John Brown ascending the gallows. Library of Congress

We all remember the story of John Brown from our school days. He was an abolitionist bent on destroying the then-constitutionally sanctioned institution of slavery.

In 1859 Brown, along with a small band of fellow abolitionists, including three of his sons, overtook the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, believing that that would spark a slave rebellion which would sweep the country and put and end to our abhorent national original sin. He did not succeed, and less than two months of his capture, Brown and six of his band were tried, convicted and hanged for treason and murder.

It is not without some irony that the man in charge of the federal troops that put down Brown’s insurrection would, a  little more than a year later,  commit treason himself by waging war against the United States leading to the deaths of 500,000 soldiers and civilians. Yet that man, Confederate General Robert E. Lee. managed, inexplicably, to escape the gallows and freely live out the rest of his natural days.

We have now recently commemorated the January 6, 2021 anniversary of the assault on our Capitol which inarguably was an act of insurrection under Title 18 United States Code Section 2383, an act of Treason under Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution and an act of Domestic Terrorism under Title 18 United States Code Section 2331. It was incited by a twice-impeached lawless President who whipped the mob into a frenzy, told them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” and that he would be there to lead them when they got there.

During the violence that ensued, one person was killed, and more than 100 federal officers were assaulted, many severely injured. The avowed purpose of the insurrection was to overthrow the legitimately elected government of the United States, to kidnap and/or kill the Speaker of the House and to hang the Vice President.

The contrast between the two events could not be more  stark. In Brown’s case, he was motivated by a high moral purpose — putting an end to the brutal and unconscionable idea that one human being should own and have complete dominion over another. No such noble purpose spurred on  the January 6 insurrectionists and the man principally responsible for exhorting them to action.

To the contrary, the January 6 insurrectionists were intent on destroying the very lifeblood of our democracy — the peaceful and legitimate transfer of power from one duly elected president to another. Their actions were fueled by the most treacherous of lies — that the election was illegitimate. Moreover, the mob was incited by the disgraced former President of the United  States, a man whose depths of perfidy, malevolence and treachery have rarely ever been seen on the stage of American politics and never — ever — been seen in the office of President of the United States.

A year out from the January 6 insurrection, and although more than 700 of the insurrectionists have been charged and several dozen sentenced, the delayed response and the sentences handed down have been at best anemic given the crimes  committed.

It is often said that justice delayed is justice denied. There is, and has been, more than enough evidence to indict Donald Trump, his inner circle of conspirators and the January 6 mob for treason, insurrection, murder and an array of other federal felonies. Their criminal acts were committed in broad daylight and captured for posterity from every conceivable angle on hundreds of videos.

Under federal law, the death penalty is a viable option, at least for treason and murder. At the very least these enemies of our democracy should spend most of the rest of their natural days in prison. The longer the wait, and the longer the inaction, the more the risk grows that our democracy will fail because those who wish to destroy it will perceive it as weak and ineffective, thereby further fueling their resolve to carry on where they left off on January 6.

David E. Rosengren is a retired attorney who lives in Essex.