US Capitol riots: Justice Department seeks 33 years sentence for ex-Proud Boys leader


US prosecutors have asked for 33 years of sentencing for former Proud Boys’ chairman Henry Enrique Tarrio and leader Joe Biggs in connection with the January 6 Capitol Riots, The Washington Post reported. The Justice Department has also sought two to three decades of imprisonment for other top members of the far-right extremist organisation. “The scope of the defendants’ conspiracy is vast. The defendants organised and directed a force of nearly 200 to attack the heart of our democracy, a crime unparalleled in American history,” Assistant US Attorneys Jason McCullough and Conor Mulroe wrote, as per The Post.

They said the Proud Boys’ leaders intentionally positioned themselves at the vanguard of political violence in this country. The prosecutors urged US District Judge Timothy J Kelly to hand down stiff sentences to deter others who would mobilise such violence in the future. Notably, the request was the longest punishment sought by the government in the Capitol siege so far, factoring in an enhanced terrorism penalty and violence attributed to Tarrio’s followers who led the assault on police lines, The Post reported. The Proud Boys’ leaders later this month will be the first instigators of the riot to be sentenced since former president Donald Trump was federally indicted in connection with the attack. Their punishment could be a harbinger of possible future consequences for the former president in what special counsel Jack Smith called an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy that was fuelled by lies by Trump, as per The Washington Post.

Earlier in May, Tarrio, a former aide to Trump political confidant Roger Stone, and deputies Biggs, Ethan Nordean, and Zachary Rehl were found guilty of plotting to unleash political violence to prevent Congress’ certification of the legitimate electoral results. According to the prosecutors, this was mobilised by Trump’s directive to the group to stand by at a September 2020 presidential debate and a December 2020 call for supporters to attend a wild rally in Washington, The Post reported. However, a fifth co-defendant, Dominic Pezzola, was acquitted of seditious conspiracy, but found guilty like the others of obstructing Congress’ joint session, and of other crimes. All were convicted of offences punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and prosecutors asked the court to stack sentences to exceed that total for Tarrio and his top lieutenants.


“Misguided patriots”, defence seeks reduced sentence

Tarrio’s defence asked for a sentence without the terrorism enhancement, or less than 14 years, saying the government seemed to want to punish him for going to trial while not seeking the enhancement against violent rioters who pleaded guilty, and that there was no evidence he directed anyone to enter the Capitol or commit violence. “Tarrio was not even present at the scene in Washington D.C.; he did not direct his fellow members of Proud Boys or anyone else to assault people on the day in question or to destroy any government property,” attorney Nayib Hassan wrote.

He asked the court to weigh Tarrio’s community and charity work, past cooperation with law enforcement, and reports by his mother that he has seemed very anxious in recent months and began receiving counselling in March to cope with 22-hour-a-day lockdown in jail. Attorneys for Nordean, Biggs and Rehl asked for sentences of time served, up to two-and-half years, saying their actions that day were peaceful like hundreds of others punished for misdemeanours, and that the Justice Department targeted the Proud Boys leaders for the group’s political activities, The Post reported.

“The defendants are not terrorists, but misguided patriots whose offence contributed to a several hours delay in Congress’ vote count, prompted by Trump’s claims that their cause was worthy, wrote Norman Pattis. Tarrio and co-defendants were the last of 14 members of the Proud Boys or the extremist group Oath Keepers to plead guilty or be convicted at trial of opposing federal authority by force in the Capitol breach, which has resulted in roughly 1,100 arrests and more than 700 convictions so far.

Tarrio and Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes who was sentenced in May to 18 years in prison, the longest penalty to date in the attack, were the highest-profile figures to face trial for the siege, as per The Washington Post. Notably, Tarrio also was the first person not present at the Capitol to be found criminally responsible at trial. The government alleged he watched from Baltimore after being expelled from D.C. one day earlier pending trial for burning a stolen Black Lives Matter flag at an earlier pro-Trump rally in Washington.