Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. said Friday that he would appoint a special counsel to investigate the “harsh treatment” of Jan. 6 defendants if elected president.

The statement came a day after controversy over earlier comments about the 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol, first reported by NBC News, in which a Kennedy fundraising email referred to Jan. 6 defendants as “activists” who have been “stripped of their Constitutional liberties.” The campaign said it disavowed the email.

But on Friday, Kennedy expanded on his views, saying he doubted that the incident qualifies as an “insurrection.” He added that he is concerned federal law enforcement agencies abused their power in prosecuting supporters of former President Donald Trump who tried to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power three years ago.

“I have not examined the evidence in detail, but reasonable people, including Trump opponents, tell me there is little evidence of a true insurrection. They observe that the protestors carried no weapons, had no plans or ability to seize the reins of government, and that Trump himself had urged them to protest ‘peacefully,'” Kennedy said in the statement.

Kennedy’s statement contains several falsehoods, including the incorrect claim that “protesters carried no weapons,” a right-wing talking point that has been debunked again and again in the three years since the Capitol attack. In reality, numerous defendants carried deadly and dangerous weapons on Jan. 6, including guns. One Jan. 6 defendant even fired off shots at the Capitol during the attack, video evidence cited by prosecutors shows, and is one of 15 defendants currently being held in pretrial detention, along with another Jan. 6 defendant charged with setting off an explosive device inside the Capitol tunnel.

Prosecutors have repeatedly proven in court that members of the mob were armed with guns. Among them: Christopher Alberts, who was sentenced to seven years in prison; Mark Mazza, who carried two guns and was sentenced to five years in federal prison; and Guy Reffitt, who was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.

Another Jan. 6 participant, Jerod Bargardropped his gun in the mob and was sentenced to five years of probation, with six months of home confinement. The officer who recovered Bargar’s weapon on the ground was “aware of multiple reports of firearms in the crowd,” according to prosecutors.

Kennedy said that like many “reasonable Americans,” he was “concerned about the possibility that political objectives motivated the vigor of the prosecution of the J6 defendants, their long sentences, and their harsh treatment.”

Referring to federal law enforcement agencies, Kennedy said it “would fit a disturbing pattern of the weaponization of government agencies — the DoJ, the IRS, the SEC, the FBI, etc. — against political opponents.”

Kennedy said that as president, he would appoint a special counsel “to investigate whether prosecutorial discretion was abused for political ends in this case, and I will right any wrongs that we discover.”

Protesters clash with police and security forces.
Trump supporters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.Brent Stirton / Getty Images file

He added that while he opposes Trump “and all he stands for,” he is also “disturbed by the weaponization of government against him.”

A Kennedy spokesperson on Thursday disavowed a fundraising email sent by his campaign expressing sympathy for “J6 activists,” saying that it was sent in “error” by a contractor and that it “does not reflect Mr. Kennedy’s views.” But the new statement — which is consistent with comments he has made for years downplaying Jan. 6 — suggests Kennedy’s views about the incident are not far off from those of Trump, who has referred to Jan. 6 defendants as “hostages” and “patriots” who are victims of prosecutorial abuse.

In addition to the guns, other Jan. 6 rioters brought tomahawk axes, metal whips, canisters of bear spray and pepper spray, Tasers, stun guns, knives, baseball bats, hockey sticks, pitchforks and other weapons, while additional rioters improvised weapons using items they found at the Capitol, like fire extinguishers and pieces of fences that were thrown at police officers.

Many officers were injured in the attack.

Across the river in Virginia, the Oath Keepers had a “quick reaction force” ready with a massive cache of weapons, prosecutors proved in court during the first Oath Keepers trial, which resulted in two of their members being found guilty of seditious conspiracy.

“I had not seen that many weapons in one location since I was in the military,” Terry Cummings, a Florida Oath Keeper, said during his 2022 testimony. Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison last May.

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