Proud Boys cry during sentencing for US Capitol attack

Two former far-right Proud Boys leaders have been jailed for 17 years and 15 years for seditious conspiracy after storming the US Capitol in a failed bid to overturn Donald Trump’s 2020 election defeat.

Sep 01, 2023, updated Sep 01, 2023
Armed police prevent Trump supporters from smashing their way in to a barricaded House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol  in a bid to stop Congress ratifying Donald Trump's election loss. Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Armed police prevent Trump supporters from smashing their way in to a barricaded House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in a bid to stop Congress ratifying Donald Trump's election loss. Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

The prison terms handed down on Thursday by US District Judge Timothy Kelly for Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl, the first Proud Boys convicted of seditious conspiracy to be sentenced for their roles in the January 6, 2021, attack, were below US sentencing guidelines and far lower than the 33-year and 30-year terms sought by federal prosecutors.

Kelly on Thursday said he was not “trying to minimise the violence” that occurred, but he noted that the event was still not on par with a mass casualty event and imposing a stricter sentence could create disparities.

Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol in January 2021 as Congress met to ratify the election result. Photo: Lev Radin/Sipa USA

Rehl broke down crying as he read a statement to the court.

“I regret involving myself with any of it,” he said. He added he let politics consume his life and he “lost track of who and what matters.”

He also apologised for letting his family down and asked if Kelly could send him to a federal prison close to his home.

Prosecutors calculated their sentencing recommendation for Rehl, in part, based on evidence he committed perjury when he took the stand in his own defence during the trial and lied about assaulting police with a chemical spray.

“You did spray that officer and you lied about it,” Kelly told him, adding these were “bad facts”.

Biggs apologised for his actions as he faced Kelly, choking up as he spoke about his daughter whom he said was a sexual assault victim who needs him while he has been locked up.

“I was seduced by the crowd, and I just moved forward. My curiosity got the better of me,” said Biggs.

“I’m not a terrorist. I don’t have hate in my heart.”

The attack at the Capitol was meant to stop Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden’s election, which Trump falsely claims was the result of widespread fraud.

“These are very serious crimes,” federal prosecutor Jason McCullough said on Thursday.

“There is a reason why we will hold our collective breaths as we approach future elections. … They pushed this to the edge of a constitutional crisis.”

Trump has a wide lead in the race for the Republican nomination to challenge Biden in 2024.

In one of the debates during his 2020 presidential campaign, Trump famously told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” when he was asked by the moderator to denounce white supremacists.

Two other Proud Boys – Ethan Nordean and Dominic Pezzola – will face sentencing before Kelly on Friday, while the group’s former chairman Enrique Tarrio will be sentenced on September 5.

Prosecutors are seeking a 33-year prison term for Tarrio and a 27-year term for Nordean, both of whom were also convicted of seditious conspiracy.

They are requesting a 20-year term for Pezzola, who was acquitted of seditious conspiracy, but convicted of other serious felonies.

Prosecutors asked US District Judge Timothy Kelly to agree to apply a terrorism enhancement for all five Proud Boys defendants – a move that has the potential to add roughly 15 years to a prison term.

Kelly on Thursday agreed that Biggs and Rehls’ conduct amounted to an act of terrorism, but he did not apply the enhancement because he said it “overstates the conduct” at issue.

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The sentences he imposed, while far lower than what the government requested, still represent among the most stringent to date in connection with the Capitol attack.

To date, former Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes holds the record with an 18-year sentence, after he was convicted of seditious conspiracy earlier this year.

More than 1100 people have been arrested on charges related to the Capitol assault. Of those, more than 630 have pleaded guilty and at least 110 have been convicted at trial.

The latest sentencing comes as Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to a Georgia criminal indictment accusing him of trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat, and asked to be tried separately from some of his 18 co-defendants.

Fulton County indicted Trump in August on 13 felony counts, including racketeering, for pressuring state officials to reverse his 2020 election loss in the state and allegedly setting up a fake slate of electors to undermine the congressional certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory.

“As evidenced by my signature below, I do hereby waive formal arraignment and enter my plea of NOT GUILTY to the Indictment in this case,” Trump said in a court filing on Thursday in Fulton County Superior Court.

The plea means that Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, will not appear in person in an Atlanta court next week to face the charges.

His lawyers also asked the judge to sever his case from some of his co-defendants who have sought a speedy trial. This would put Trump’s case on a different schedule from that of a co-defendant Kenneth Chesebro, a lawyer for Trump’s 2020 campaign, whose trial is set to begin on October 23.

Trump’s lawyers argued they did not have sufficient time to prepare for the trial date set for Chesebro.

Fulton County prosecutors are seeking an October start to the trial. Some of Trump’s co-defendants in Georgia – including lawyer Sidney Powell, Trevian Kutti and Ray Smith – have also waived formal arraignment and entered not guilty pleas.

Rudy Giuliani, a former lawyer for Trump who led failed court challenges to the election results, said through a spokesman on Thursday that he will waive arraignment and plead not guilty.

Jenna Ellis, another former Trump lawyer, pleaded not guilty on Thursday and waived her right to be arraigned in-person.

The 98-page Georgia indictment filed in mid-August charges Trump and the 18 other defendants with a total of 41 criminal counts.

The Georgia case is Trump’s fourth indictment. He faces a New York state trial in March involving a hush money payment to a porn star and a federal trial in May in Florida for allegedly mishandling federal classified documents.

Another indictment, in federal court in Washington, accuses him of illegally seeking to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

Trump is due to stand trial in March 2024 in that case, one day before Republican voters in more than a dozen US states decide whether to give him a chance to recapture the White House.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all criminal cases and could spend much of next year in court, even as he campaigns to retake the White House.

-with AAP

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