A Lawyer For Jan. 6 Defendants Is Giving Her Clients Remedial Lessons In American History

D.C. attorney H. Heather Shaner says that books and movies about the uglier parts of American history are "a revelation" for some of her Capitol attack clients.
Capitol defendant Anna Morgan Lloyd told the judge that she watched "Burning Tulsa" on the History Channel.
Capitol defendant Anna Morgan Lloyd told the judge that she watched "Burning Tulsa" on the History Channel.
Brandon Bell via Getty Images

At first glance, you might mistake them for student’s book reports: extra-wide margins, awkward prose, an inflated summary leading up to a personal takeaway. One report focuses on the film “Schindler’s List,” the other on the book “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. The report’s author also read the book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and watched Netflix’s “Mudbound,” the PBS documentary “Slavery By Another Name,” and the History Channel’s “Burning Tulsa.” She, like many students, preferred to take the cinematic route. “I chose the movie whenever possible because it sinks in better,” she wrote.

The court case numbers in the header are a bit of a giveaway. The reports aren’t the work of a student with a socially conscious history teacher ― they’re the product of 49-year-old Anna Morgan-Lloyd, a Donald Trump supporter from Indiana who entered the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack.

This week, Morgan-Lloyd will become the first of nearly 500 defendants arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to face sentencing. She wants a judge to know she’s changed, and her book report-style filings are meant to illustrate that growth.

“I’ve lived a sheltered life and truly haven’t experienced life the way many have,” Morgan-Lloyd wrote to the judge. “I’ve learned that even though we live in a wonderful country things still need to improve. People of all colors should feel as safe as I do to walk down the street.”

The remedial social studies program that Morgan-Lloyd is following was created by her D.C.-based lawyer, H. Heather Shaner. Defense attorneys in the nation’s capital aren’t exactly a core part of Trump’s political base, as many have made clear in court filings in which they’ve blamed Trump for leading their clients to the edge by convincing them that the 2020 election was stolen. Some private D.C. defense lawyers told HuffPost after Jan. 6 that they were refusing to take Capitol attack cases outright.

Shaner is one of many D.C. lawyers assigned to represent Capitol defendants who can’t afford their own attorneys, as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and as laid out in the Criminal Justice Act. In addition to representing her clients in court, Shaner has seized an opportunity to try and educate them on the history their teachers glossed over.

Shaner regularly sends her clients who are incarcerated pretrial books to read: “They’re a captured audience, and it’s life-changing for a lot of them.”

But she decided to take an even more intensive approach with her Capitol clients, who were part of another ugly, historical event in American history.

Rioters on clash with police while trying to enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Rioters on clash with police while trying to enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6.
Pacific Press via Getty Images

“Reading books and then watching these shows is like a revelation,” Shaner told HuffPost. “I think that education is a very powerful tool ... So I gave them book lists and shows that they should watch.”

In addition to Morgan-Lloyd, Shaner represents Capitol defendants Annie Howell, Jack Jesse Griffith (aka Juan Bibiano), Israel Tutrow and Landon Kenneth Copeland, a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who had a major episode during a virtual hearing in his case and cursed out everyone on the call. (Copeland, who was filmed assaulting officers at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and is facing the most serious accusations of any of Shaner’s Capitol clients, was ordered to undergo a competency evaluation and remains in custody.)

Shaner said her clients had poor educations and knew very little about the country. Her two female clients took to the task with zeal, Shaner said, and got library cards for the first time in their lives.

“Both my women are like, ‘I never learned this in school. Why don’t I know about this?’” Shaner said. (A couple of the male clients weren’t quite as eager students, she said. “The men are very much like ‘Oh, I’ll get to it.’” But she said some of her male clients have been doing some self-education.)

The educational program is unlikely to have much of an ultimate impact in the sentencing of a defendant like Copeland, who is charged with assaulting officers at the Capitol. But for a client like Morgan-Lloyd ― an apologetic Capitol defendant not accused of any violence, who pleaded guilty only to a “parading” charge that a more typical protester might receive for interrupting a committee hearing ― it might have some impact.

