Washington — Two members of the far-right Proud Boys were sentenced to 17 and 15 years in prison on Thursday after a jury convicted the two, along with one other member and former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio ofin the Justice Department's investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.
Joseph Biggs, of Florida, got 17 years. Following Biggs' sentencing, Zachary Rehl, his co-defendant and a former president of the Philadelphia Proud Boys, was sentenced to 15 years.
Biggs was the first of the Proud Boys co-defendants to be sentenced after a jury found them guilty of numerous felony counts tied to the riot. Biggs was also convicted of additional charges, including conspiring to obstruct Congress and civil disorder, but acquitted of charges including assaulting officers and destruction of government property.
Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly to sentence Biggs — an Iraq war veteran who suffered from PTSD and later worked for InfoWars — to 33 years in prison.was previously set for Wednesday but postponed until Sept. 5 because the judge was sick. He, too, faces a government behind bars.
"Biggs appreciated the tactical advantage that his force had that day, and he understood the significance of his actions against his own government," The Justice Department wrote in a sentencing memorandum earlier this month, "Biggs understood that the outnumbered forces attempting to hold the Capitol would be powerless due to his side's overwhelming numbers."
"There is a reason why we will hold our collective breaths when we approach future elections," prosecutor Jason McCullough said during Thursday's sentencing hearing, "They pushed this to the edge of a constitutional crisis."
Speaking to the court himself on Thursday, Biggs told the judge he was not a violent person and apologized for his violent rhetoric.
"I'm not a terrorist," Biggs said, adding, "I'm so sorry," as he spoke through tears, explaining he wanted to be home to care for his daughter.
"When Jan. 6 came up, that was my last time ever going out with the Proud Boys… I was going to announce to the group that I'm done," he added.
"I know that I have to be punished, and I understand," Biggs conceded.
During the months-long trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Biggs was part of Tarrio's close leadership team and tied him to the alleged coordination of the mob.
The group was accused of forming a Ministry of Self-Defense, or MOSD, structure with Tarrio at the top, commanding a group of leaders who would strategize their presence at Trump's Jan. 6 rally.
Dominic Pezzola, the only defendant to be acquitted of seditious conspiracy, was not an MOSD member.
Tarrio wasn't in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, but Biggs, Zachary Rehl, Ethan Nordean and Pezzola gathered with over 100 Proud Boys at the Washington Monument and, according to prosecutors, marched toward the Capitol.
"We've taken the Capitol," Biggs said on the Capitol's west front, according to trial evidence, as Pezzola grabbed a law enforcement riot shield and used it to break a window on the Senate side of the building.
"Biggs acted as the tip of the spear throughout the attack on January 6," the government wrote. "He was among the first wave across the First Street barrier, he tore down the fence at Breach 2, he repositioned himself and charged up the scaffolding at Breach 3, and he was among the first rioters into the Capitol at Breach 4."
Prosecutors had asked the judge to apply a terrorism-related sentencing enhancement when he calculated the defendants' punishment, arguing that the group tried to influence the government through intimidation or coercion.
"The defendants are not terrorists," Biggs' defense team shot back in court filings, "Whatever excesses of zeal they demonstrated on January 6, 2021, and no matter how grave the potential interference with the orderly transfer of power due to the events of that day, a decade or more behind bars is an excessive punishment."
"These men were careless," Norm Pattis, Biggs' lawyer said Thursday. "There is no question they engaged in crimes."
"We think the crimes are overstated in this case," Pattis said, making a free speech argument and tying the defendants' actions to the former president's rhetoric.
During Thursday's hearing, Judge Kelly said that while he would apply the terrorism enhancement to Biggs' actions on Jan. 6 and was not minimizing the events that day, the Proud Boys' actions during the riot were not tantamount to terror attacks intended to inflict mass casualties on Americans.
"Despite the jury's verdicts, in which clearly force is an issue here, no question, I don't think that's what the jury found," the judge said. "That's not what the evidence reflected."
"What happened on Jan. 6 harms an important American custom that helps support the rule of law and the constitution," Kelly said in imposing Biggs' sentence, explaining he had to take into consideration Biggs' actions and subsequent celebration after the Capitol breach.
Defense attorneys told the jury that the Proud Boys were just a glorified "drinking club" where men shared their anger and contended Tarrio and others had no explicit plan to resist the election results or obstruct Congress.
In asking for a lesser sentence, Bigg's lawyers urged the court to "enforce a ceasefire" and send him to prison for a period of time served. He has been in jail since his arrest in 2021.
But like the jury that convicted Biggs of seditious conspiracy, Judge Kelly ultimately ruled the actions warranted a "significant" sentence.
Rehl was convicted of numerous counts during a jury trial earlier this year and his sentence was half the 30 years requested by the Justice Department.
"Rehl manifested both knowledge of the importance of the day and the violence that would be required if politicians did not do what he and his cohorts wanted them to do," the Justice Department wrote in its sentencing memorandum.
During the monthslong trial, prosecutors showed the jury evidence of Rehl's violent rhetoric before the attack. "Hopefully the firing squads are for the traitors that are trying to steal the election from the American people," he wrote on social media, according to court documents.
At trial, it was revealed that during the attack, Rehl sprayed a chemical irritant at law enforcement officers defending the Capitol — which Judge Kelly said evidence proved — and then lied about it on the witness stand. As one of only two Proud Boys defendants to testify in his own defense during the proceedings, Rehl denied spraying the officers. The judge ruled during Thursday's hearing that Rehl had committed perjury at trial.
According to government court papers, after the riot, Rehl — a military veteran and son of a police officer — wrote he was, "proud as f***."
During Thursday's sentencing hearing, prosecutors drew the court's attention to Rehl's statements after his conviction, in which he called the jury's verdict into question and, according to prosecutors, failed to express remorse. They said he continued to pose a threat.
"I spent all my life trying to do the right thing not just for myself, but for my family. I let them all down," Rehl emotionally told the court on Thursday. "I regret involving myself with any of it. I let it consume my life."
He said he fell for "lies" about a stolen 2020 presidential election "hook, line, and sinker" and distanced himself from politicians he said he once followed.
"Jan. 6 was a despicable day," Rehl said.
His defense attorneys urged the court in a filing to deny the terror request — an argument the judge denied Thursday — and tried to blame his conduct on former President Donald Trump, writing that while they did not outright blame Trump, "certainly believing the commander-in-chief and heeding his call should yield some measure of mitigation."
In sentencing Rehl, Kelly called Jan. 6 a "national disgrace." "It not only physically damaged property…it harmed an important American custom," the judge said, "That day broke our tradition of peacefully transferring power, which was one of the most precious things that we had as Americans."
"It was a miracle, a miracle that there was not a greater loss of life," the judge said.
Correction: This story has been updated with Rehl being sentenced to 15 years.
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