(WASHINGTON) — Two former Proud Boys leaders who had been convicted of seditious conspiracy for their actions during the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol were sentenced on Thursday, with the judge handing down one of the longest sentences yet for someone charged in the Jan. 6 attacks.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly sentenced Joseph Biggs, the former leader of the group’s Florida chapter, to 17 years in prison. He sentenced Zachary Rehl, the former leader of the Proud Boys’ Philadelphia chapter, to 15 years in prison.
Biggs, a U.S. army veteran, was a close ally of the former Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio. Biggs was convicted of seditious conspiracy in May alongside two other Proud Boys leaders following a more than four-month-long trial.
In handing down his sentence, Judge Kelly accepted the government’s recommendation to apply an enhancement that effectively labeled Biggs’ crimes as acts of terrorism in seeking to influence the actions of government through threats and use of force.
Prosecutors had sought 33 years in prison for Biggs, their longest recommended prison sentence yet for any participant convicted of joining the Jan. 6 assault — their same recommendation for Tarrio. They had previously sought 25 years in prison for Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted for leading his far-right militia members in a separate seditious conspiracy and sentenced earlier this year to 18 years in prison.
Biggs’ sentence is the second longest for any defendant charged in connection with the Capitol attack; Rehl’s sentence is the third longest. Tarrio is set to be sentenced next Tuesday.
Prosecutors characterized Biggs as the “tip of the spear” for the mob throughout the Capitol attack in his role as co-leader of the so-called “Ministry of Self Defense,” a planning team that later evolved into the Proud Boys’ Jan. 6 ground operation.
“The evidence at trial demonstrated that Biggs was a vocal leader and influential proponent of the group’s shift toward political violence,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memo for Biggs. “More than perhaps any other, Biggs appreciated the tactical advantage that his force had that day, and he understood the significance of his actions against his own government.”
They pointed to increasingly threatening and violent rhetoric espoused by Biggs in the days after the November 2020 election leading up to the Jan. 6 attack — and noted that he had encouraged Tarrio to “get radical and get real men” only hours after former President Donald Trump first announced plans for his supporters to rally in Washington on the day of the certification.
During the assault on the Capitol, prosecutors said Biggs played a role in four separate breaches of law enforcement lines, and after entering the building made his way to the Senate chamber.
After Jan. 6, Biggs recorded a podcast-style interview where he celebrated the attack as a “warning shot to the government” that showed them “how weak they truly are.”
In Thursday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason McCullough sought to make the case to Judge Kelly that a significant sentence was warranted for Biggs and the other Proud Boys for deterrence purposes — setting an example to other extremists that carrying out similar attacks against the government would be punished severely.
“There is a reason why we will hold our collective breaths as we approach future elections,” McCullough said during the hearing. “That’s what they aimed to do. They aimed to intimidate and terrify elected officials, law enforcement and the rest of the country that they didn’t agree with and make them heel to their political point of view.”
He added, “The repercussions here must be known.”
Biggs’ attorney Norm Pattis argued for leniency, claiming that much of the statements pointed to by the government should be protected under his rights to free speech and, despite his guilt as determined by the jury, “we think that the crimes are overstated in this case and that the case was overproven.”
“To treat these men as terrorists would be the functional equivalent of the destruction of Waco,” Pattis said, referencing the 1993 siege by the U.S. government and Texas law enforcement of the Branch Davidians’ compound.
Addressing the court himself, Biggs became emotional as he sought to dispute the characterization of him as a “terrorist” and begged for leniency so he could one day be released to care for his daughter.
“On Jan. 6 I was seduced by the crowd and I just moved forward,” Biggs said. “My curiosity got the better of me and I have to live with that for the rest of my life, and I’m so sorry.”
Rehl helped lead the charge on Jan. 6 and was among the first wave of rioters to breach the Capitol. Also, he helped overwhelm officers, spraying one in the face with an irritant spray, according to the sentencing memo.
Rehl later made posts on social media calling Jan. 6 a “historical day,” and told his mother how proud he was of the Proud Boys’ Capitol attack, according to the sentencing memo.
Prosecutors had requested 30 years behind bars for Rehl, who they argued served a “key logistical role” for the Proud Boys during the Capitol assault and helped relay information to co-conspirators that weren’t even in the city that day about what was happening on the ground.
Rehl was also accused of perjuring himself 14 times when testifying at trial after he was confronted with video evidence showing him spraying police officers with a chemical irritant.
“Rehl’s words and actions reveal his intent on January 6 — he was there to use force and violence to influence his government and lead a civil war,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing recommendation.
After detailing his conduct at the hearing and determining he did indeed perjure himself during trial, Judge Kelly said he calculated his sentencing guideline range as between 30 years to life in prison — higher than the guidelines set for Biggs earlier in the day. But similar to Biggs, Kelly delivered a sentenced significantly below the guidelines because he said he believed the terrorism enhancement applied to his sentence actually overstated the seriousness of his conduct.
Before he was sentenced, Rehl broke down into tears as he pleaded for leniency from Kelly and asked for forgiveness from his family.
“I’m done with politics,” he said. “I’m done peddling lies for people that don’t care about me… Jan. 6 was a despicable day.”
Judge Kelly singled out Rehl’s conduct spraying police officers and later lying about it as unique from his other Proud Boys co-defendants, and said his statements after the riot celebrating what had happened were “chilling.”
-ABC News’ Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.
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