Former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio was sentenced Tuesday to 22 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and leading a failed plot to prevent the transfer of US presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
The sentence from District Judge Timothy Kelly is the longest given to anyone in relation to the January 6, 2021, US Capitol attack.
Tarrio, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and orange slip-on sneakers, leaned against a lectern at the front of the crowded courtroom and hung his head as the judge handed down his lengthy sentence. Three other members of Proud Boys leadership were also found guilty of seditious conspiracy and sentenced last week.
"It is kind of hard to put into words how important the peaceful transfer of power is," Kelly said.
"Our country was founded as an experiment in self-government by the people, but it cannot long endure if the way we elect our leaders is threatened with force and violence."
"Mr Tarrio was the ultimate leader, the ultimate person who organised, who was motivated by revolutionary zeal," Kelly said at the end of the three-hour hearing, adding that he has shown "no remorse."
"What happened that day did not honour the founders, it was the kind of thing they wrote the Constitution to prevent," the judge said.
Tarrio's lawyer, Nayib Hassan, told reporters outside of the courthouse that they "respectfully disagree" with the judge's decision.
"It caught us off guard," Hassan said, adding: "That's what the appellate process is for."
Tarrio had been arrested in Washington, DC, days before the riot for burning a DC church's Black Lives Matter banner and bringing high-capacity rifle magazines into the district, and was ordered by a judge to leave the city.
But Kelly said that while Tarrio may not have been present at the Capitol during the attack, the Proud Boys leader "had an outsized impact on the events of the day".
While the 22-year sentence is the longest for any January 6 defendant, the Justice Department had sought 33 years in prison for Tarrio.
Kelly had consistently gone far below previous Justice Department sentencing requests for Proud Boys members convicted in this case.
Kelly sentenced Ethan Nordean and Joseph Biggs, two of the far-right organisation's top lieutenants, to 18- and 17-year prison sentences, respectively.
Zachary Rehl, a local Proud Boys chapter leader, was sentenced to 15 years behind bars, while Dominic Pezzola, a low-level member and the only defendant acquitted of the seditious conspiracy charge, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Tarrio: 'I am not a political zealot'
Before he was sentenced, Tarrio apologiaed for the "pain and suffering" that law enforcement, legislators, and others suffered on January 6, and vowed to have "nothing to do with politics, groups, activism or rallies".
"I have always tried to hold myself to a higher standard and I failed," he said.
"I held myself morally above others, and this trial has shown me how wrong I was."
Standing before the judge, Tarrio said that he "spent the last year and a half trying to figure out how I ended up at this podium. On November 3, 2020, something that I never expected happened – my candidate lost. I felt like something was personally stolen from me. Every media channel that I turned to told me I was justified."
But, Tarrio said, he was against the violence that erupted at the Capitol: "I am not a political zealot. Inflicting harm or changing the outcome of the election was not my goal."
Prosecutor Conor Mulroe slammed Tarrio, saying that the Proud Boys leader had a "toxic ability to control others" and was the "leader of this conspiracy" that "targeted our entire system of government".
Mulroe described Tarrio as someone who "increased his own fame and stature by fanning the flame of violence, political violence".
"These are men who would never strap a bomb to their chest or sign up for a training camp, but they are thrilled by the notion of travelling from city to city and beating their advisories senseless in a street fight," Mulroe said.
The Proud Boys organisation, led by Tarrio, "were not just a drop in the bucket" when it comes to the violence on January 6, Mulroe said.
The group "had an integral role in that first breach" at the Capitol, Mulroe said.
"The actions of that group were absolutely pivotal on January 6 and followed directly the plotting and planning of Enrique Tarrio."
Tarrio's lawyer Sabino Jauregui fiercely fought additional terrorism sentencing penalties, saying that "it was not his intention to bring down the United States government, or overthrow the United States government."
"My client is no terrorist," Jauregui said.
"My client is a misguided patriot. That's what my client is. This is not some foreign national waging war against the United States – he thought he was saving this country, saving this republic."
During the months-long trial, prosecutors showed evidence that Tarrio helped to create a command structure within the Proud Boys in the lead-up to January 6 that dictated how members of the organisation would work when attending high-profile rallies.
Though he was not in Washington, DC, on January 6, Tarrio expressed his support for the rioters online and was in touch with his co-defendants on the ground, prosecutors said.
Biggs and Nordean, who assumed leadership in Tarrio's absence, led the charge at the Capitol, prosecutors said.
The Proud Boys were at the front of the mob, breaking past barriers and the police line and smashing windows to let rioters inside the historic building in the first breaches that eventually led to Congress evacuating and temporarily halting the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.