A United States judge has sentenced Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the far-right Proud Boys group, to 22 years in prison for his role in the US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
US District Judge Timothy Kelly’s sentence on Tuesday marks the longest prison term handed down to date in relation to the attack on the US legislature. In announcing his decision, Kelly called Tarrio “the ultimate leader” of the January 6 conspiracy.
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“What happened that day damaged an important American custom that helps support the rule of law and the Constitution. That day broke our previously unbroken tradition of peacefully transferring power,” Kelly said.
Tarrio, who was not in Washington, DC during the storming of the Capitol building, was convicted in May of several charges, including seditious conspiracy, for his involvement in planning the events of January 6.
A mob of then-President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the US legislature that day in an effort to stop Congress from certifying the results of the 2020 election that Trump lost to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
Many were motivated by the false claim put forward by Trump and his allies that the vote had been “stolen” from the Republican leader.
“I am not a political zealot. Inflicting harm or changing the results of the election was not my goal,” Tarrio said ahead of his sentencing.
He asked the court for “mercy”, saying: “I ask you that you not take my 40s from me.”
Tarrio’s sentence comes after three fellow Proud Boys members, who also were found guilty of the rarely used seditious conspiracy charge this year, were sentenced last week to prison terms ranging from 15 to 18 years.
Another group member who was not convicted of seditious conspiracy was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Friday.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland has promised to ensure accountability for the Capitol attack, telling reporters last year that investigations into what happened will go on “as long as it takes and whatever it takes for justice to be done”.
“Those involved must be held accountable. And there is no higher priority for us at the Department of Justice,” Garland said at the time.
Last month, the Justice Department reported that more than 1,106 defendants had been charged in nearly all 50 US states, as well as in the District of Columbia, in relation to the riot.
More than 600 people have pleaded guilty to a variety of federal charges while about 110 were found guilty at trial, the department said.
Al Jazeera’s Rosiland Jordan, reporting from the US capital before Tarrio’s sentencing on Tuesday, said authorities are trying to “send a message that what happened on January 6, 2021, should not happen again, and if anyone is thinking of [repeating it], there will be consequences”.
Role of Proud Boys
Federal prosecutors had asked the judge in the Proud Boys case to impose a 33-year prison sentence on Tarrio, who was not present at the Capitol on the day of the violence because another judge had ordered him to stay out of Washington, DC.
But authorities accused him of helping put in motion and encourage the violence.
“Tarrio has repeatedly and publicly indicated that he has no regrets about what he helped make happen on January 6,” the prosecutors wrote in court documents.
Lawyers for the Proud Boys had denied that there was any plot to attack the Capitol or stop the transfer of presidential power.
“There is zero evidence to suggest Tarrio directed any participants to storm the US Capitol building prior to or during the event,” his legal team wrote in court papers.
“Participating in a plan for the Proud Boys to protest on January 6 is not the same as directing others on the ground to storm the Capitol by any means necessary.”
On January 6, 2021, dozens of Proud Boys leaders, members and associates were among the first rioters to breach the Capitol.
The mob’s assault overwhelmed police, forced US lawmakers to flee the House and Senate floors, and disrupted the joint session of Congress that was meeting to certify Biden’s 2020 presidential election victory.
The backbone of the government’s case was hundreds of messages exchanged by Proud Boys in the days leading up to the riot.
As Proud Boys swarmed the Capitol, Tarrio cheered them on from afar, writing on social media, “Do what must be done.” In a Proud Boys encrypted group chat later that day someone asked what they should do next. Tarrio responded, “Do it again.”
“Make no mistake,” Tarrio wrote in another message. “We did this.”