The Justice Department is seeking 33 years in prison for Enrique Tarrio, the former Proud Boys leader convicted of seditious conspiracy in one of the most serious cases to emerge from attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to court documents.
The sentence, if imposed, would be by far the longest punishment that has been handed down in the massive prosecution of the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in a separate case, has received the longest sentence to date — 18 years.
Tarrio, who once served as national chairman of the far-right extremist group, and three lieutenants were convicted by a Washington jury in May of conspiring to block the transfer of presidential power in the hopes of keeping Donald Trump in the White House after the Republican president lost the 2020 election.
Tarrio, who was not at the Capitol riot itself, was a top target of what has become the largest Justice Department investigation in American history. He led the neo-fascist group — known for street fights with left-wing activists — when Trump infamously told the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by" during his first debate with Democrat Joe Biden.
During the monthslong trial, prosecutors argued that the Proud Boys viewed themselves as foot soldiers fighting for Trump as the Republican spread lies that Democrats stole the election from him, and were prepared to go to war to keep their preferred leader in power.
"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," prosecutors wrote in their filing Thursday. "The foot soldiers of the right aimed to keep their leader in power. They failed. They are not heroes; they are criminals."
Prosecutors are also asking for a 33-year-sentence for one of Tarrio's co-defendants, Joseph Biggs of Ormond Beach, Florida, a self-described Proud Boys organizer.
They are asking the judge to impose a 30-year prison term for Zachary Rehl, who was president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; 27 years in prison for Ethan Nordean of Auburn, Washington, who was a Proud Boys chapter president; and 20 years for Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York. Pezzola was acquitted of seditious conspiracy but convicted of other serious charges.
Tarrio wasn’t in Washington on Jan. 6, because he had been arrested two days earlier in a separate case and ordered out of the capital city. But prosecutors alleged he organized and directed the attack by Proud Boys who stormed the Capitol that day.
Defense attorneys argued there was no conspiracy and no plan to attack the Capitol, and sought to portray the Proud Boys as an unorganized drinking club whose members’ participation in the riot was a spontaneous act fueled by Trump’s election rage. Tarrio’s lawyers tried to argue that Trump was the one to blame for exhorting a crowd outside the White House to " fight like hell."
Attorneys for the Proud Boys say prosecutors' proposed sentences are extreme. Noting that the chaos on Jan. 6 was fueled by Trump's false election claims, a lawyer for Biggs and Rehl told the judge that "believing the commander in chief and heeding his call should yield some measure of mitigation."
"The defendants are not terrorists. 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," attorney Norm Pattis wrote.
Like in the case of Rhodes and other Oath Keepers, prosecutors are urging the judge to apply a so-called "terrorism enhancement" — which can lead to a longer prison term — under the argument that the Proud Boys sought to influence the government through "intimidation or coercion."
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta agreed with prosecutors that the Oath Keepers' crimes could be punished as "terrorism," but still sentenced Rhodes and the others to prison terms shorter than what prosecutors were seeking. Prosecutors had asked Mehta to sentence Rhodes to 25 years behind bars.
Tarrio, of Miami, and his co-defendants will be sentenced before U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly in a string of hearings starting later this month in Washington’s federal court.
It’s the same courthouse where Trump pleaded not guilty this month in the case brought by special counsel Jack Smith accusing the Republican of illegally scheming to subvert the will of voters and overturn his loss to Biden. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Tarrio and three of his lieutenants were also convicted of two of the same charges Trump faces: obstruction of Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory, and conspiracy to obstruct Congress.
Richer reported from Boston.