US Capitol rioter who ‘posed for selfies’ in Senate heads to jail

Paul Allard Hodgkins, who breached the US Senate chamber carrying a Trump flag, receives an eight-month prison term.

Paul Allard Hodgkins, front, stands in the well on the floor of the US Senate on January 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington [File: US Capitol Police via AP]

The US Capitol rioter who breached the US Senate chamber on January 6 carrying a Trump campaign flag and posed for selfies, was sentenced Monday to eight months behind bars, the first prison sentence in the Capitol insurrection.

Paul Allard Hodgkins, 38, pleaded guilty on June 2 to obstruction of an official proceeding, while Congress was in the process of formally certifying Joe Biden’s election last November as US president when supporters of former President Donald Trump rampaged through the building.

At a sentencing hearing in Washington, DC, on Monday, prosecutor Mona Sedky told US District Judge Randolph Moss that Hodgkins, a resident of Tampa, Florida, donned goggles before entering the Senate chamber during the riot and “proudly posed for selfies” which he texted to friends.

Sedky acknowledged that Hodgkins did not destroy any property “and he did not injure anyone”.

Hodgkins apologized and said he was ashamed of his actions.

Speaking calmly from a prepared text, he described being caught up in the euphoria as he walked down Washington’s most famous avenue, then followed a crowd of hundreds into the Capitol.

“If I had any idea that the protest … would escalate (the way) it did … I would never have ventured farther than the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue,” Hodgkins told the judge. He added: “This was a foolish decision on my part.”

Image featured in court documents shows an arrow pointing towards Paul Allard Hodgkins at the Senate dais on January 6, 2021 [Screengab: FBI via PACER]

Prosecutors had asked for Hodgkins to serve 18 months behind bars, saying in a recent filing that he, “like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy” by forcing legislators to temporarily abandon their certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory over President Donald Trump and to scramble for shelter from incoming mobs.

In pronouncing the sentence, Judge Randolph Moss said that Hodgkins had played a role, if not as significant as others, in one of the worst episodes in American history. Still, he chose to give Hodgkins a year less in prison.

“That was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a protest,” Moss said. “It was … an assault on democracy.” He added: “It left a stain that will remain on us … on the country for years to come.”

Video footage shows Hodgkins wearing a Trump 2020 T-shirt, the flag flung over his shoulder and eye goggles around his neck, inside the Senate. He took a selfie with a self-described shaman in a horned helmet and other rioters on the dais behind him.

Sentence may set precedent

The sentencing could set the bar for punishments of hundreds of other defendants as they decide whether to accept plea deals or go to trial. Hodgkins and others are accused of serious crimes but were not indicted, as some others were, for roles in larger conspiracies.

More than 535 people have been charged with taking part in the attack, an unsuccessful attempt to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s victory over Trump, who had falsely claimed the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud.

While other accused January 6 rioters have entered guilty pleas, Hodgkins became the first to be sentenced to prison.

His lawyer pleaded with the judge to spare his 38-year-old client time in prison, saying the shame that will attach to Hodgkins for the rest of his life should be factored in as punishment.

The lawyer argued in court papers that Hodgkins’s actions were not markedly different from those of Anna Morgan Lloyd — other than Hodgkins stepping onto the Senate floor. Morgan Lloyd was the first of the more than 535 arrested to be sentenced. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanour disorderly conduct and last month was sentenced to three years of probation.

Hodgkins’s lawyer, Patrick N Leduc, described his client as an otherwise law-abiding American who, despite living in a poorer part of Tampa, regularly volunteered at a food bank. He noted that Hodgkins is an Eagle Scout.

Leduc said Hodgkins’s actions on January 6 “is the story of a man who for just one hour on one day lost his bearings … who made a fateful decision to follow the crowd”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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