What can we learn from the North Jersey Proud Boy sentenced for Jan. 6? | Mike Kelly

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The law finally caught up with Shawn Price of the Proud Boys. Now comes the rest of his life.

The climactic coda of this tale did not come proudly. Price, who lives in Rockaway Township, New Jersey, was quietly sentenced in a Washington, D.C., courtroom last week to 12 months and one day in a federal jail for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

He is 28 years old. When Price donned protective goggles and called U.S. Capitol Police “traitors,” “cowards” and “scumbags” as he pushed his way into a restricted part of the Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection, he claimed to be the vice president of the New Jersey chapter of the Proud Boys, an extremist group with ties to white nationalists.

Conveniently and just in time for him to plead for leniency last week before the federal judge who could have sent him to prison for five years, Price insisted that he has now quit the Proud Boys and is trying to clean up his life — a life that also includes a drug arrest in Passaic County months after the Jan. 6 attack.

In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, violent rioters storm the Capitol, in Washington.
In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, violent rioters storm the Capitol, in Washington.

The rise, the fall and, now, the attempted self-resurrection of Price is a footnote to the Jan. 6 insurrection. It is also symbolic of the troubling mystery of that day. How did Price get so angry about the defeat of former President Donald Trump that, in his words, he “led the storm” on the Capitol?

As a prosecutor’s sentencing report noted:

“Despite observing police officers attempting to control and disperse the crowd, and despite being hit in the chest with a rubber bullet and sprayed with tear gas by those same officers, Price was not deterred. Instead, he and his group of Proud Boys pushed through the crowd of rioters to get to the front line of the mob’s conflict with the police.”

Price was among the more than 1,000 people who have been charged with various crimes over the storming of the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States and to keep the defeated Trump in the White House. That insurrection failed — we know that. Yes, the attackers interrupted the effort by America’s duly elected congressional representatives to certify what America’s voters already asked for at the ballot box. U.S. senators and their House colleagues eventually voted to certify Biden's election. But the date, Jan. 6, 2021, will long remain as an embarrassing stain on America’s claim as the world’s greatest democracy.

Thanks to Trump and his election-conspiracy goons, America for several hours became the equivalent of a banana republic on Jan. 6. All we needed were a few Che Guevara impersonators in black berets and untrimmed beards to add to the Idiot Wind flavor of the day.

Certainly, Price seemed willing to rise as a lead performer in the moment, shouting all manner of revolutionary slogans and throwing his weight around in ways that most law-abiding people find repulsive and bullying. Many others did the same that day.

Earlier: NJ Proud Boys leader gets year in prison for coaxing mob during Jan. 6 riot

The ordinary Americans who became insurrectionists

But what's striking now in examining the backgrounds of those arrested in the Jan. 6 insurrection is how ordinary many were. These were not the American equivalent of al-Qaida operatives who trained with guns and grenades in the mountains of Afghanistan and breathed in the warped Islamist theology of Osama bin Laden.

Most of those arrested — 75 — came from Florida, a state that supported Trump in the 2020 election. Next in line were Texas (pro-Trump) and Pennsylvania (pro-Biden), with 63 residents each among those arrested. New Jersey, another pro-Biden state, which brags that it is the most diverse in America, was home to nearly 30 of those charged by federal authorities in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

According to the George Washington University “Program on Extremism,” which is keeping tabs on the court cases linked to the Capitol attack, the average age of attackers was 39. Nearly nine in 10 of those arrested were men. About 12% had military experience. And, perhaps most significantly, the FBI was able to catch 80% of those arrested — about 800 suspects — by examining evidence obtained from social media posts.

Julian Khater, left, and George Tanios
Julian Khater, left, and George Tanios

In other words, the attackers were a bragging, performance-minded bunch. First they broke the law by barging into the U.S. Capitol, with many of them breaking windows and doors. Then they posted photos of their crimes on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Twitter and other social media platforms. FBI agents didn’t even have to leave the office and wear out their gum shoes to pull together the evidence. In many cases, they just watched video footage.

