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Swiping Pelosi’s podium will put Capitol rioter behind bars

A federal judge insisted on prison time for Adam Johnson, saying that “a message just has to be sent.”

WASHINGTON (CN) — A Florida man infamously pictured grinning and waving to the camera as he toted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s podium around the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection was sentenced on Friday to 75 days in prison. 

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton called his decision to make Adam Johnson serve prison time a difficult one but said it “has to be done.”

“I think a message just has to be sent,” the judge appointed by President George W. Bush said. “If you're going to associate yourself with this type of behavior, and you're going to try and engage in combat that undermines the fundamental fabric of American society … your freedom, for some period of time, is going to be taken away.”

Johnson, 37, of Bradenton, gets credit for time served but must also serve two years of supervised release, complete 200 hours of community service and pay a fine of $5,000.

After the photo of him with Pelosi's podium went viral after the riot, prosecutors says he bragged that he “broke the internet.” He pleaded guilty in October to knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.

The 75-day sentence falls short of the 90 days sought by prosecutors. They tried during Friday’s sentencing hearing to paint Johnson as a violent rioter.

“He converted his political ideas into unlawful acts on Jan. 6 and then, after the fact, he stated that [he] thought it was his responsibility as a citizen — that he was there to record history, that he was not an agitator,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Arco said. “This couldn't be farther from the truth.”

Arco also reminded the judge about Johnson's admission to yelling for fellow rioters to grab a bust of President George Washington so that it could be used as a battering ram to break into the House chamber where lawmakers were hiding. He tried as well to open the door to Speaker Pelosi’s office.

Johnson, she said, had “multiple” opportunities to leave the Capitol building during the riot, but he instead stayed for 35 minutes.

“It wasn't a mere tourist recording history who was part of a mob, but in his own words during the proffer, he believed was going to overthrow the government,” Arco said.

Defense attorney Dan Eckhart insisted meanwhile that Johnson had no intentions of causing violence during the riot and that he should be sentenced to one year of probation and 100 hours of community service.

“This is not a violent man, he's got no history of violence — that's what distinguishes him,” Eckhart said, adding that Johnson did not have on tactical gear or carry weapons like some other rioters did. 

Part of why Johnson was in the Capitol so long, the lawyer also argued, is because he did not know how to exit the building. A police officer even confirmed that Johnson asked him how to get out, Eckhart added.

“The nature of any crowd of any riot is it's not necessarily easy as represented to just leave the environment — too crowded and often constrained,” he said.

Johnson, a stay-at-home father of five young boys, was apologetic and told the judge that, if he had found Pelosi, he would have asked her for a selfie and that he has no “ill will” toward her.

The decision to take Pelosi’s podium, he said, “was a very stupid idea and foolish and something I shouldn't have done — and I did make a mockery of a very intense and not great day.”

At the time of the riot, Johnson said he thought a civil war was on the horizon — a claim that has been made by several accused rioters.

“There are so many disparities between people,” Johnson said. “We can't even have conversations anymore.”

Walton said he began reading books about civil wars after the insurrection and that the ongoing hostility and partisanship is “ripping this country apart.”

“What we're experiencing now is exactly some of the things that were experienced prior to those events,” Walton said. “And you contributed to that.”

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