Kirstyn Niemela: The Way D.C. Courts Consider J6 Cases

  • by:
  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

For many J6rs, the way D.C. courts arrive at their sentences concerning the January 6 protest is, at best, confusing and, at worst, an egregious miscarriage of justice. Ambiguous statutes themselves often create stiffer sentencing guidelines for the defendants. According to the transcripts from her trial, the mere act of walking past police lines was not trespassing but was worthy of "disorderly and disruptive conduct," according to Judge Cooper. While Kirstyn Niemela and her lawyers saw her behavior as trespassing, the court interpreted it as obstruction because Judge Cooper did not see in the statute "one [to be] more analogous than the other."

Kirstyn Niemela is an openly gay construction worker from New Hampshire. According to Niemela's account, as told to UncoverDC, she traveled to D.C. and entered the Capitol "peacefully and patriotically. They have no video of me chanting. I walked through the ropes. I didn't touch anything. I didn't steal anything. I didn't touch a wall, a person, nothing. I moved with the crowd."

Niemela says she left the building when she noticed agitators, which she believes were "Antifa and BLM," an observation she believes has been since confirmed because of protesters "like John Sullivan." "People started to act crazy," Niemela explained, "people were banging on doors, and I looked at both the people I was with and said, 'We need to get out of here.'" Niemela says she left "just before Ashli Babbitt was shot."

Dressed in "a black We The People hoodie, sunglasses, and a U.S. flag" draped over her shoulders like a cape, Kirstyn Niemela walked around inside the U.S. Capitol for "about 20 minutes" on January 6, 2021. According to court documents provided by Niemela, she and two other companions entered through the "Senate Wing Door" and walked around inside. UncoverDC interviewed her the day before she drove 10 1/2 hours to turn herself into FCI Hazelton, a medium-security prison for adult women in W. Virginia. Niemela will be incarcerated in Hazelton for 11 months.

The Hazelton Federal Correctional Complex (FCC Hazelton) is a federal prison complex for male and female prisoners in Bruceton Mills, West Virginia. According to Prison Insight, "Former notable inmates include Whitey Bulger, the leader of Boston's Winter Hill Gang and long-time fugitive." The prison complex is over 500 miles from friends and family in her home state of New Hampshire. Niemela was charged in D.C. in March with four misdemeanors.


Niemela's lawyers recommended she not take the stand. As a result, Niemela says no one heard her side of the story in court. To this day, Niemela does not understand why the judge or the jury found her guilty of three misdemeanors, given the video evidence and witness testimony. During her sentencing hearing, her lawyer pleaded with the court to properly consider the facts of the case:


Court transcripts corroborate Niemela's account. Niemela was seen silently following the crowd. She never gestures, speaks with officers, pushes against officers, pickets, or demonstrates.

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So, how did this court perceive Niemela's behavior? Why did Judge Cooper decide she didn't just trespass on January 6? From the court documents, it seems to come down to Judge Cooper's beliefs, the fact Niemela walked past police, Niemela's social media posts, and Niemela's "state of mind."

During the exchange between the court and her defense lawyers, Judge Cooper asks rhetorically, "Well, you don't have to contact or threaten in order to obstruct, right? And there's evidence—and I'm sure Mr. Gordon will point this out—that she crossed three different police lines." He makes the case that hers was not a simple case of trespassing for various reasons, not the least of which is his alleged opinion of those who entered the Capitol that day.

As such, Judge Cooper's opinion of what happened that day may have superseded his ability to look dispassionately at the evidence. "So, I'd like to start with the defense's contention that this is just, as they call it over and over again, a mere trespass. That's not what this case is. That is not what any of the January 6 cases are."

To reinforce his perspective on the day's events, Judge Cooper contended that J6 defendants, by merely entering the building that day, "forced Congress to halt certification of an Electoral College vote, fear for their lives, evacuated the building, or shelter in place." They caused "interruption to the peaceful transfer of power that's the bedrock of our democracy," he added. It didn't seem to matter to Judge Cooper that Niemela's lawyers stated there was "nothing in there (the evidence) that's even remotely connected to opposing or resisting officers."

Niemela Ignored Alarms And Entered Early: June 8 Sentencing Hearing

According to video evidence and testimony, Niemela entered the Capitol early on with "loud alarms blaring." According to the court transcript, she walked through the "Senate Wing Door itself," whose glass had been broken. The DOJ attorney Michael Matthen Gordon stated, "There can be no suggestion that she had—that she thought she was allowed in."

As with many J6 defendants, Niemela's social media posts did not help her cause with the court or the DOJ. While she believes the court and the DOJ ignored her First Amendment right, the government asserted it wasn't "punishing her for what she said. She was convicted because of what she did." Gordon also says the things she said "provide a window into what she was thinking when she did them. That's evidence of intent, an important element." Gordon went on to say, "If your speech is indicative or a window into or expresses your intent, then it will absolutely and can be used against you, and it's not violative of the First Amendment to do it."

