WASHINGTON (AP) – Former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was sentenced Tuesday to 22 years in prison for plotting a failed conspiracy to keep Donald Trump in power after the Republican lost the 2020 election, and capped the case with the harshest sentence ever handed down for the attack on the US Capitol.
Tarrio, 39, asked for leniency before the judge imposed the jail sentence, which exceeds the 18-year sentence that was handed down to Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and former Proud Boys leader Ethan Nordean on charges of seditious conspiracy and other convictions on January 6, 2021, riot.
Tarrio, who led the neo-fascist group as it became a force in mainstream Republican circles, bowed his head and then squared his shoulders after the sentence was passed. He raised his hand and made a “V” gesture with his fingers as he was led out of the courtroom in orange prison garb.
His sentencing comes as the Justice Department prepares to try Trump in the same courthouse in Washington for illegally plotting to hold on to power he knew voters gave him had been withdrawn.
Tarrio rose to speak before the sentencing, calling January 6 a “national embarrassment” and apologizing to police officers defending the Capitol and lawmakers who fled in fear. His voice cracked as he said he had failed his family and vowed he was done with politics.
“I’m not a political zealot. It wasn’t my goal to do damage or change the election results,” Tarrio said. “Please show me mercy,” he said, adding, “I beg you not to take my 40s away from me.”
Trump-appointed US District Judge Timothy Kelly said Tarrio was motivated by “revolutionary zeal” to lead the conspiracy that resulted in “200 combat-ready men surrounding the Capitol.” Noting that Tarrio had previously shown no public remorse for his crimes, the judge said a severe sentence was necessary to deter future political violence.
“It can’t happen again. “This must not happen again,” repeated the judge.
Tarrio and three lieutenants were convicted in May of seditious conspiracy and other crimes after a months-long trial that has served as a vivid reminder of the violent chaos fueled by Trump’s lies about the election and helping to smother right-wing extremists like the Proud Boys and the Proud Boys to inspire Oath Keepers.
Prosecutors had sought a 33-year sentence for Tarrio, describing him as the leader of a conspiracy to use violence to destroy the cornerstone of American democracy and defeat Democrat Joe Biden over Republican incumbent Trump.
Prosecutor Conor Mulroe told the judge that the Proud Boys were dangerously close in their conspiracy – noting that “it didn’t require guns or explosives.”
“There was a very real possibility that we would wake up on January 7th to a full-blown constitutional crisis,” Mulroe said, since “300 million Americans had no idea who the next president would be or how that would be decided.”
Tarrio wasn’t in Washington, DC, when the Proud Boys members joined thousands of Trump supporters who smashed windows, hit cops and flocked to the chambers of the House and Senate as lawmakers met to confirm Biden’s victory . But prosecutors say the Miami resident remotely organized and led the Proud Boys attack, inspiring supporters with his charisma and penchant for propaganda.
Tarrio’s attorneys denied the Proud Boys had any plan to attack the Capitol or stop confirmation of Biden’s victory. They argued that prosecutors were using Tarrio as a scapegoat for Trump, who spoke at the “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House on Jan. 6 and urged his supporters to “fight like hell.”
Tarrio’s younger sister, her fiancé and her mother tearfully urged the judge to show mercy before the verdict was handed down. Tarrio took off his glasses and wiped his eyes while listening to his mother.
The defense asked for a maximum of 15 years in prison and argued that their client should not be punished as harshly as the Oath Keepers’ Rhodes, who was present on the Capitol grounds on January 6.
Defense attorney Nayib Hassan told reporters after the hearing that they would appeal.
Tarrio’s lawyers described him as a “keyboard ninja” who tended to “talk nonsense” but had no intention of overthrowing the government. Attorney Sabino Jauregui told the judge that the Proud Boys’ only plans that day were to protest the election and confront left-wing Antifa activists.
“My client is not a terrorist,” Jauregui said. “My client is a misguided patriot.”
Tarrio was arrested two days before the Capitol riot amid allegations that he defaced a Black Lives Matter banner during a previous rally in the country’s capital and complied with a judge’s order to open the city after his arrest to leave.
The judge agreed with prosecutors that the Proud Boys’ crimes could be punished as “terrorism” – increasing the recommended sentence under federal guidelines. Ultimately, however, he sentenced the Proud Boys to shorter prison terms than the prosecutors demanded.
The backbone of the government’s case was hundreds of messages exchanged by Proud Boys in the days leading up to Jan. 6, which prosecutors said showed the extremists seeing themselves as revolutionaries and celebrating the attack on the Capitol that sent lawmakers into the underground fled.
The judge referred to Tarrio’s messages of support for the attack on the Capitol and the Proud Boys’ role in it.
“Make no mistake,” Tarrio wrote in a message. “We did that.” In another post, as the Proud Boys crowded the Capitol, Tarrio commanded, “Do what needs to be done.” Later in the day, in an encrypted group chat, someone asked the Proud Boys what they should do next . Tarrio replied, “Do it again.”
He is the last Proud Boys leader to be convicted of seditious conspiracy to receive his sentence. Three fellow Proud Boys convicted by a Washington grand jury on the rarely heard charge of sedition have been sentenced to between 15 and 18 years in prison.
The Justice Department is appealing the 18-year prison sentence of Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, who was convicted in a separate case of seditious conspiracy, and the sentences of other members of his anti-government militia group, which were lighter than prosecutors’ sentences wanted. Prosecutors had asked for a 25-year prison sentence for Rhodes.
Richer reported from Boston.
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