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RFK Jr. raises possibility that January 6 wasn’t a ‘true insurrection’

<i>Mario Tama/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Mario Tama/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

By Aaron Pellish and Marshall Cohen, CNN

(CNN) — Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on Friday raised the possibility that the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol was not a “true insurrection” and expressed concern about the “weaponization of government” against those charged with crimes in connection to the riot.

“It is quite clear that many of the January 6 protestors broke the law in what may have started as a protest but turned into a riot. Because it happened with the encouragement of President Trump, and in the context of his delusion that the election was stolen from him, many people see it not as a riot but as an insurrection,” he said in a statement.

He continued, “I have not examined the evidence in detail, but reasonable people, including Trump opponents, tell me there is little evidence of a true insurrection.”

The statement inaccurately says that none of the protesters had plans to overthrow the government, even though some of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were convicted of sedition. It also repeated the long-debunked claim that the rioters “carried no weapons” while attacking the Capitol, which Kennedy later said he was retracting when reached by CNN for comment.

“My understanding that none of the January 6 rioters who invaded the capitol were carrying firearms was incorrect,” he said in response to CNN’s inquiry.

In the statement, Kennedy called the January 6 attack “one of the most polarizing topics on the political landscape” and said he wants “to hear every side” of the issue in the lengthy statement. He condemned protesters who broke the law and Trump’s “delusion that the election was stolen” while questioning whether “political objectives” led to the prosecution of January 6 protestors.

“Like many reasonable Americans, I am concerned about the possibility that political objectives motivated the vigor of the prosecution of the J6 defendants, their long sentences, and their harsh treatment,” Kennedy said in the statement. “That would fit a disturbing pattern of the weaponization of government agencies — the DoJ, the IRS, the SEC, the FBI, etc. — against political opponents.”

“One can, as I do, oppose Donald Trump and all he stands for, and still be disturbed by the weaponization of government against him,” he continued.

His rhetoric, whitewashing the January 6 attack, mirrors some of the commentary coming from Trump and other right-wing figures.

Undercutting Kennedy’s claims that the cases have been politically motivated, the rigorous prosecutions of January 6 rioters began almost immediately, while Trump was still president, and while his appointees were running the Justice Department.

Further, prosecutors have used discretion while deciding who to charge. They have largely focused on people who entered the Capitol itself. Thousands of Trump supporters who were captured on video blatantly breaching Capitol grounds, but not stepping foot in the building, are not currently facing any charges.

A bipartisan majority of Congress voted that January 6 was an “insurrection” during Trump’s second impeachment, though Trump was acquitted at his Senate trial in 2021.

In the statement, Kennedy pledged to name an independent special counsel to investigate “whether prosecutorial discretion was abused for political ends” in January 6 cases.

“As President, I will appoint a special counsel — an individual respected by all sides — to investigate whether prosecutorial discretion was abused for political ends in this case, and I will right any wrongs that we discover. Without the impartial rule of law, there is no true democracy or moral governance,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy sought to criticize both Trump and President Joe Biden’s response to the January 6 insurrection, which he said stokes partisan divides in the country, in an effort to distinguish himself as an alternative to both candidates.

“Both establishment parties are using J6 to pour fuel on the fire of America’s divisions. Each side claims that a victory by their opponents means the end of democracy. Then, anything is justified to stop them. We run the risk of destroying democracy in order to save it,” Kennedy said. “Instead of demonizing our opponents as apocalyptic threats to democracy, let’s focus on the issues and priorities of how they will govern, and defeat them at the ballot box rather than through legal maneuvers and dirty tricks.”

The Democratic National Committee condemned Kennedy’s statement for “downplaying the seriousness of January 6th.”

“After hours of negative press coverage, RFK Jr. used hundreds of words to both-sides the January 6th insurrection. There aren’t two sides to violent rioters who assaulted police officers and tried to overthrow our democracy,” DNC spokesperson Matt Corridoni said.

Kennedy’s statement comes after his campaign sent fundraising emails earlier this week that referred to January 6 defendants as “activists” who have been “stripped of their constitutional liberties.”

On Thursday, Kennedy campaign spokesperson Stefanie Spear told CNN the language in the fundraising email “does not reflect Mr. Kennedy’s views” and said Kennedy believes those who “violated the law” in connection to January 6 “should be subject to appropriate criminal and/or civil penalties.”

Kennedy has recently downplayed the risks to democracy that either candidate poses, telling CNN’s Erin Burnett on Monday he believes neither candidate poses a genuine threat to democracy, but labeling Biden as the candidate who poses the greater threat. Kennedy’s argument was based in being banned on some social media platforms during the Biden administration.

“(Trump) overthrowing — trying to overthrow the election clearly is threat to democracy,” Kennedy said in a CNN interview on Monday. “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 because the First Amendment, Erin, is the most important.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

CNN’s Daniel Dale contributed to this report.

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