This weekend, Speaker of the House Mike Johnson publicly released all 44,000 hours of footage from the protest at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and it has caused a political firestorm on and off of social media. Many Americans are grateful for Johnson finally keeping this promise that was made by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Sunlight, as they say, is the best disinfectant. Others, like J6 Committee members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, have been furiously protesting the release, claiming that it won't show anything they did not already tell us. In that case, why is it a problem? I've even seen some on Twitter hilariously claiming that the release of the footage is 'fascist,' proving once again that way too many people don't know what words mean.
But I know one group of people for whom the release of this footage will be extremely painful: the family of Matthew Perna.
Perna was present at the protest on January 6 and he did walk into the Capitol. There was never any evidence that he did anything violent, not even from the witch-hunting J6 Committee. But he was still arrested (actually, he turned himself in). He was charged with four misdemeanor counts related to entering the building illegally and obstructing the official business of the government. Like many J6 defendants, he was urged to plead guilty, with the promise of a light sentence. That was a lie. After his plea, prosecutors told his attorney that they were adding a domestic terrorism enhancement to his charges. Those misdemeanors were now felonies and he was facing nine years in prison (though the maximum sentence could have gone up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine).
The actual sentence was never issued because, on February 25, 2022, Matthew Perna took his own life.
Now, nearly two years later, this newly released footage shows what a farce his prosecution was and the tragedy of his suicide.
🚨Newly released footage of Matthew Perna (seen in red sweatshirt) shows Matthew walking calmly in the Capitol shooting video.— Brandon Straka (@BrandonStraka) November 18, 2023
Matthew pled guilty to initial charges, believing he may face 6-12 months in prison.
Only after pleading guilty did the DOJ inform Matthew that they… pic.twitter.com/1vu0vrLCFe
Some people will say, "Well this video doesn't tell the whole story. Maybe he was violent somewhere else at a different time." Really? OK. Show me that footage. People like Cheney and Kinzinger spent months and millions of dollars trying to manipulate edited footage to show how Jan. 6 was the worst day in American history. Do you think, if they had anything incriminating on Perna, that it wouldn't have come out by now?
Perna's aunt, Geri, has spoken often about her nephew, and the despair he suffered, not only from his prosecution but from the social ostracization that came along with it.
I had the pleasure this weekend of finally meeting our Friend @GeriPerna in person at #WalkACon— Lou (@LouAZMerrijul) November 19, 2023
I have highlighted Mathew’s story in a Space after the Congressional Field Hearing with @mattgaetz @laurenboebert @mtgreenee @RepTroyNehls and others.
Geri told Matthew’s story this… https://t.co/FBXgoxBzj4 pic.twitter.com/6bD3wHtiEK
I have followed Perna's story closely because I share something in common with him. I too, once felt that despair, that pain, that hopelessness. I have never written about this publicly, but I am a suicide survivor. And not just once. Multiple times. I am not going to spend a lot of time talking about me, because this is about Matt Perna, but I need to share just a little because I am not sure that a lot of people understand the depths of that darkness. Pain so great that you honestly believe that ending your life is the only way to stop it. Despair and hopelessness so overwhelming that you don't just believe ... you know in your heart... that the world would be a better place without you in it. And, as we can see from Perna's aunt, that pain isn't isolated to you alone. It spreads like a virus to everyone who cares about you, and it changes you all forever.
For anyone who wonders about my pen name, well the 'Calvin' part is easy: he's just the coolest little dude ever. And he has a tiger. The 'Grateful' part is a little more complicated. There are many reasons for that, but one of the biggest is the gratitude I feel every day that, even though I succumbed to that darkness on more than one occasion, it did not take me away forever. I was lucky. So many others are not. And when I think of Perna, it is always with anguish because I wish it had not taken him from this world, from us, from his family forever. (And yes, selfishly, I will admit thinking about Perna also hurts because it does bring a lot of my former pain back to me; you never truly or completely forget it.)
In my case, it was my own mind that brought on my hopelessness. The part of Perna's tragedy that is unforgivable, at least not by me, is that other people did this to him. Intentionally. Knowingly. Understanding full well that the things they were saying about him were not true. In his case, it was others who -- by their words and actions -- demonstrated that his life meant less than nothing to them. And to their eternal shame, Perna eventually believed them. Listen to his final words to his aunt: 'I'm sorry you lost all of your friends because of me.' That is what this despair will do to you. It will convince you that everything is your fault. Your pain, other people's pain, everything. The sad irony in Perna's case is that none of it was his fault.
We read stories all the time about young people who tragically take their lives because of bullies online or in school. Bullies who browbeat their victims with horrible invective, with distortions, and with outright lies. And they do it so incessantly that ultimately, their victims believe them. Perna's prosecutors, not to mention everyone in the J6 Committee, are nothing more than that: bullies.
People talk about 'justice' for January 6. Well, for me -- and I know for Gail Perna and everyone in Matt's family -- that word is a joke if it does not mean that one day, there will be accountability and consequences for those who drove him to hopelessness through their words and deeds. They may not have put the noose around his neck, but they killed him. And they need to answer for that.
Until that day comes, I will hope that his death haunts them. Every day. It should.
And I will continue to pray for Matthew Perna and his family. I hope others will join me, and also try to remember to be grateful as often as you can.
(If you would like to read the beautiful obituary Matthew Perna's family wrote in his memory, you can find it here.)