WASHINGTON – Former Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio was sentenced Tuesday to 22 years in prison – the longest sentence yet related to the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021 – after his conviction for seditious conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election and to keep Donald Trump in the White House.
Prosecutors sought 33 years in prison for Tarrio, 39, of Miami. He was not at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but had organized Proud Boys members who were among the first to breach the historic building and who temporarily prevented Congress from counting Electoral College votes to certify the election.
Tarrio argued at the trial he was blamed for riot after Trump inflamed the mob. He was in Baltimore the day of the attack and didn’t direct anyone to assault police or destroy property, said his lawyers, who proposed a sentence no more than 15 years.
“I am not a political zealot. Inflicting harm or changing the results of the election was not my goal,” Tarrio said Tuesday. “Please show me mercy,” he added. “I ask you that you not take my 40s from me.”
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly agreed with prosecutors that Tarrio’s actions could be punished more harshly as “terrorism,” for trying to influence the government through intimidation or coercion, but not at the level of trying to blow up buildings.
The longest previous sentence went to Stewart Rhodes, former leader of the Oath Keepers, who got 18 years for seditious conspiracy and other crimes. The Justice Department has appealed that sentence and asked for a longer term.
Trump was indicted Aug. 1 on conspiracy charges related to obstructing Congress, but not inciting the Capitol attack or seditious conspiracy. He pleaded not guilty and has a trial scheduled March 4.
What role did Proud Boys play on Jan. 6?
Tarrio is one of five Proud Boys members sentenced during the last week for their roles in the Jan. 6 attack, after their convictions at trial in April. But Kelly got sick, so the sentencing was postponed to Tuesday.
Tarrio’s co-defendants Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl were also convicted of seditious conspiracy and other charges. Dominic Pezzola, a Marine Corps veteran, was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges, including for being the first to breach the Capitol when he broke a window with a police shield.
Kelly, who was appointed by Trump, sentenced Nordean of Auburn, Washington, to 18 years in prison on Friday. Kelly also sentenced Pezzola of Rochester, New York, to 10 years in prison that day. Kelley sentenced Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida, to 17 years in prison on Thursday. And Kelly sentenced Rehl of Philadelphia to 15 years in prison that day.
Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers were convicted of being leaders of the insurrection, when thousands of rioters fought police outside the Capitol and then rampaged through building, with some chanting for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. One rioter was shot to death by police outside the House chamber, a Capitol Police officer died the next day of natural causes after being sprayed with chemicals and a handful of other officers died by suicide in the weeks
More than 1,100 people have been charged so far with federal crimes related to Jan. 6 and more than 600 have been sentenced.
What did Tarrio do?
Tarrio was convicted of six charges: seditious conspiracy, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding of Congress, obstruction of a proceeding, interference with law enforcement and aiding destruction of government property.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe said the Proud Boys came dangerously close to succeeding in their plot to stop the transfer of presidential power – and noted that “it didn’t take rifles or explosives.”
“There was a very real possibility we were going to wake up on Jan. 7 in a full-blown constitutional crisis,” Mulroe said, with “300 million Americans having no idea who the next president would be or how it would be decided.”
Prosecutors painted Tarrio as a leader of the plot. His arrest on Jan. 4, 2021 − on unrelated charges − and the stabbing of several Proud Boys at a protest in December 2020 turned members of the group against District of Columbia law enforcement, the government claimed.
Before the new year, Tarrio received a document titled “1776 Returns” containing plans to occupy government buildings, protest election results and overwhelm defenses with a surge of the crowd, prosecutors said in a sentencing memo. In the weeks after the riot, Tarrio called law enforcement “Gestapo forces” and described suspects as being “hunted by the tyrannical government,” prosecutors said.
“The evidence at trial showed Tarrio to be a naturally charismatic leader, a savvy propagandist and the celebrity chairman of the national Proud Boys organization,” prosecutors said. “In that capacity, he had influence over countless subordinate members of his members of his group and members of the general public, and he used that influence to organize and execute the conspiracy to forcibly stop the peaceful democratic transfer of power.”
What did Tarrio’s lawyers argue?
Tarrio, who has been locked up since his March 2022 arrest, appeared in court in an orange jail uniform and quietly conferred with his lawyers during the hearing.
Tarrio’s lawyers argued he was made a scapegoat for the Capitol attack after Trump inflamed the mob with his speech near the White House and directed supporters to the Capitol.
“My client is no terrorist,” defense lawyer Sabino Jauregui said. “My client is a misguided patriot.”
In February 2021 interviews after the riot, Tarrio told CNN the men “should not have breached the Capitol with violence” and he said, “I think it was completely wrong.”
“There is zero evidence to suggest Tarrio directed any participants to storm the U.S. Capitol building prior to or during the event,” his attorneys Jauregui and Nayib Hassan wrote in a sentencing memo. “Participating in a plan for the Proud Boys to protest on January 6 is not the same as directing others on the ground to storm the Capitol by any means necessary.”