To make his point, Gordon shared the following post from Niemela that she allegedly shared "within one minute of entering" the Capitol:

DOJ Attny Michael Gordon

Some would agree with the government that the actions of J6rs ignored the perspective of law enforcement on January 6. Capitol Police officers seemed to have been wholly unprepared for what transpired. Even though Niemela was never on the front lines of "crashing through" police lines, the government believes she and many others "took advantage" of the "strength of the mob" and its numbers. "That was its power," said Gordon in the June 8 sentencing hearing. According to Gordon, Officers were "massively outnumbered" and perhaps reluctant to "pull[ed] out a weapon and fire a shot in the air" because of the "extraordinary risks with doing that."

Gordon also points out that Niemela was among those in the "mob outside the House Chamber banding to get through." She continued to move through the building and "took selfies within the Rayburn room." The fact that she moved throughout the building and was in more than one breached area where officers were located hurt her case.

Niemela's refusal to plead guilty to the charges and her past "criminal history," which she says they "got incorrect," also affected her sentence. She believes it should never have been factored into her sentencing. In fact, Gordon admits her criminal conduct "did not result in conviction." One of those incidents was related to a hospital visit where she "was outraged about being asked to wear a mask...during the height of COVID."

The government says her failure to plead "is part and parcel of the rest of her mindset" because it "is not her first run-in with the police." The government lamented she did not take their "sweetheart offer" but says it warned her that it "would not sort of take a similar approach at sentencing." Niemela's lawyer defended her right not to plead guilty and go to trial because, from her perspective, she "didn't picket or parade."


As with other J6 defendants, Niemela's fine was determined by the amount on her GiveSendGo fundraising page at the time because the DOJ did not want her to profit from her fundraising. Gordon states that the "fine number...comes from Ms. Niemela's GiveSendGo fundraising." Gordon tells the court it "should not allow her to profit financially from her conduct on January 6."

Gordon asked the court to "take from her" any funds she "doesn't give her lawyer, that she pockets—she'll reimburse herself for expenses or make up for lost income or anything else as a result of her participation here..." including her travel expenses. Gordon even says it is possible that GiveSendGo "took the case for free and [are] fundraising as a result of it, and that's how they're getting paid. It's possible she's paying them some of this money." A screenshot of the exchange between Gordon and Judge Cooper is captured below:




Claw Back Funding


Niemela Believes Judge Cooper's Opinions of Her Affected Outcome

Niemela told UncoverDC that Judge Cooper punished her more harshly "for being out of touch with reality" because of her "Save the Children" T-shirt. Niemela explained:

"The judge called me out for my T-shirt, told me that I needed to be punished harsher for spreading false conspiracies of children being trafficked, and that I'm out of touch with reality. And trying to diagnose me from the bench because apparently, he's a doctor now, too."

The sentencing hearing transcript shows Judge Cooper conveyed his opinion about Niemela's T-shirt. He openly conjectured her T-shirt referenced child trafficking and, if indeed that was true, stated Niemela was "completely detached from reality." Referencing the "crazy[ier]" Q-Anon stuff, Judge Cooper said it showed him Niemela is "completely detached from reality." More relevant is the fact that Cooper said her beliefs are "relevant to the deterrent value of the sentence [he had] to impose."


In the case of Judge Cooper, she may not be wrong in her perception of his opinion of her, but the truth may be somewhere in between. Cooper expressed "empathy for the challenges she face[s]" but also said she "left him no choice" but to recommend the sentencing put forth by the government.

Judge Cooper told Niemela he "drew from the record" that Niemela is "stubborn... resist[s) authority has impulsivity issues, has temper issues, whether they have ripened into violence or not." He added she has poor judgment and "can make very poor decisions." The judge also acknowledged Niemela to be a "good friend, hard worker" and someone who has "goodness in her heart."

It seems Judge Cooper was most preoccupied with what he viewed as Niemela's "complete lack of responsibility for [her] actions" and wanted to make an example of her to deter future behavior for her and others. He told her it was her "affiliations," not First Amendment issues, that informed his decision to give her 11 months in prison and not probation. Ultimately, Judge Cooper seemed preoccupied with deterring her and others from participating in activities like January 6 ever again. Other J6 defendants have shared similar experiences from their sentencing hearings.

Cooper told Niemela the following, referencing her social media posts:

"You know, you've made yourself a face, and you feel, as you've stated here in court, that you're being persecuted; that you're a martyr; that you're a tool in a broader political effort to silence certain people. And so, you know, folks are listening to you, whether you like it or not, and, you know, this sentence has to say something to those people."

Cooper's full statement to Niemela is provided below:

Cooper to Niemela/sentencing hearing

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