Thursday, September 28, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Thursday, September 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Proud Boys leader gets 22 years in prison for planning Capitol attack, marking longest Jan. 6 sentence yet

“What happened that day didn’t honor our founders, it was the kind of thing they wrote the Constitution to prevent,” a federal judge told Enrique Tarrio at his sentencing.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Enrique Tarrio, leader of the right-wing extreme group Proud Boys, was sentenced to 22 years in prison Tuesday for his position "at the top of the command structure" in planning and instigating the group’s assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, marking the longest sentence of any Capitol rioter to date.

Tarrio, 39, was not present at the Capitol that day. He was arrested two days earlier, on Jan. 4, 2021, for burning a Black Lives Matter flag torn down from a historic Black church during a pro-Trump rally in Washington in December 2020 — and as a result he was barred from entering the city.

Despite his absence, a federal jury in May found Tarrio guilty on six counts, agreeing with prosecutors that he had egged on his lieutenants and hundreds of Proud Boy members from afar by sending messages via the encrypted messaging application Telegram.

In a contrite statement Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, Tarrio apologized to law enforcement officers who were injured in the riot, to the citizens of Washington and to lawmakers who feared for their lives because of his group’s actions. 

“I am not a political zealot,” Tarrio said following statements from his aunt, sister, fiancée and mother pleading for Kelly’s mercy. “Today I stand before you a changed man. A man that still has many flaws and has much to improve on.” 

He assured the Trump-appointed judge he no longer believed the 2020 election had been stolen and was ashamed of his rhetoric in the months leading up to the Capitol riot, which included comparing himself and his followers to the Founding Fathers.

Tarrio called his repeated invocation of 1776 as a call to arms a “perversion.”

Kelly said he was glad Tarrio apologized, and said his statement was “better than nothing,” but the defendant's actions and rhetoric had an outsized impact on breaking the previously longstanding American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power between presidents, begun by President George Washington. 

“What happened that day didn’t honor our founders, it was the kind of thing they wrote the Constitution to prevent,” Kelly said before handing down the sentence. 

He added that by comparing Dominic Pezzola — one of his co-defendants and a member of the Proud Boys who used a stolen police shield to break a window, allowing the first rioters to enter the building — to the first president, Tarrio had “slander[ed] the founder of our country to speak that way.”

On the day of the Capitol riot, Tarrio urged his followers to occupy “crucial buildings” with “as many people as possible” to “show our politicians We the People” are in charge. 

“Don’t fucking leave,” Tarrio wrote at 2:38 p.m., the same time rioters breached the Capitol building, halting the election certification and forcing members of Congress and their staffers to evacuate and seek shelter from the pro-Trump mob. 

“Proud Of My Boys and my country,” Tarrio wrote just four minutes later. 

The jury ultimately convicted Tarrio of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging their duties, civil disorder, destruction of government property and seditious conspiracy — a rare, Civil War-era charge alleging Tarrio conspired to “overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force” the government. 

On Tuesday Nayib Hassan, one of Tarrio’s Miami-based defense attorneys, emphasized that his client was not in Washington on Jan. 6, and shouldn't be sentenced for his followers’ actions. 

Kelly noted however that Tarrio’s planning began as early as Dec. 19, 2020, when he created an invite-only group chat, known as the Ministry of Self Defense, for Proud Boys leadership. He used the chat to urge members to avoid wearing Proud Boy colors and symbols, to bring tactical gear like pepper spray, body armor and helmets and to enlist members willing to follow their orders. 

The list of gear, argued another defense attorney, was intended to protect against Antifa, not against police officers. Miami-based attorney Sabino Jauregui asked the judge not to apply a terrorism adjustment to Tarrio's sentence.

“My client is no terrorist, my client is a misguided patriot,” Jauregui said. “He was trying to protect his country, misguided as he was. Not his intention to bring down the government of the United States or to overthrow the government of the U.S.” 

Kelly said his job wasn't to label anyone a terrorist, but he had little wiggle room when it came to applying the enhancement because Tarrio’s destruction of government property conviction is an offense listed under the relevant statute.

The judge ultimately decided to apply the enhancement, but said the conduct didn't warrant a longer sentence because there was no evidence Tarrio had any intent to kill anyone or cause a mass casualty event. 

Though Kelly opted for a sentence below the Justice Department’s initial recommendation of 33 years, the one he imposed still well exceeded the 18-year prison terms for Oath Keeper founder Stewart Rhodes and his co-defendant Ethan Nordean, previously the longest sentences for Jan. 6 defendants. 

Acknowledging a trend in a spate of sentencing hearings last week, Justice Department prosecutor Conor Mulroe on Tuesday walked back that request for a three-decade prison term and instead merely asked that Tarrio receive a sentence longer than Nordean’s. He justified the request by singling out Tarrio as “the leader of this conspiracy” which was pivotal in the events of Jan. 6. 

In addition to Nordean and Tarrio, three other co-defendants were sentenced last week for their roles in planning and executing the group's attack on the Capitol: Joseph Biggs received 17 years; Zachary Rehl received 15 years; and Pezzola received 10 years. Each had the terrorism enhancement applied to their destruction of property convictions, with Kelly again declining to order harsher sentences based on the adjustment.

Tarrio’s sentencing was originally slated to be the first among the group, but was rescheduled to Tuesday afternoon after the judge fell ill and stayed home out of an abundance of caution. 

Pezzola, the only defendant who was acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge, declared “Trump won!” as he walked out of Kelly’s courtroom Friday. 

According to the Justice Department’s most recent monthly update from August, over 1,100 people have been charged in connection with their actions on Jan. 6, and approximately 597 people have been sentenced. The investigation is ongoing, and approximately 321 people who assaulted officers remain unidentified. 

Follow @Ryan_Knappy
Categories / Criminal, Politics

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.