We have been discussing the continued incarceration of many individuals for their participation in the Jan. 6th riot. Despite claims that the riot was an insurrection, the vast majority of defendants have been given relatively minor charges.
Nevertheless, the Justice Department has insisted on holding many without bail and some have received longer sentences, like Jacob Chansley (aka “QAnon Shaman”) who was given a 41-month sentence for “obstructing a federal proceeding.”
Thomas “Tas” Alexander Starks, 31, of Lisbon, N.D., faced a strikingly different approach by the Justice Department.
The self-avowed Antifa member took an axe to the office of Sen. John Hoeven’s in Fargo on Dec. 21, 2020. Federal sentencing guidelines suggested 10–16 months in prison but he was only sentenced to probation and fined $2,784 for restitution . . . he then reportedly mocked the FBI for returning his axe. Others declared him a hero and Democratic politicians pitched in for his legal defense.
Starks was caught on videotape axing the door of the congressional office. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of destruction of government property. The case has received little attention from the media outside of conservative sites.
Starks has made clear that he was neither apologetic nor deterred from the use of such violence. He has posted under the Facebook moniker, “Paul Dunyan,” an apparent reference to his preferred use of an axe as a form of political expression. He displays the Antifa symbol and, while awaiting sentencing, reportedly wrote:
“I am ANTIFA. I will always attack fascists, racial superiority complexes built around nationalism that promotes genocide to fuel a war machine is the worst humanity has to offer.”
It is reminiscent of the defiance shown by arrested Antifa member Jason Charter, who declared “The Movement is winning” after his own arrest.
After his light sentence, Starks posted last month that it was all effectively a joke: “Look what the FBI were kind enough to give back to me!”
Starks was supported by a GoFundMe account for his defense costs despite the company barring people from contributing to defendants like Kyle Rittenhouse until after he was acquitted. He was also supported by Democratic politicians.Last year, I testified in the Senate on Antifa and the growing anti-free speech movement in the United States. I specifically disagreed with the statement of House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler that Antifa (and its involvement in violent protests) is a “myth.” It is at its base a movement at war with free speech, defining the right itself as a tool of oppression.
That purpose is evident in what is called the “bible” of the Antifa movement: Rutgers Professor Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.
Bray emphasizes the struggle of the movement against free speech: “At the heart of the anti-fascist outlook is a rejection of the classical liberal phrase that says, ‘I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”
Indeed, Bray admits that “most Americans in Antifa have been anarchists or antiauthoritarian communists… From that standpoint, ‘free speech’ as such is merely a bourgeois fantasy unworthy of consideration.” It is an illusion designed to promote what Antifa is resisting “white supremacy, hetero-patriarchy, ultra-nationalism, authoritarianism, and genocide.” Thus, all of these opposing figures are deemed fascistic and thus unworthy of being heard.Bray quotes one Antifa member as summing up their approach to free speech as a “nonargument . . . you have the right to speak but you also have the right to be shut up.”
Putting aside the light sentence, the returning of the axe is rather curious. It would seem an instrument of the crime and could be declared lost in any plea. Instead, it was returned as if it was a form of political expression by the Justice Department.
Starks is now free to axe his way to a better world.
It is hard to imagine the poor choice of prosecutors or the judge to cut such a deal with Starks (and not specify that the axe would be lost as an instrumentality of the crimes).