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A Time for Consequences
Trump and his supporters fought the law and the law, it seems, is winning.
AT HIS SENTENCING HEARING on September 5, Enrique Tarrio, the onetime leader of the Proud Boys, pleaded with the judge for leniency. “Please show me mercy,” he said, adding, “I ask you that you not take my forties from me.”
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who was appointed to the bench by then-President Donald Trump, proceeded to grant this request, in a monkey’s paw sort of way. He sentenced the 39-year-old Tarrio to 22 years in federal prison. That means he won’t just lose his forties but his fifties, too.
Tarrio and three other members of the far-right extremist group were convicted in May of seditious conspiracy for their role in the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. Judge Kelly issued his sentence from the same courthouse where the former president will go on trial on federal charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It is one of four criminal cases pending against Trump and various co-defendants.
Can’t you just feel it? Amid all the justified concern about the erosion of the rule of law, the folks who broke the law as part of Trump’s scheme to steal an election are evidently being held to account. Soon, the rule of law may even catch up with Trump himself.
As of last Wednesday, according to the Department of Justice’s weekly tally, 623 federal defendants have been convicted of and sentenced for crimes related to January 6th; 378 of these have included periods of incarceration. In all, the government says, 1,146 people have been arrested and charged for their actions that day.
These metrics are growing all the time. On Friday, a federal judge convicted Leo Brent Bozell IV of multiple felony counts for storming the Capitol, bashing in a window, facilitating other rioters, and chasing a police officer. Bozell is the son of L. Brent Bozell III, a conservative activist who founded the Media Research Center and Parents Television Council, and grandson of L. Brent Bozell Jr., a prominent conservative writer. Bozell IV will be sentenced in January. And on Monday, Dodge Hellonen, 24, one of three active-duty Marines who took part in the attack, was sentenced to 279 hours of community service—one for each Marine who was killed or wounded during the Civil War.
Tarrio, who was not at the January 6th insurrection, has received the stiffest sentence so far, but others have come close. In May, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, 58, snared an 18-year sentence. One of Tarrio’s Proud Boy co-defendants, Ethan Nordean, 32, matched that September 1, a day after two other co-defendants, Joe Biggs, 39, and Zachary Rehl, 38, netted sentences of 17 and 15 years, respectively.
In a joint sentencing memo, Biggs and Rehl blamed the Capitol attack on Trump, saying they were heeding his calls to action that day, which “should yield some measure of mitigation.” It may have. Prosecutors had sought sentences of 33 years for Biggs and 30 for Rehl. Judge Kelly seemed a bit apologetic that he couldn’t do any better than to shave these in half. “You did spray that officer, and then you lied about it,” he told Rehl. “Those are what we call in the law bad facts.” Biggs apologized “for my rhetoric,” something Trump has never done, saying he was “sick and tired of left versus right” and that the only group he wanted to be a part of is his daughter’s PTA. He’ll have to attend remotely from prison, if that is allowed.
Tarrio, at his sentencing, called the events of January 6th a “national embarrassment” and insisted, “I am not a political zealot. Inflicting harm or changing the results of the election was not my goal”—words somewhat at variance with the messages he sent to supporters during the January 6th attack, instructing them to “Do what must be done” and “Do it again.”
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As he was led out of the courtroom in his orange jumpsuit, Tarrio thrust up his hand while making a “V” sign. His fourth co-defendant, Dominic Pezzola, who was not convicted of seditious conspiracy but drew a ten-year prison term for being the guy who used a repurposed police riot shield to smash a Capitol window, showed similar spunk at his September 1 sentencing. As he was exiting the courtroom, after telling the judge “I stand before you today as a changed and humble man,” Pezzola raised his fist into the air and shouted, “Trump won!”
JANUARY 6TH IS NOT THE ONLY ARENA in which Trump’s hapless stormtroopers are being met by a hot blast of justice. This is also happening to those who turn Trump’s lies about the 2020 election into a license to threaten election workers.
Since its creation in June 2021, a unit of the U.S. Justice Department called the Election Threats Task Force has brought criminal charges in more than a dozen cases involving threats against election workers. These include several recent cases that plumb the depths of depravity embraced by members of Trump’s election-denying fan base.
On August 31, the Justice Department secured guilty pleas from two defendants charged with making threats. Chad Christopher Stark, 55, of Texas, had posted a message on Craigslist on January 5, 2021, saying it was time to “put a bullet” in one official and warning others: “We will find you oathbreakers and we’re going to pay your family [a] visit your mom your dad your brothers and sisters your children your wife . . . we’re going to make examples of traitors to our country . . . death to you and all you communist friends.”