Back in early January, Morgan-Lloyd accompanied her QAnon-obsessed hairdresser to show for a support for Trump, who she believed was “standing up for what we believe in.” Now, she says, she accepts President Joe Biden as the nation’s leader, and she’s learning some lessons about the uglier parts of American history she’s just learning about.

Morgan-Lloyd told the court she’s a grandmother from a “very small town” in southern Indiana filled with “simple people who love our country.” She wrote that “Schindler’s List” was very moving, and made her wonder how people could deny that the Holocaust happened or, like her half-German son-in-law claims, according to her report, say that “‘Only’ a million Jews died.”

Morgan-Lloyd wrote that reading “Just Mercy” “makes me reconsider my view on the death penalty” because it “was far too easy for the people to convict a man of a crime that he could not have committed.”

Shaner told the court the process helped Morgan-Lloyd “educate herself and to learn the American history she was not taught in school.” Like any good defense attorney, she paints a sympathetic portrait of her client: pointing out how Morgan-Lloyd lost her job after General Electric shipped it overseas, how she was thrown right into motherhood after marrying her husband, now helps take care of her grandchildren, and how her “husband and family are the world to her.”

Shaner has been practicing law in D.C. for decades: A search of digitized federal court records alone pulls up more than 200 cases dating back to 1990. She also occasionally teaches at her granddaughter’s school, where she says she’s spoken frankly about America’s origins.

“I’m allowed to say what the teachers aren’t, because I’m not an employee,” Shaner said. “I told them what my mom always told me, which is that this is the most wonderful country in the world, it’s been great for all kinds of immigrant groups, except for the fact that it was born of genocide of the Native Americans and the enslavement of people.”

A teacher at her granddaughter’s school, Shaner said, told her afterwards that she was overcome with emotion to hear a white person acknowledge that the country was funded through genocide and enslavement.

Shaner has strong political differences with her Capitol defendants, and said the trips to the Capitol building made her wonder how anyone could attack such a breathtaking building.

“You walk, and you’re in awe. You look at a group of attorneys and investigators taking photographs of the tile work and the ceilings and the statutes and you understand why all the people who went in were doing that, because it probably was their first exposure to something so beautiful,” Shaner said. “You can’t conceive of how anyone would defile it.”

Like many Capitol protesters who protest under ordinary circumstances by interrupting a congressional hearing, Morgan-Lloyd is unlikely to receive any significant period of incarceration. Justice Department prosecutors, in the first sentencing memo for a Jan. 6 defendant, suggested the judge give Morgan-Lloyd three years of probation, $500 in restitution, and 40 hours of community service. (Three years’ probation is double the 18-month maximum term of probation that Morgan-Lloyd could be sentenced to if she was also sentenced to any period of incarceration.)

Prosecutors noted that Morgan-Lloyd was locked up for about two days after her arrest and that “any period of incarceration can be eye-opening and serve as a deterrent to future criminal conduct” for a defendant like Morgan-Lloyd with no prior criminal history. But they made it abundantly clear that they’re taking Jan. 6 seriously.

“To be clear, what the Defendant initially described as ‘the most exciting day of [her] life’ was, in fact, a tragic day for our nation — a day of riotous violence, collective destruction, and criminal conduct by a frenzied and lawless mob. The individuals the Defendant described as ‘Patriots’ were, in fact, rioters breaking windows, destroying government property, and assaulting law enforcement officers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Rothstein wrote in a memo that described Jan. 6 as “an infamous day in American history — the day on which the temple of American democracy was overrun and desecrated by rioters seeking to disrupt the lawful and peaceful transition of power.”

Morgan-Lloyd’s court case will likely be over soon, and it remains to be determined whether she’ll continue her educational process while serving her sentence. Morgan-Lloyd was supposed to be sentenced on Friday, but the plea and sentencing hearing has been rescheduled for Wednesday afternoon. The judicial system had one more lesson for Morgan-Lloyd. President Joe Biden had just signed a new law: the court was closed for Juneteenth.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot