WASHINGTON (AP) — A one-time leader in the Proud Boys far-right extremist group was sentenced Friday to 18 years in prison for his role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, tying the record for the longest sentence in the attack.
Ethan Nordean was one of five members convicted of spearheading an attack on the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election.
"He is the undisputed leader on the ground on Jan 6,” said prosecutor Jason McCullough.
The Seattle-area chapter president was one of two Proud Boys sentenced Friday. Dominic Pezzola was convicted of smashing a window at the U.S. Capitol in the building’s first breach on Jan. 6, 2021. He defiantly raised a fist and declared “Trump won!” as he walked out of the courtroom after being sentenced to 10 years in prison, also among the longest sentences in the Jan. 6 attack.
The 18-year record for a Jan. 6 sentence was set by Stewart Rhodes, founder of another far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers. Members of both groups were convicted separately of seditious conspiracy, a rarely brought Civil War-era offense.
The highest ranking Proud Boy convicted after a monthslong trial earlier this year, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday.
Prosecutors said Nordean’s words and online posting grew increasingly violent leading up to Jan. 6. On that day, he led a group of nearly 200 men toward the Capitol, then moved to the front of the mob and helped tear down a fence, allowing rioters to pour onto the grounds and confront police, according to court documents. Prosecutors had asked for a 27-year sentence.
Defense attorneys have argued there was no plan to storm the Capitol that day and pushed back against the idea that Nordean tore down the fence or that his rhetoric was specifically about Jan. 6. They asked for less than two years.
For his own part, the 33-year-old from Auburn, Washington, told the judge he now sees Jan. 6 as a “complete and utter tragedy" and he regretted not trying to use his leadership role to stop what happened.
“There is no rally or political protest that should hold value over human life,” he said. “To anyone who I directly or even indirectly wronged, I’m sorry.”
The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee who also sentenced Pezzola earlier in the day and applied a terrorism enhancement in both cases.
Pezzola, 46, took a police officer’s riot shield and used it to smash the window, allowing rioters to make the first breach into the Capitol, and he later filmed a “celebratory video” with a cigar inside, prosecutors said. He was a recent Proud Boys recruit, however, and a jury acquitted him of seditious conspiracy. He was convicted of other serious charges and prosecutors had asked for 20 years in prison.
“He was an enthusiastic foot soldier," prosecutor Erik Kenerson said.
Kelly noted that Pezzola, of Rochester, New York, was a newcomer to the group who didn't write the kind of increasingly violent online messages that his co-defendants did leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. Still, he was in some ways a “tip of the spear” in allowing rioters to get into the Capitol, Kelly said.
“The reality is you smashed that window in and let people begin to stream into the Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers," the judge told Pezzola. “It’s not something that I ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”
Defense attorneys had asked for five years for Pezzola, saying that he got “caught up in the craziness” that day.
Pezzola testified at trial that he originally grabbed the officer’s shield to protect himself from police riot control measures, and his lawyers argued that he broke only one pane of glass and that it was other rioters who smashed out the rest of the window.
He told the judge that he wished he'd never crossed into a restricted area on Jan. 6, and he apologized to the officer whose shield he took. “There is no place in my future for groups or politics whatsoever,” he said.
But a few minutes later, as he was led out of the courtroom, he raised a fist and said, “Trump won!”
Former President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly and falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen. A series of federal and state investigations and dozens of lawsuits have not uncovered any evidence the election was rigged.
Four Proud Boys have now been sentenced after a monthslong trial that ended in May. Joseph Biggs, an organizer from Ormond Beach, Florida, got 17 years on Thursday, marking the second-longest sentence so far in the Jan. 6 attack. Zachary Rehl, a leader of the Philadelphia chapter, got 15 years. The sentencings come after the Proud Boys trial laid bare far-right extremists’ embrace of lies by Trump, a Republican, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Over 600 of them have been convicted and sentenced. In addition to Rhodes, several other members of the anti-government Oath Keepers have also been convicted of seditious conspiracy after a trial last year.
Lindsay Whitehurst, The Associated Press