WASHINGTON – A federal judge sentenced Richard “Bigo” Barnett, one of the most infamous Capitol rioters, on Wednesday to 54 months in prison after he was photographed putting his feet up on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s suite of offices and jotted her an insulting note in which he referred to her as a "biotch."
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper basically split the difference between prosecution and defense requests.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of more than seven years. But lawyers for Barnett, 63, a retired firefighter and bull rider from Gravette, Arkansas, argued for a sentence of up to one year, with credit for the four months he was jailed before trial.
Barnett was convicted in January of eight charges, including obstructing an official proceeding and entering a restricted building with a dangerous weapon. The most serious of the charges carried a maximum 20-year sentence.
The hearing tested the severity of punishment for one of the highest-profile defendants from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, who carried a dangerous weapon but wasn’t charged with assaulting anyone.
One police officer’s body-worn camera recorded Barnett inside the Capitol.
“We’re are war, pick a side,” Barnett told police. “Don’t be on the wrong side, you’re gonna get hurt.”
Here is what we know about the case:
'One of the best-known images of that day'
Barnett was one of 350 Capitol defendants convicted in the first two years after the riot. He and Jacob Chansley, the QAnon shaman who wore face paint and a horned headpiece who was sentenced to 41 months in prison, were among the best-known rioters because of the attention given to their protests.
Barnett granted interviews after police forced him out of the Capitol, where he had been sprayed with chemicals. He sold autographed pictures of himself sitting at the desk in Pelosi’s office.
“A photo of Barnett with his feet on a desk in the House Speaker’s office suite was widely circulated and became one of the best-known images of that day, symbolizing the rioters having wrested control of both the hallowed space and the political process from the nation’s elected leaders,” prosecutors said.
Barnett should receive a severe sentence to discourage domestic terrorism, “which the breach of the Capitol certainly was,” according to prosecutors.
But his lawyers said Barnett wasn’t violent and didn’t hurt anyone.
“Mr. Barnett did not engage in violence, did not assault police, did not destroy property and did not use a deadly weapon against another person,” his lawyers wrote.
What happened in Pelosi's office?
Barnett entered the Capitol Rotunda about 2:37 p.m. through the eastern Columbus Doors after another rioter opened the locked doors from the inside.
He made his way to Pelosi’s suite of offices and sat at the desk of Emily Beret, the speaker’s director of operations. He posed for pictures with his feet on the desk, holding an envelope with Pelosi’s franking signature on it and sticking out his tongue.
He left a note for the speaker: “Hey Nancy, Bigo was here you biotch,” he wrote.
'The gravity of Barnett's conduct' versus 'life sentence'
In the weeks before the riot, Barnett posted messages on Facebook including a digital flyer promoting “Operation Occupy the Capitol” and subtitled “Taking back our country from corrupt politicians.”
“I ain’t going down easy,” he wrote in one post. “I came into this world kicking and screaming, covered in someone else’s blood. I’m not afraid to go out the same way," he wrote in another post.
On Dec. 31, 2020, Barnett bought a ZAP Hike ‘n Strike Hiking Staff, a stun device concealed in a walking stick that delivers 950,000 volts of electricity the manufacturer testified “induces extreme pain,” and cannisters of pepper spray.
He also brought an American flag on a 10-pound flagpole. He implored police to allow him to retrieve the flagpole he left behind in Pelosi’s office, but they refused to let him back in.
Barnett threatened to “make it real bad” for the officers blocking his path and said, “I’m fixin’ ta bring ‘em in.” Metro Police Officer Terrance Craig, who confronted Barnett, told investigators he was concerned about his safety after Barnett lifted his sweater to reveal the Hike 'n Strike weapon.
Outside the Capitol, Barnett gave interviews bragging about the “takeover” of Pelosi’s office and calling on others to continue fighting because “this is a war.”
The longest sentence so far in the Jan. 6 attack was 10 years, for a former police officer who assaulted cops outside the Capitol. Prosecutors urged Cooper to give Barnett 87 months.
“An 87-month sentence reflects the gravity of Barnett’s conduct and the need to deter Barnett and others from obstructing the democratic process and dangerously interfering with the police in pursuit of their political beliefs in the future,” prosecutors said.
Barnett’s lawyers argued such a harsh term "would be a life sentence," given his age. He lost his job and had to sell possessions to pay living expenses. His lawyers argued Barnett had no significant criminal history, with three drunken driving convictions each more than 20 years ago.
“The worst accusations against Mr. Barnett amounted to 20 minutes of nonviolence in the Capitol, a stolen envelope and literally seconds of verbal altercation with a police officer,” his lawyers said.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan. 6 case: Judge gives 54 month to rioter at desk in Pelosi's office