Former President Donald Trump is pressing President Biden to pardon “J6 hostages” on the campaign trail. Some of Trump’s political opponents have hit out at his use of the word ‘hostage’ while others agree with the sentiment.
On January 6, 2021, the United States Capitol was overrun by a mob of Trump supporters. They sought to prevent the counting of electoral votes formalizing the victory of President-elect Joe Biden and ending President Trump’s term in office. Around 500 people involved in the insurrection have been convicted or pleaded guilty to crimes that day.
Once again spicing up headlines on the campaign trail for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump repeatedly refers to those convicted of crimes on January 6th as “hostages” and “political prisoners.”
Let them go, Joe
Met with cheers at an Iowa middle school, Trump implores President Biden, “They ought to release the J6 hostages,” he said. “I call them hostages. Some people call them prisoners. I call them hostages. Release the J6 hostages, Joe. Release them, Joe. You could do it real easy, Joe.”
Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) called his use of the word “hostage” despicable in an interview on MSNBC. “His use of the word ‘hostages’ is despicable always and every day. But while there continue to be Israeli and U.S. citizen hostages… and the former president is using that same word that is so publicly in our consciousness today because of those… hostages being held by Hamas terrorists, the fact that he would use that word to describe people who have gone through the legal process… people who have been charged, many of whom have pled guilty to the crimes of which they were convicted, it is absolutely … just a despicable use of vocabulary for a reason intended presumably to evoke a type of emotion, and… to me, it’s inexcusable.”
Not political prisoners
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) also disagreed with people convicted of violent crimes that day being considered persecuted for their beliefs. “I view them the same as the individual juries that convicted them. There was violence on that day. There were people that violated the law. There were people that tried to stop the peaceful transfer of power after an election. I do not agree with anybody that says they are political prisoners.”
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, a supporter of the former president, admits he agrees with the sentiment but would have chosen “different words.” “Everybody wants to make Jan. 6 the worst thing that ever happened. Many of the people there were there harmlessly.”
D.C. jail conditions
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia has visited defendants in the Washington, D.C., jail where they were held pre-trial. In 2021, a judge reviewed the health and safety conditions of the jail where they were held; many of the detainees were held together in a newer part of the jail. “I call them ‘political prisoners,’ not ‘hostages.’ But I’m not caught up in the semantics of it,” she said, speaking with CBS News. She believes the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and the Department of Justice were overzealous in their prosecution.
Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York has also used the word “hostage” when speaking of those convicted of January 6th-related crimes. “I have concerns about the treatment of Jan. 6 hostages. I believe that we’re seeing the weaponization of the federal government against not just President Trump, but we’re seeing it against conservatives.”
Hugs and kisses
Retired Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who was injured during the riot at the Capitol, spoke recently at a press conference. “If they’re hostages, what do you call the police who protected the Capitol that day?” Posting about Stefanik’s reaction on social media, he said, “On Jan. 6 she was so glad to see the ‘hostages’ that she ran in fear to escape their ‘hugs and kisses’ and only made it with the help of the police.”
Some, like Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, fear that the use of the term “hostage” is dangerous. The former chair of the House Select Jan. 6 committee worries the terms “hostage” and “political prisoners” may glorify the rioters and promote future attacks on U.S. government buildings in the name of political persecution.
Not a hostage situation
He told CBS News, “I spent two years of my life looking at (the Capitol attack), and there’s nothing about this that resembles a hostage situation. It was an insurrection, as close to a terrorist attack on the United States Capitol as possible. To equate these individuals with hostages is clearly way out of bounds. Those people just need to quit it. It’ll say to some sick people that it’s all right to attack your government.”
Despite the mixed response to his comments, the GOP frontrunner vows to pardon all convicted of crimes around the January 6th event if elected to office in 2024.
When asked about blanket pardons of the “J6 hostages,” Republican senators seem to unanimously agree it would be a bad idea. Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas says, “I have nothing to do with whether a president grants a pardon, but I would think in most instances any blanket pardon is a mistake. Every pardon case ought to rest upon the specific facts of that individual.” Sen. Mike Rounds of South Dakota explains he has given pardons when guilt and remorse have been displayed, but never blanket pardons.