Georgians fighting outcomes in Jan. 6 proceedings

Georgians William McCall Calhoun Jr. and Bruno Cua have both been found guilty of felonies related to their participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol riot, but they are not done fighting.

Cua, the 21-year-old Milton man who faces a year and a day in federal prison following his conviction in February on two felony charges, last week filed an appeal notice with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., challenging those convictions.

And Calhoun, a 60-year-old lawyer from Americus, also announced his plans to appeal his conviction from March that resulted in an 18-month sentence on one felony and four misdemeanors, while also fighting a proposed suspension of his law license by the State Bar of Georgia.

Neither man has begun serving their sentences, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons website.

Cua, one of the youngest Jan. 6 defendants, was among a handful of rioters to reach the floor of the U.S. Senate after he and several others pushed their way past a Capitol police officer who was attempting to lock a door to the Senate gallery. Cua had spent weeks posting angry, sometimes violent, messages on social media about the 2020 presidential election and had come to Washington, D.C., with his parents.

Bruno Cua (left) stands on the balcony of the Senate gallery on Jan. 6, 2021. Cua was convicted of two felonies relating to his actions during the U.S. Capitol riot.

Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

icon to expand image

Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

Cua was found guilty of assaulting a Capitol police officer and obstruction of an official proceeding in a stipulated bench trial in February. Prosecutors had sought a prison term of five years for Cua, but U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss handed down a sentence of 366 days, giving Cua credit for accepting responsibility for his role in the riot and taking into account his youth at the time.

Unlike Cua, Calhoun never accepted responsibility for his actions on Jan. 6. Calhoun was among the first wave of rioters to enter the Capitol and he documented on social media his journey all the way to the office door of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Calhoun has defended his actions as political protest protected under the First Amendment.

A screen capture from a prosecution exhibit in the case against Americus attorney William McCall Calhoun Jr. shows  
a post by Calhoun on Parler of Jan. 6 rioters inside the Capitol Rotunda and Calhoun's threat that they were 'coming back armed for war.'

Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

icon to expand image

Credit: U.S. Department of Justice

The State Bar has recommended to the Supreme Court of Georgia that Calhoun have his state license to practice law suspended while he appeals his conviction. Bar rules call for lawyers to lose their license if convicted of a felony, but Calhoun disputes that his behavior on Jan. 6 should cost him his profession.

“Calhoun recognized that entering the building may be a trespass,” his lawyer, Donald Evans, wrote in an Aug. 21 filing before the state Supreme Court. “If so, he concluded, it would be similar to the acts of civil disobedience or protest committed by historic civil rights activists in Selma, Alabama, and countless other places.”

Darrell West, a senior fellow in the Governance Studies program at the Brookings Institution, said Calhoun’s defense reflects hardening attitudes toward the Jan. 6 riot from Trump supporters over the past two and half years, especially among those who only receive information from conservative media.

“They seem to feel like they are the victims of a witch hunt and what happened on Jan. 6 was an expression of their First Amendment rights,” he said.

West said their belief that the Capitol riot was an acceptable form of political protest is increasingly supported by Republican leaders who have either adopted Trump’s talking points or been scared into silence.

“Republican leaders are following public opinion within their own party,” he said.They see that Trump has 70% or 80% support within their own party.”

West noted that former New Jersey governor and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie was booed earlier this month at a televised debate for criticizing Trump’s behavior in office.

“We’ve seen the same thing on the campaign trial. When (former Vice President) Mike Pence defends his own behavior on Jan. 6, he gets criticized,” West said.

West said he sees the recasting of Jan. 6 as a political protest, rather than a violent attack on the seat of government, is a threat to democracy.

“It’s a very dangerous viewpoint because it justifies violence in the name of free speech,” he said. “That’s a very dangerous situation for the United States.”

How these appeals will impact Cua and Calhoun’s pending prison sentences is undetermined. Cua has yet to outline his legal reasons for seeking an appeal with U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. And while Calhoun has said he plans to appeal the federal case, he has yet to file an official notice of appeal with the district court.