WASHINGTON -- A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio to 22 years in prison -- the longest sentence to date handed down for any individual charged in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol, ABC News reported.
Prosecutors had sought 33 years in prison for Tarrio, their harshest recommendation yet for someone charged in the Justice Department's sweeping investigation into the Capitol assault -- despite the fact that Tarrio wasn't present in Washington the day of the attack.
In their sentencing recommendation, prosecutors described Tarrio as a "naturally charismatic leader" and "a savvy propagandist" who used his influence over hundreds of followers to orchestrate an assault on democracy -- for which he was convicted of seditious conspiracy and several other felonies.
"This defendant, and his co-conspirators targeted our entire system of government," assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe said during Tuesday's hearing. "This offense involved calculation and deliberation. We need to make sure that the consequences are abundantly clear to anyone who might be unhappy with the results in 2024, 2028, 2032 or any future election for as long as this case is remembered."
Prosecutors argued Tarrio helped rally members of the far-right group to come to Washington in advance of Jan. 6 with the goal of stopping the peaceful transition of power, that he monitored their movements and egged them on as they attacked the Capitol, and continued to celebrate their actions in the days after the insurrection.
They also pointed to a nine-page strategic plan to "storm" government buildings in Washington on Jan. 6 that was found in Tarrio's possession after the riot, as well as violent rhetoric he routinely used in messages with other members of the group about what they would do if Congress moved forward in certifying President Joe Biden's election win.
Tarrio's attorneys contended that the government overstated his intentions with respect to Jan. 6, and that his real goal rallying members of the group to Washington, D.C., was to confront protesters from the far-left Antifa movement. They also argued he never directed any of his followers' movements during the riot itself and that he otherwise had no ability to control members who became violent during the riot.
"My client is no terrorist. My client is a misguided patriot, that's what my client is," Tarrio's attorney Sabino Jauregui said. "He was trying to protect this country, as misguided as he was."
Tarrio also spoke at the hearing, apologizing profusely for his actions and heaping praise on members of law enforcement who he said have been unfairly mistreated and maligned after the Jan. 6 attack -- which he called a "national embarrassment."
"I will have to live with that shame and disappointment for the rest of my life," Tarrio said. "We invoked 1776 and the Constitution of the United States and that was so wrong to do. That was a perversion. The events of Jan. 6 is something that should never be celebrated."
As he did in the sentencings for Tarrio's four other co-defendants, U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly departed significantly below what the federal guidelines called for in issuing his ultimate sentence -- even as he accepted the government's recommendation to apply the so-called 'terrorism enhancement' that effectively labeled Tarrio's crimes as domestic terrorism.
Just before handing down his sentence, Judge Kelly reflected somberly on the events of Jan. 6 and its impact on democracy.
"I do think the evidence supports the inference that Mr. Tarrio was the ultimate leader [of the conspiracy]," Kelly said. "The people he assembled, the people that were there, again, played critical roles ... they played important roles at breach after breach after breach."
Judge Kelly also went well below the sentencing guidelines in his prison terms handed down last week to Proud Boys leaders Joseph Biggs, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison, Zachary Rehl, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and Ethan Nordean, who received 18 years in prison -- matching the previous longest sentence to date handed down in connection with the Capitol attack to Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes.
Dominic Pezzola, the sole defendant charged in the case who was found not guilty of seditious conspiracy but who was convicted of several other major felonies, was sentenced last Friday to 10 years in prison. Kelly has explained his decisions to sentence the Proud Boys below what the federal sentencing guidelines called for is based on his belief that previous decades-long sentences handed down to individuals convicted of seditious conspiracy was typically for cases where a defendant either intended or their actions directly resulted in loss of life.
"The defendants understood the stakes, and they embraced their role in bringing about a 'revolution,'" prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum earlier this month for Tarrio and the other Proud Boys. "They unleashed a force on the Capitol that was calculated to exert their political will on elected officials by force and to undo the results of a democratic election. The foot soldiers of the right aimed to keep their leader in power. They failed. They are not heroes; they are criminals."