Attorney general nominee Merrick Garland is vowing to prosecute “white supremacists and others” who attacked the US Capitol on 6 January, in support of Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn his election defeat and pledging to see that the Justice Department root out domestic political extremism and fight discrimination in the criminal justice system if confirmed by the Senate.
The pledge was contained in Garland’s opening testimony for the session before the Senate judiciary committee, released on Saturday night.
“If confirmed,” Garland said, ‘I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on 6 January – a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”
At least 7 people including a police officer died as a direct result of the attack on the Capitol, before which Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” against the result of the presidential election. Trump lost to Joe Biden by 306-232 in the electoral college and by more than 7 million ballots in the popular vote.
As NPR reported, more than 250 participants in the Capitol riot have been charged, noting that “the defendants are predominantly white and male.”
“Federal prosecutors a man in a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ sweatshirt took part, as did a Messianic Rabbi. Far-right militia members decked out in tactical gear rioted next to a county commissioner, a New York City sanitation worker, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist.” Two Virginia police officers have also been charged in connection with the attack, the report says.
In his testimony, Garland made reference to his role from 1995 to 1997 in supervising the prosecution of the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City Bombing, a white supremacist atrocity in which 168 people including 19 children were killed.
It’s unclear if Garland will target Donald Trump, who was impeached for a second time on a charge of inciting an insurrection. The former president was acquitted after only seven Republicans joined Democrats in the Senate in voting to convict, 10 short of the majority needed.
“It is a fitting time,” Garland said, “to reaffirm that the role of the attorney general is to serve the rule of law and to ensure equal justice under the law.”
The 68-year-old federal appeals judge was famously denied even a hearing in 2016 when Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell blocked him as Barack Obama’s third pick for the supreme court.
In his testimony, Garland said justice department civil rights work must be improved.
“Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system,” he said, “and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change.”
Garland is expected to be confirmed. Read his opening statement below.