A man affiliated with the far-right Proud Boys group has been sentenced to more than four years in prison for his involvement in storming the United States Capitol on January 6 last year, authorities said.
US federal prosecutors said Joshua Pruitt, a 40-year-old Maryland resident, came into contact with now-Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, who was being escorted to safety by his security team, during the riot.
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“One look at Pruitt, and the leader of Senator Schumer’s security detail immediately saw the threat and hustled the 70-year-old senator down a hallway, having to change their evacuation route on a dime,” Assistant US Attorney Alexis Loeb wrote in a court filing ahead of Monday’s hearing.
US District Judge Timothy Kelly sentenced Pruitt to four years and seven months of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release on Monday, according to Bill Miller, spokesman for the US Attorney’s office for the District of Columbia.
The sentence is the latest to be handed down as investigations continue into the January 6 riot, which saw supporters of former President Donald Trump storm the Capitol building in an effort to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory.
Prosecutors had recommended a five-year prison sentence for Pruitt – who pleaded guilty in June to a charge of obstructing an official proceeding – and described him as an aspiring Proud Boys member whose intimidating figure made him an “ideal recruit” for the group on January 6.
The leader of Schumer’s security detail recounted the encounter in harrowing terms, describing it as a near miss that could have easily turned violent. On the day of the riot, Pruitt wore tactical gloves with knuckle pads.
“At the end of the ramp, officers closed and locked the doors. The security detail and [Schumer] pursued a secondary evacuation route. Once the doors were being closed, Pruitt turned around and retraced his steps,” wrote Loeb, the assistant US attorney.
“He personally forced a 70-year-old Senator to run and find another path to safety. Among all the rioters who stormed the Capitol, it is a notorious distinction.”
Defence attorney Robert Jenkins Jr said there is no “direct evidence” that Pruitt coordinated with Proud Boys members to attack the Capitol, but said that Pruitt had become “overwhelmed by his emotions and true belief that the election results were polluted by fraud”.
Jenkins Jr also said Pruitt saw the security detail but didn’t recognise Schumer at the time of the encounter. “It’s not as though that Mr Pruitt ran toward the detail or made any threatening posture toward them. He noticed that they were there. They went down a hallway. Mr Pruitt went in a different direction,” Jenkins said after the sentencing hearing.
Pruitt is not part of the seditious conspiracy prosecution pending against six members of the Proud Boys, including its former leader Enrique Tarrio.
Tarrio and his co-defendants will go to trial in December, the second trial involving charges of seditious conspiracy related to the January 6 riot.
Dozens of Proud Boys leaders, members and associates have been charged with riot-related crimes, in what authorities have described as a violent attempt to overturn the results of a democratic election.
More than 860 people have been charged with federal crimes in connection to the January 6 attack. About 400 have pleaded guilty or been convicted following trial. More than 240 defendants have been sentenced, and about half have received sentences ranging from seven days to more than seven years.