Judge Wonders How So Many 'Law-Abiding' Americans 'Morphed Into Terrorists' On Jan. 6

Judge Emmet Sullivan, accepting a guilty plea from Trump supporter Dawn Bancroft, called her comments about wanting to shoot Nancy Pelosi "outrageous."
Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith, center, seen during the Jan. 6 riot.
Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith, center, seen during the Jan. 6 riot.
Illustration: Damon Dahlen/HuffPost; Photos: Getty/U.S. Attorney's Office/ U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

A federal judge accepting a misdemeanor guilty plea from a woman who said she wanted to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “in the friggin’ brain” during the Capitol attack wondered aloud on Tuesday how many law-abiding Americans like her had “morphed into terrorists” on Jan. 6.

Dawn Bancroft of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, was arrested on Jan. 29, a few weeks after she and her friend Diana Santos-Smith entered the Capitol during the riot. Bancroft, in a selfie video sent to a friend that was filmed as she and Santos-Smith left the Capitol building, expressed disappointment that Pelosi hadn’t been shot.

“We broke into the Capitol ... we got inside, we did our part,” Bancroft, wearing a “Make America Great Again” ski hat, said in the video. “We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain but we didn’t find her.”

Judge Emmet Sullivan accepted Bancroft’s guilty plea to a class B misdemeanor charge of “parading, demonstrating, or picketing” inside a Capitol building on Tuesday. That charge has been standard for many Capitol defendants charged with misdemeanors, although some judges have expressed concern that the charge doesn’t reflect the severity of Capitol rioters’ actions on Jan. 6. The charge comes with a maximum sentence of six months in prison.

At the hearing, Sullivan called Bancroft’s comments about Pelosi “very troubling,” “horrible” and “outrageous.” He asked a federal prosecutor on the case why it didn’t rise to the level of a threat. He said Bancroft was “very fortunate” that there was not a more serious charge, but later said he understood why the government decided not to charge it as a threat.

Bancroft told Judge Sullivan she made the “dumb, stupid comment” on her way back to the train home and got caught up in the moment.

Judge Sullivan said that the comments will certainly come up at Bancroft’s sentencing in January, and that she should prepare to explain her language at that point because it could have an impact on her sentence.

“I don’t want to in any way minimize the very troubling nature of a pretty outrageous statement,” Sullivan said.

Judge Sullivan reflected on one of the “large questions” of Jan. 6: how so many “law-abiding” citizens like Bancroft had turned against their government. Sullivan is currently weighing whether to free Ronald Colton McAbee, the former law enforcement official known as #ThreePercentSheriff because he wore a “SHERIFF” patch and combat gear to the Capitol attack, until his trial. McAbee, and many other defendants facing pretrial detention, have received strong support from their communities despite being caught on video committing violence against police officers on Jan. 6.

“So many people, up until Jan. 6, were outstanding members of the community, never been in trouble ... but on Jan. 6, they morphed into, they morphed into terrorists,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan, a D.C. native, previously said that he has choked up watching some of the videos of the Jan. 6 attack.

“I was born in this city, been here all my life, and it’s hard to believe that that this type of conduct is taking place at the seat of our democracy,” Sullivan said during a hearing for Jan. 6 defendant Jeffrey Sabol in April.

Sullivan previously wrote that Trump supporters like Sabol acted on “what appears to be a sincerely held, but tremendously misguided, belief that he was acting valiantly and patriotically to fight against a tyrannical government that ‘stole’ a presidential election.”

After Bancroft’s hearing, while accepting a guilty plea from Bancroft’s friend Diana Santos-Smith, Judge Sullivan referred to the “the domestic terrorist events” of Jan. 6. and referenced former President George W. Bush’s comments about the threat of “violent extremists at home” during an event marking the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

“That’s a pretty scary statement for any former United States president to say,” Sullivan said. “I agree with him.”

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