Two Proud Boys members given lengthy prison terms for Jan 6 Capitol riot

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Dominic Pezzola, centre left, is accused of assaulting a police officer and stealing his riot shield during the US Capitol attack on January 6, 2021 [File: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo]

Dominic Pezzola and Ethan Nordean received sentences of 10 and 18 years, respectively, for their roles in the riot.

Two more members of the far-right Proud Boys group have received a lengthy prison sentences this week for their participation in the attack on the United States Capitol in 2021.

The first — Dominic Pezzola, 46, of Rochester, New York — was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday after he was captured on video using a police shield to smash his way into the Capitol building on January 6, 2021.

While he expressed contrition in the lead-up to sentencing, Pezzola left the courtroom in Washington, DC, reiterating his support for the falsehood that drove many to storm the US legislature.

“Trump won,” he said, launching a fist into the air before being escorted away.

A mugshot of Dominic Pezzola, a white man with a scruffy gray beard.
Pezzola was found guilty of six felonies in May
[File: Department of Justice/Handout via Reuters]

Supporters of then-President Donald Trump had stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop US legislators from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.

Many were motivated by the false claim, put forward by Trump and his allies, that the vote had been “rigged” against the Republican and “stolen” by his opponents.

Later on Friday, Ethan Nordean, 33, of Auburn, Washington, was sentenced to 18 years, matching the record for the longest prison term for any participant in the Capitol riot.

As chapter president for the Seattle branch of the Proud Boys, Nordean was “the indisputed leader on the ground” during the attack, according to prosecutors.

They accused Nordean of leading approximately 200 supporters from a Trump rally outside the White House to the Capitol, where they breached barricades and confronted police.

The two sentencing hearings came a day after Kelly imposed a 15-year sentence on fellow Proud Boy Zachary Rehl and 17 years for Joseph Biggs — which was the second-longest prison term awarded to any participant in the Capitol riot.

Five Proud Boys — including Biggs, Rehl, Nordean and Pezzola — were convicted in May for their roles in the attack.

All of the co-defendants except Pezzola were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, a rare but serious charge that alleges a defendant planned to use force to oppose the US government.

Judge calls Pezzola ‘tip of the spear’ in attack

Pezzola, however, was the only defendant in that case to be convicted of assaulting a police officer.

He was found guilty on six felony charges, including obstructing an official proceeding, destruction of government property and robbery involving government property. Prosecutors had asked him to be sentenced to 20 years in prison.

During Friday’s sentencing hearing, US District Judge Timothy Kelly said Pezzola played “a significant role” in the events of that day, creating an opening for others to enter the building.

“You really were in some ways the tip of the spear that allowed people to get into the Capitol,” Kelly said. He added: “It was a national disgrace what happened.”

The Proud Boys describe themselves as “chauvinists” who formed a “pro-Western fraternal organisation for men”. The organisation included a “Ministry of Self Defence” that descended on the Capitol on January 6.

Although he was relatively new to the group, Pezzola was “hand-selected” to serve as a “rally boy” during the Capitol riot, according to prosecutors.

“He was an enthusiastic foot soldier in that conspiracy,” prosecutor Erik Kenerson told the court on Friday.

Prosecutors accused Pezzola of attacking Capitol Police Officer Mark Ode, stripping him of his riot shield and pushing him to the ground. Pezzola then used the shield to shatter a window on the west balcony of the Capitol, allowing rioters to gain entry.

During Friday’s proceedings, Pezzola apologised to Ode, calling his actions “reckless”.

“I stand before you with a heart full of regret,” he told the court. “I never should’ve crossed the barrier at the Capitol that day.”

Proud Boy member Ethan Nordean walks toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington, in support of President Donald Trump on Jan. 6, 2021. He wears a backwards baseball cap and speaks through a bullhorn.
Ethan Nordean was accused of leading Proud Boys members to the Capitol on January 6, 2021 [File: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo]

‘No excuse for my actions’

Nordean likewise expressed regret as his sentencing hearing began in the hours after Pezzola’s.

“There is no rally or political protest that should hold value over human life,” Nordean told the court on Friday. “To anyone who I directly or even indirectly wronged, I’m sorry.”

He did not deny guiding protesters towards the Capitol building, where he used a megaphone to communicate over the din.

“The truth is I did help lead a group of men back to the Capitol,” Nordean said. “There is no excuse for my actions, ignoring police commands, going past barricades, entering the Capitol.”

Nordean had previously gained notoriety among far-right circles after a 2018 video showed him punching a protester in Portland, Oregon, an act that went viral.

Prosecutors pointed to social media posts Nordean made ahead of the Capitol riot as evidence that he planned to use violence on January 6.

As well as being convicted for seditious conspiracy in May, Nordean was found guilty of felonies including obstructing an official proceeding and conspiracy to prevent members of Congress and other federal officers from discharging their duties.

Prosecutors sought a prison sentence of 27 years for his crimes, though the judge ultimately opted for a shorter length, as he had with Pezzola’s case.

“I don’t think he intended to kill anyone that day,” Judge Kelly said of Nordean, referencing the deadly nature of the Capitol riot. But Kelly nevertheless underscored the serious nature of Nordean’s actions.

“If we don’t have a peaceful transfer of power in this country, we don’t have anything,” Kelly said.

A man wearing blue evidence gloves and a suit and pink tie walks outside a courthouse with a clear plastic riot shield as evidence.
An official carries a riot shield to a Washington, DC, court on May 4, 2023, as evidence against Dominic Pezzola [File: Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

Proud Boy leader Tarrio awaits sentencing

More than 1,106 participants in the Capitol riot have been arrested and 632 have pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Trump himself faces two criminal indictments related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including one at the federal level that references the January 6 attack.

Another far-right leader, Stewart Rhodes of the Oath Keepers, was sentenced in May to 18 years in prison. It was the longest prison term for any participant in the Capitol riot — until Nordean’s sentence on Friday matched it.

The former leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, is also set to be sentenced next week. He was among the Proud Boys convicted of seditious conspiracy in May.

“Tarrio is likely to get an extremely stringent sentence,” Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna reported from Washington, DC, on Friday.

“However in all these cases, the sentences are still less than what the prosecution’s been asking for. In some cases, the prosecution has been asking for up to 30 years’ imprisonment.”

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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