held regular vigils outside a Washington prison holding multiple Jan. 6 defendants, told HuffPost. “I’m very happy about it.” 

“I just hope that this will affect a lot of them,” she added. “I look forward to seeing a lot of these men out of jail.” 

At the debate Thursday night, former President Donald Trump voiced his support for those arrested after Jan. 6. “What they’ve done to some people that are so innocent, you ought to be ashamed of yourself,” Trump said to Biden. “What you have done, how you’ve destroyed the lives of so many people.”

Trump has repeatedly said he may pardon those convicted in Jan. 6 riot cases if he becomes president. That may yet come to pass, but until then, the Supreme Court has offered them some modest relief.