01 September 2023

Proud Boy who smashed Capitol window gets 10 years before declaring ‘Trump won’

01 September 2023

A former member of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group defiantly declared “Trump won” after being sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Friday’s sentence for Dominic Pezzola, who smashed a window at the US Capitol in the building’s first breach of the January 6 2021 riot, is among the longest handed down for offences committed during the insurrection.

It comes after leaders of the group were convicted of spearheading the attack, which was aimed at preventing the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election.

The highest-profile defendant in the months-long trial, former top Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, will be sentenced on Tuesday.

The reality is you smashed that window in and let people begin to stream into the Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers

Pezzola, 46, took a police officer’s riot shield and used it to smash the window, allowing rioters to make the first breach into the Capitol, and later filmed a “celebratory video” with a cigar inside the building, prosecutors said.

He was a recent Proud Boys recruit, however, and a jury acquitted him of the most high-profile charge, seditious conspiracy, a rarely brought Civil War-era offence.

He was convicted of other serious charges and prosecutors had asked for 20 years in prison.

“He was an enthusiastic foot soldier,” prosecutor Erik Kenerson said.

US district judge Timothy Kelly noted that Pezzola, of Rochester, New York, was a newcomer to the group who did not write the kind of increasingly violent online messages that his co-defendants did leading up to the attack.

Still, he was in some ways a “tip of the spear” in allowing rioters to get into the Capitol, said the judge, who decided to apply a terrorism enhancement to the sentence.

“The reality is you smashed that window in and let people begin to stream into the Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers,” the judge told Pezzola.

“It’s not something that I ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”

There is no place in my future for groups or politics whatsoever

Defence lawyers had asked for five years for Pezzola, saying he got “caught up in the craziness” that day.

Pezzola told his trial he originally grabbed the officer’s shield to protect himself from police riot control measures, and his lawyers argued that he broke only one pane of glass and it was other rioters who smashed out the rest of the window.

He told the judge he wishes he had never crossed into a restricted area and apologised to the officer whose shield he took.

“There is no place in my future for groups or politics whatsoever,” he said.

But later, as he left the courtroom, he raised a fist and said: “Trump won.”

Two of his co-defendants were sentenced on Thursday to a couple of the longest prison terms handed down yet for the attack.

Joseph Biggs, an organiser from Ormond Beach, Florida, got 17 years, and Zachary Rehl, a leader of the Philadelphia chapter, got 15 years.

Later on Friday, one-time Proud Boys leader Ethan Nordean was sentenced to 18 years for his role in the riot – tying the record for the longest sentence handed out for the attack.

Nordean was “the undisputed leader on the ground on January 6”, said prosecutor Jason McCullough.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence the Seattle-area chapter president to 27 years.

Defence lawyers pushed back against the idea that Nordean was more responsible for the attack than others and denied there was any plan to attack the Capitol that day.

The Proud Boys’ trial laid bare far-right extremists’ embrace of lies by Mr Trump, a Republican, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. More than 600 of them have been convicted and sentenced.

The longest January 6-related prison sentence so far is 18 years for Stewart Rhodes, founder of another far-right extremist group, the Oath Keepers.

Six members of that anti-government group were also convicted of seditious conspiracy after a separate trial last year.

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