Seattle Proud Boys leader who led mob to Capitol on January 6 sentenced to 18 years in prison

A prominent member of the neo-fascist Proud Boys gang who led a mob of dozens of members into the US Capitol on January 6 has been sentenced to 18 years in prison, one of the largest sentences to date in connection with the assault in the halls of Congress.

Ethan Nordean, who used the alias Rufio Panman, was convicted of seditious conspiracy along with three other Proud Boys earlier this year for conspiring to forcefully oppose the lawful transfer of presidential power, then unleashed mob violence to upend an American election.

The men were also convicted on a number of other felonies, including felony counts of obstruction and destruction of government property, among other charges.

Nordean, characterised in charging documents as the self-described “Sergeant of Arms” for a Seattle chapter of the far-right group, is the fourth of five Proud Boys defendants to receive some of the longest prison sentences to date in connection with the attack.

Now-former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio will be sentenced on 5 September. Prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence of 33 years, what would be the largest yet for any January 6 defendant.

Federal prison sentencing guidelines suggested Nordean could be sentenced to 27 to 33 years. Prosecutors sought 27 years.

At a sentencing hearing on 1 September in Washington DC, US District Judge Timothy Kelly determined that Nordean’s destruction amounted to terrorism, adding what is called an “enhancement” to the sentencing guidelines for the crime of destruction of government property.

The judge applied the same enhancements to three other Proud Boys sentenced this week but has thus far refrained from imposing larger prison sentences for crimes he has contrasted to mass casualty events.

Joe Biggs was sentenced to 17 years, Zachary Rehl was sentenced to 15 years, and Dominic Pezzola – the sole co-defendant who was not convicted of seditious conspiracy – was sentenced to 10 years, some of the largest sentences yet among the hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

Nordean’s sentence is the longest among all Capitol riot cases thus far, alongside Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who was also convicted of seditious conspiracy and similarly sentenced to 18 years in prison.

From left, Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs are pictured marching toward the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021. (AP)
From left, Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs are pictured marching toward the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021. (AP)

Prosecutors argued that Nordean and his co-defendants “directed, mobilized and led” a crowd of 200 supporters towards the Capitol on January 6, “leading to dismantling of metal barricades, destruction of property, breaching of the Capitol building, and assaults on law enforcement,” then bragged about their actions on social media and in group chat messages that were later shared with jurors.

Nordean gained notoriety among far-right circles after knocking a man unconscious during Proud Boys brawls with antifascist demonstrators in Portland, Oregon, a moment that sparked a violent turning point in the group’s street-level presence and recruitment, exploiting white male rage and relying on semi-ironic posturing and barroom culture to launder its violence and toxic bigotry.

“Why don’t we just fash the f*** out so we don’t have to deal with these problems anymore?” Nordean wrote in a Proud Boys group chat. “Live free or die hard.”

After then-President Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” during a televised presidential debate, members of the group and their allies heard it as a call to action. “He said our name!” Nordean wrote.

Prosecutors also argued that Nordean was instrumental in recruiting Proud Boys to march alongside them in Washington DC.

Two weeks before 6 January, 2021, Nordean posted on the social media platform Parler that “anyone looking to help us with safety/protective gear, or communications equipment it would be much appreciated, things have gotten more dangerous for us this past year, anything helps.” Two days before the siege, he posted a video with himself and other Proud Boys wearing tactical gear. “Let them remember the day they decided to make war with us,” the caption read.

Nordean, like his co-defendants, repeatedly echoed the former president’s bogus assertions of voter fraud and manipulation, including in an hour-long podcast posted to his social media in which he baselessly raged against “blatant, rampant voter fraud” in the 2020 election.

He also called on the Proud Boys to “bring back that original spirit of 1776 of what really established the character of what America is.”

“It is apparent now more than ever, that if you are a patriot, you will be targeted and they will come after you,” he wrote on Parler one day before the attack. “[F]unny thing is that they don’t realize is, is we are coming for them.”

After leading Proud Boys and other members of the mob around and into the Capitol, Nordean posted a picture of a US Capitol Police officer, writing that “if you feel bad for the police, you are part of the problem.”

“They care more about federal property (our property) than protecting and serving the people. BACK THE BLACK AND YELLOW,” wrote Nordean, referencing the Proud Boys’ colours.

In remarks at his sentencing hearing on Friday, Nordean said he “would challenge anyone who is proud of what happened [on January 6] to imagine it was your loved one who didn’t come home that day.”

“I would like to apologize for my lack of leadership that day,” he said.