Before they were convicted by a jury following a four-month trial, five members of the Proud Boys who faced treason-related charges in connection with January 6 were offered plea deals with prison sentences significantly lower than the ones they received in recent days.
The terms of a plea deal from federal prosecutors were recently made public by an attorney for Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl, two Proud Boys organizers sentenced to 17 and 15 years in prison, respectively.
According to plea guidelines presented to the five defendants last October, Biggs and Rehl would instead have faced six to eight years in jail.
Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the neo-fascist group who was sentenced to 22 years in prison, the longest term to date among the hundreds of people convicted in connection with the attack, was presented with a possible sentence of nine to 11 years.
Ethan Nordean, who received a prison sentence of 18 years and is now tied with Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes for the second-longest sentence among January 6 defendants, was presented with a sentence of six to eight years.
Dominic Pezzola, the sole defendant among the five men who was not found guilty of seditious conspiracy, was sentenced to 10 years in prison. A plea deal suggested he would face four to five years in prison.
The terms of a plea agreement stipulated that the defendants would agree to a “statement of offense” that “accurately describes” their “actions and involvements” in the criminal offenses to which they would have pleaded guilty.
Proud Boys attorney claims sentences are a ‘trial tax’
Jurors found the men guilty on a number of charges connected to the attack in May. A sentencing memo from federal prosecutors suggested prison terms of 20 to 33 years.
Following a series of lengthy sentencing hearings in recent days, US District Judge Timothy Kelly ultimately imposed sentences roughly half of what prosecutors sought for each defendant.
Norman Pattis, an attorney for both Biggs and Rehl, argued in court filings that prosecutors’ “demand” for sentences that exceeded the initial plea offer amounted to a “trial tax” against them. Mr Pattis argues that the sentences imposed against them violated the Sixth Amendment.
“The defendants were punished for demanding their right to a trial,” according to a filing on 6 September.
During a four-month trial, prosecutors and witness testimony revealed thousands of private messages and evidence that a jury agreed had revealed that the defendants organized for weeks in the aftermath of the 2020 election to forcibly disrupt the outcome, then directed a mob towards the Capitol as Proud Boys dismantled barricades and broke windows to breach the halls of Congress, then bragged about their actions on social media.
Prosecutors argued that the Proud Boys were not merely obedient followers of then-President Trump’s commands but were preparing for “all-out war” to undermine millions of Americans’ votes and upend a democratic election to preserve his presidency.
After begging for leniency, Proud Boys downplay charges and January 6
The defendants largely apologised for their actions and condemned their behaviour in an effort to avoid lengthy prison sentences and to spend time with their families as they begged Judge Kelly for leniency at their sentencing hearings. But in statements that followed, they have largely downplayed the events of January 6.
Pezzola, who told the judge he was a “changed man” and said his actions on January 6 were among “the worst, most regrettable” decisions of his life, shouted out “Trump won” moments after he was sentenced.
An online fundraiser for Biggs falsely claims that he was punished for merely shaking a fence and participating in “online venting sessions with his friends”.
Rehl, who called January 6 a “despicable day” and told the judge he was “done with politics” and “done peddling lies” during his sentencing hearing, later falsely claimed in a statement to a far-right website that he was convicted for “merely walking around public property”.
At his sentencing hearing, Tarrio called January 6 a “national embarrassment” and apologised to lawmakers, members of the jury and residents of Washington DC. But in a fundraising message to supporters, Tarrio falsely claimed he was sentenced to prison for the “crime” of “speaking the truth”.