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US Capitol rioters face harsh sentences as judges crack down on insurrectionists

NY ‘Proud Boys’ member who pled guilty faces 4 years in prison; Florida man handed 5 years for assaulting police; Iowa man could spend up to 20 years behind bars

Insurrectionist supporters of then US president Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington, on January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
Insurrectionist supporters of then US president Donald Trump breach the Capitol in Washington, on January 6, 2021. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Across the United States, individuals linked to the unprecedented January 6 storming of the US Capitol have been facing tough sentences and unyielding prosecutors as the country approaches the first anniversary of the insurrection.

On Wednesday, a New York man pleaded guilty to storming the US Capitol with fellow members of the far-right Proud Boys, a milestone in the Justice Department’s prosecution of extremists who joined the Jan. 6 incident.

More than three dozen people charged in the Capitol siege have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates, including at least 16 defendants charged with conspiracy. In a key case, four group leaders were charged in March with conspiring to impede Congress’ certification of US President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

Matthew Greene is the first Proud Boys member to publicly plead guilty to conspiring with other members to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote. He will also cooperate with authorities under the terms of his plea agreement.

Greene is expected to face a maximum of just over four years in prison at a sentencing set for next March, and pay a fine of $15,000 to $150,000, along with about $2,000 in restitution. He pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Proud Boys members met at the Washington Monument and marched to the Capitol before then-US president Donald Trump finished addressing thousands of supporters near the White House. Around two hours later, just before Congress convened a joint session to certify the election results, a group of Proud Boys followed a crowd of people who breached barriers at a pedestrian entrance to the Capitol grounds, according to one of the indictments. Several Proud Boys also entered the Capitol itself after the mob smashed windows and forced open doors, the indictment says.

Insurrectionists loyal to then-president Donald Trump swarm the Capitol, January 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

More than 700 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. Over 150 of them have pleaded guilty, including at least two other defendants with Proud Boys ties.

On Tuesday, a Trump supporter was sentenced to five years in prison for assaulting police officers during the attack, the harshest punishment yet handed down in the investigation into the January 6 violence.

Robert Scott Palmer, 54, was seen in videos and photos wearing an American flag jacket decorated with pro-Trump patches and a hat reading “Florida for Trump” as he threw boards, a fire extinguisher and other objects at police outside the Capitol.

He had tried to enter the Capitol but was ultimately pushed back by pepper spray deployed by security officials. After that he continued to throw things at officers, until he was hit by a rubber bullet.

Federal judge Tanya Chutkan rejected Palmer’s arguments for leniency of a troubled childhood and a handwritten apology that said that he and others had been duped into attacking the Congress by the former president, whom he called “tyrannical” and “desperate to hold on to power.”

“I realize that we meaning Trump supporters had been lied to,” he wrote.

US Capitol Police push back rioters who were trying to enter the US Capitol on on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Prosecutors pointed out that even after his October 4 guilty plea, Palmer continued to defend his actions, labeling police the aggressors on a fundraising website page he set up.

“Palmer purposefully joined a large group of rioters with the specific intent of interfering with the nation’s electoral process,” the prosecutors told the court in a sentencing memo. “Palmer’s violence was in pursuit of his political goal of subverting a democratic election and the peaceful transition of power.”

The previous stiffest sentence in the Capitol attack was 41 months, given to two men who were charged with obstructing an official proceeding but were not accused of assaulting law enforcement.

Also on Tuesday, an Iowa man was arraigned on a new federal indictment in the storming of the Capitol that includes a felony count that could carry up to 20 years in prison.

In this image from U.S. Capitol Police security video, police and rioters are seen in the Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (U.S. Capitol Police via AP)

Leo Christopher Kelly, 36, of Cedar Rapids, who has been free on pretrial release, appeared via video for his arraignment. His attorney, Kira West, entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

The most serious of the seven charges Kelly faces is obstruction of an official proceeding. Two other charges of entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct in a restricted building carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. The remaining charges are misdemeanors carrying up to six months in prison.

A plea agreement apparently is no longer under consideration, according to the information that prosecutor Michael Gordon James provided Judge Royce Lamberth during the hearing.

“The parties have discussed a negotiated plea but that will not occur in this case so this matter should be set for trial,” James said.

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