Two former leaders of the far-right extremist group Proud Boys have each been sentenced to more than a decade in prison for leading an attack on the US Capitol in an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential. election.
The 17-year prison sentence handed down to Joseph Biggs, a Proud Boys organizer, and the 15-year sentence handed down to Zachary Rehl, one of the group’s leaders, are the second and third longest sentences ever handed down to the following the attack of January 6, 2021.
They were the first Proud Boys to be sentenced by Timothy Kelly, a US District Judge who will separately preside over similar hearings of three others sentenced by jury in May after a four-month trial in Washington DC that laid bare the ‘far right. extremists’ buy-in to the lies of Trump, a Republican, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
Miami’s Enrique Tarrio, who was national president and chief executive of the Proud Boys, is expected to be sentenced on Tuesday. His sentencing was postponed from Wednesday to next week because Kelly was ill.
Tarrio was not in Washington on January 6. He had been arrested two days before the Capitol riot for defacing a Black Lives Matter banner at an earlier rally in the US capital, and had complied with a judge’s order to leave town after his arrest. He chose Biggs and Ethan Nordean, president of the Proud Boys chapter, to lead the group in the field in his absence, prosecutors said.
Rehl, Biggs, Tarrio and Nordean were convicted of seditious conspiracy, an offense rarely brought before US courts during the Civil War. A fifth Proud Boys member, Dominic Pezzola, was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges.
Biggs and other Proud Boys joined the crowd that broke through police lines and forced lawmakers to flee, disrupting the joint session of Congress to certify election victory for Biden, a Democrat.
Defense attorneys argued that the Justice Department unfairly held their clients responsible for the violent actions of others among the crowd of Trump supporters on Capitol Hill.
Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Fla., admitted he ‘missed’ Jan. 6, but blamed it on being ‘swept away by the crowd’ of Trump supporters outside the Capitol. and said he was neither a violent person nor “a terrorist”.
“My curiosity got the better of me, and I will have to live with that for the rest of my life,” he said, saying he had “no hate in my heart” and that he didn’t want to hurt people.
During the trial, jurors saw a slew of messages privately exchanged by Proud Boys leaders in the weeks leading up to the Capitol riot, including Biggs encouraging Tarrio to “go radical and recruit real men” after that Trump announced his intention to rally on January 6.
That day, dozens of Proud Boys leaders, members and associates were among the first rioters to enter the Capitol. Prior to the first breach, Biggs used a megaphone to direct the rioters, chanting “Whose Capitol? Our Capitol!
Biggs “acted as the tip of the spear” in the attack, prosecutors said in a court filing. He tore down a fence and loaded scaffolding before entering the Capitol. He left the building but returned and went to the Senate Chamber.
Rehl was seen on video spraying an irritating chemical on law enforcement officers outside the Capitol, but he repeatedly lied about the assault during his testimony at his trial, said prosecutor Erik Kenerson. “He tried to craft a narrative that fit the evidence and he was arrested,” Kenerson said.
Rehl also drove at least three other men to the Capitol and a senator’s office, where he smoked and posed for photos while showing the Proud Boys hand gesture, prosecutors said in court documents.
“Rehl led an army in an attempt to stop the certification process, he was proud that they got as close as they did, and his only regret immediately afterwards was that they didn’t go any further. “, they wrote in a court filing.
Rehl sobbed as he told the judge he deeply regretted being in the Capitol that day. “I’m done with all that, I’m done peddling lies to other people who don’t care about me,” Rehl said. “Politicians started spreading lies about the election, and I fell for it. »
Norman Pattis, attorney for Biggs and Rehl, said they were “misguided patriots”, not terrorists, and said long prison sentences would fuel division.
Rehl and others who demonstrated on Capitol Hill followed Trump’s insistence and genuinely believed something was wrong with the election when they took to the streets, Pattis said. “What they are guilty of is believing the president who said the election was stolen from him,” he added.
Kelly acknowledged it was a factor, but “very modest.”
Prosecutors also recommended prison sentences of 33 years for Tarrio, 27 years for Nordean and 20 years for Pezzola. Nordean and Pezzola are expected to be sentenced on Friday.
More than 1,100 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riots. More than 600 of them have been found guilty and sentenced.
The 18-year prison sentence handed down to Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, is the harshest punishment given to a Capitol rioter so far. Six members of the anti-government group Oath Keepers were convicted of seditious conspiracy in a separate trial last year.