James Little successfully argued that his punishment for joining the pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol was illegal. His reward: 60 more days behind bars.
In a scathing statement from the bench, Judge Royce C. Lamberth said Thursday that he was worried about “further danger to our country” because of Little and others’ “shameless attempts … to misinterpret or misrepresent what happened” on Jan. 6, 2021. While his audience was Little, a 53-year-old North Carolina truck driver, the judge also alluded to comments made by Republican lawmakers, including what he called a “preposterous” statement from Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) calling Jan. 6 defendants “hostages.”
“I have been shocked to watch some public figures try to rewrite history,” Lamberth said. “It’s up to the court to tell the truth. I hope a little truth will go a long way.”
Little was first sentenced by Lamberth in early 2022 to 60 days in prison and three years of probation after pleading guilty to illegally parading at the Capitol. But Little’s public defenders argued prison time and probation can’t be combined for a single “petty” misdemeanor charge. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed.
When the ruling came down in August, Little had already served his time behind bars and about half his probation, so he asked to be set loose. Instead, Lamberth sentenced him anew to two more months in prison, saying Little had shown no remorse or respect for the criminal justice system since the riot.
“This is a matter of right versus wrong,” Lamberth said. “Mr. Little cannot bring himself to admit he did the wrong thing.” Little, appearing by video from his home in Claremont, N.C., shook his head and rolled his eyes as the judge spoke, occasionally muttering to himself.
A Reagan appointee, Lamberth said that defendants who refuse to accept responsibility are common. “But in my 37 years on the bench, I cannot recall a time when such meritless justifications of criminal activity have gone mainstream,” he said.
A probation officer wrote to the court that Little failed to perform required tasks and displayed an “inability to fully accept responsibility for his actions” and “behavior consistent with entitlement.” When reminded of the $500 restitution he owed, the officer said, “Mr. Little voices invalid excuses and circles the conversation back to how he feels his voice is being silenced.”
Joshua Carpenter, representing Little in court, said there were some “miscommunications” and his client has since put a check in the mail.
Since his first sentencing, prosecutors noted, Little had also used Facebook to falsely claim FBI involvement in the Jan. 6 attack, describe himself as a “political prisoner,” and compare himself to Vietnam veterans “shunned … by armchair soldiers of family and ‘Friends’ who weren’t there.” He also promoted a campaign baselessly claiming Democrats will try to “rig” the 2024 election.
In his own brief comments, Little told the judge that “even though it’s my constitutional right,” he would not attend any more political rallies. “I’m a little scared to, honestly,” he said. “I’m getting too old for this stuff.”
Lamberth responded that Little “has a First Amendment right to believe the 2020 election was stolen; he has the right to express that view too.” But, he said, freedom of speech “does not give anyone … the right to engage in riotous behavior at the U.S. Capitol.” He pointed out that thousands of Donald Trump supporters watched the former president speak on Jan. 6 and committed no crimes afterward.
He said misdemeanor defendants like Little must understand that they could not have entered the Capitol if other protesters had not assaulted police officers: “Not everyone present that day was violent, but violence is what let them into the Capitol.”
The judge expressed particular ire that Little had referred to Jacob Chansley, the so-called QAnon Shaman, as a “fellow persecuted and prosecuted J6 Patriot” on Facebook. “I happen to be the judge who had Mr. Chansley’s case, and I know that he was neither persecuted nor prosecuted improperly or unlawfully,” Lamberth said. The judge had a similar reaction when Chansley himself tried to withdraw his guilty plea by citing snippets of video footage from the riot that had been played on Fox News.
“I have been dismayed to see distortions and outright falsehoods seep into the public consciousness,” Lamberth said Thursday.
Lamberth is one of the toughest sentencers in the D.C. federal court for Jan. 6 defendants, going above government sentencing recommendations more often than any judge other than the judge handling Trump’s case, Tanya S. Chutkan.
About five dozen other Jan. 6 defendants were given similar split sentences, but not all appealed them. Some have asked for and received early termination of their probation. A magistrate judge in the courthouse recently ruled that giving a harsher punishment after a sentence has been deemed illegal would be a violation of the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy.
Carpenter said in court he plans a second appeal for Little on that issue.