In a significant development stemming from the events of January 6, 2021, two former leaders of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group have been sentenced to substantial prison terms for their roles in spearheading the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Joe Biggs, a U.S. Army veteran and former Infowars correspondent, received a 17-year sentence, while Zachary Rehl, a former U.S. Marine and leader of the Philadelphia Proud Boys chapter, was sentenced to 15 years. These sentences rank among the longest handed down thus far in connection with the Capitol riot.
The convictions of Biggs and Rehl came after a four-month trial in Washington that laid bare the extent to which far-right extremists embraced false claims by former President Donald Trump that the 2020 election was stolen. Both individuals were found guilty of seditious conspiracy, a rarely invoked Civil War-era offense. These sentencing decisions mark a significant moment in the ongoing legal aftermath of the attack on the Capitol.
One notable aspect of these cases is that they were the first Proud Boys members to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who presided over their hearings. Three more Proud Boys who were convicted in the same trial are expected to face sentencing in the coming days.
Enrique Tarrio, the former national chairman and top leader of the Proud Boys, is scheduled for sentencing. However, his sentencing was delayed due to Judge Kelly’s illness. Tarrio had been arrested two days before the Capitol riot for defacing a Black Lives Matter banner during an earlier rally in Washington, and he had complied with a judge’s order to leave the city after his arrest. During his absence, Biggs and Proud Boys chapter president Ethan Nordean assumed leadership roles on the ground, according to prosecutors.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a 33-year prison sentence for Biggs, who played a prominent role in leading dozens of Proud Boys members and associates to the Capitol on January 6. They were part of the mob that breached police lines, causing lawmakers to evacuate and disrupting the certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Judge Kelly emphasized the gravity of the January 6 attack, describing it as a breach of the “important American custom” of peacefully transferring power. Defense attorneys argued that their clients were unfairly held responsible for the violent actions of others in the crowd of Trump supporters at the Capitol.
Biggs expressed remorse for his actions during the trial, acknowledging that he had “messed up” on January 6. He claimed to have been “seduced by the crowd” of Trump supporters and insisted that he was not a violent person or a “terrorist.”
Evidence presented during the trial included messages exchanged among Proud Boys leaders leading up to the Capitol riot, with Biggs encouraging Tarrio to “get radical and get real men” after Trump announced plans for a rally on January 6. Biggs played a prominent role during the attack, using a megaphone to lead chants before breaching the Capitol, tearing down a fence, and entering the Senate chamber.
In Rehl’s case, prosecutors sought a 30-year prison sentence. He was seen on video spraying a chemical irritant at law enforcement officers outside the Capitol on January 6. During his trial, Rehl repeatedly lied about the assault, which was captured on video. He also led at least three other men into the Capitol and into a senator’s office, where he posed for pictures while flashing the Proud Boys’ hand gesture. After January 6, Rehl sent chilling messages expressing regrets that they did not go further in their efforts to stop the certification of the election.
The defense argued that Biggs and Rehl were “misguided patriots,” not terrorists, who had genuinely believed that the election was stolen due to Trump’s claims.
These sentencing decisions serve as a significant moment in the ongoing legal repercussions of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Prosecutors have recommended substantial prison sentences for other Proud Boys members involved in the case, highlighting the seriousness with which the government is approaching these charges.
More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes, with over 600 of them convicted and sentenced. These prosecutions underscore the broader effort to address the events of January 6 and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
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