The other guilty plea was entered by Joshua Russell, 44, of Ohio, who in August 2022 left a voicemail for an election official with the Arizona secretary of state’s office that concluded “America’s coming for you, and you will pay with your life, you communist [expletive] traitor [expletive].”
On August 28, Mark A. Rissi, 64, of Iowa, was sentenced to two and a half years in federal prison for leaving threatening voicemails in late 2021. One, to an election official in Maricopa County, Arizona, said in part: “When we come to lynch your stupid lying Commie [expletive], you’ll remember that you lied on the [expletive] Bible, you piece of [expletive]. You’re gonna die, you piece of [expletive],” and so on. The other, to that state’s then-attorney general, advised: “Do your job . . . or you will hang with those [expletive] in the end. We will see to it. Torches and pitchforks. That’s your future, [expletive]. Do your job.”
Earlier in the month, the Election Threats Task Force saw a trifecta of good news: Frederick Francis Goltz, 52, of Texas was sentenced to three and a half years for posts on far-right social media platforms suggesting a “mass shooting of poll workers” and threatening two officials in Maricopa County, Arizona. James Clark, 38, of Massachusetts pleaded guilty to sending a bomb threat to Arizona’s secretary of state in February 2021. He is scheduled to be sentenced on October 26 and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison. And Georgia resident Jessica Diane Higginbotham, 35, drew an eighteen-month prison sentence followed by two years of supervised release for sending a December 2022 text message to an employee of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, “to let you know that I am coming by either tonight or in the morning to set a bomb up. So I can blow all the Democrats up.”
And there’s more to come: Solomon Peña, 40, a 2022 Republican candidate for the New Mexico House of Representatives, was indicted on May 31 of this year for allegedly organizing a series of shootings at the homes of two county commissioners and two state legislators over a month-long period that began in early December of last year. Peña faces the prospect of sixty years or more in prison; he and two others, according to the Department of Justice, “are charged with conspiracy, interference with federally protected activities, and several firearms offenses, including the use of a machine gun.”
The Justice Department and its agencies are proud of these prosecutions. “Defending the rights of Americans, particularly the right to vote, is a fundamental part of the FBI’s mission to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a press statement. “The FBI will fiercely protect election officials from threats of violence and intimidation, and in doing so, protect the fidelity of U.S. elections.”
Added Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a recent release:
A functioning democracy requires that the public servants who administer our elections are able to do their jobs without fearing for their lives. The Justice Department will continue to investigate and prosecute those who target election officials and election workers as part of our broader efforts to safeguard the right to vote and to defend our democracy.
When Republicans declaim against the weaponization of the federal government, this is often what they are actually standing against—holding hoodlums accountable for bad behavior inspired by Trump.
ELSEWHERE, SIGNS OF CHICKENS COMING HOME to roost are abundant. Peter Navarro, Trump’s former trade adviser, was convicted last week on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee looking into the January 6th attack. He promises to appeal, as has Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who was convicted last year on two contempt counts. Both are circling their respective porcelain drains.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former lawyer and fellow election fabulist, is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in Trump’s federal indictment for trying to overturn the election results. He did not escape being indicted, along with Trump and 17 others, for his role in seeking to subvert Georgia’s 2020 election results. And, in late August, he was found liable for defaming two of that state’s election workers. The costs of his legal defense and “significant” punitive damages will likely drive him into financial as well as moral bankruptcy.
In the Georgia case, a state judge has denied a motion from fake-elector-scheme architect Kenneth Chesebro to be tried separately from another defendant who also requested a speedy trial, although the judge did express some skepticism about the practicality of trying all nineteen together. Meanwhile, a federal judge refused to allow Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff, to move his case from state to federal court.
In the Washington, D.C. case, an effort by Trump’s lawyers to push the trial back to 2026 was aggressively rebuffed by a district court judge, who set a trial date of March 4. And in Trump’s federal prosecution in Florida for hoarding classified documents, it just came to light that a former information technology director at Mar-a-Lago has entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors that will likely include testifying against the former president when the case goes to trial.
Trump’s defenses are cracking, his vulnerability has deepened. The evidence of his guilt in the crimes for which he’s been charged are seemingly as solid as that which led to lengthy prison terms for Tarrio, Rhodes, and their brethren. And Trump’s attempts to threaten and coerce election officials into breaking the law to overturn the will of the voters are at least as serious as those for which his shock troops are being locked up.
Could it be that the most lawless of presidents will, like many of those around him, be brought down by, of all things, the rule of law? That’s beginning to look like a real possibility.
Correction (Sept. 13, 1 p.m. EDT): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of defendants who will be tried in one of the four criminal cases pending against Trump.