At first glance, Price seems like just another ordinary 28-year-old Jersey boy. How he managed to join a group that reportedly describes itself as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world, aka Western Chauvinists,” is just one enduring question of Jan. 6.

By the way, dear reader, don’t apologize if you are now asking yourself why a kid from Rockaway Township, New Jersey, would even begin to think of refusing to apologize for “creating the modern world.” Who even knew that such a concept was up for discussion — especially among residents who choose to live in the Garden State?

The Department of Justice motion to oppose the conditional release of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli ahead of his trial on charges stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, is photographed on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. Hale-Cusanelli was arrested less than two weeks after the attack and has remained jailed since February 2021. His trial began in federal court in Washington on May 24.

Authentic residents of New Jersey willingly apologize for all kinds of sins, from highways with too many potholes to politicians with really bad haircuts to our bizarre way of uttering the phrase “forget about it.” But apologizing for “creating the modern world”? Sorry, but that’s a new one.

Subscriber exclusive: NJ family of Capitol police officer who died after Jan. 6 attack blames Trump | Mike Kelly

Was it worth all the anger?

You find the same sense of shake-your-head incongruity and enduring mystery among many of the others arrested in the wake of Jan. 6.

Let’s start with George Tanios and Julian Khater, who grew up near New Brunswick, moved to West Virginia and Pennsylvania and opened small eateries that catered to college students. On Jan. 6, the two traveled together to Washington and participated in the assault that led to the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick of South River, New Jersey, a small hamlet just across the New Jersey Turnpike from New Brunswick.

How did two guys who sold sandwiches and fruit bowls to students suddenly become candidates for anger management at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6? Was Trump worth all that anger?

You could ask the same question of many of those arrested that day.

Consider the background of Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, 31, of Colts Neck. When he was arrested, he was working as a security officer at the Naval Weapons Station in Earle, New Jersey — a military base that stores bombs and other explosive devices. Hale-Cusanelli was also a U.S. Army reservist who has since left the military.

Such was his public life.

In private, federal investigators discovered, he developed a history of antisemitic hate speech, longed for civil war and sometimes wore a fake mustache for photographs that made him resemble Adolf Hitler. In court, Hale-Cusanelli’s attorney claimed that his client was little more than a spectator at the Jan. 6 attack and actually wore a suit and tie during the march on the U.S. Capitol.

Another notable Jan. 6 suspect from New Jersey is Thomas Baranyi, 28, of Hamilton. Once a member of the Peace Corps, Baranyi found himself standing next to fellow rioter Ashli Babbit when she was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to climb through a broken window near a stairwell where House members were trying to escape.

One of four women arrested, Marissa Suarez, of Union Beach, New Jersey, took an “emergency holiday” from her job as a guard at the Monmouth County jail to participate in the Capitol attack.

A group of men held a vigil for Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was killed after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, at the Legislative Mall in Dover, Del., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2020.
A group of men held a vigil for Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was killed after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, at the Legislative Mall in Dover, Del., on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2020.

Also arrested were Ezekiel “Zeke” Stecher, a farmer from Mantua Township in Gloucester County, New Jersey, who received a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Scott Fairlamb, who ran a gym in Sussex County and posted on social media posing with two rifles.

This is just a smattering of the mix of personalities charged with crimes linked to Jan. 6. Some are already in prison. (Fairlamb is serving 43 months.) Others are still awaiting court dates.

In some ways Shawn Price is lucky. He’s going to jail for only a year.

Authorities say Scott Fairlamb, of Stockholm, allegedly shown holding a baton in this screenshot, took part in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Authorities say Scott Fairlamb, of Stockholm, allegedly shown holding a baton in this screenshot, took part in the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

After that, he can come back to New Jersey and return to real life. In fact, during his sentencing hearing, his attorney, Harley Breite of Paterson, described Price as becoming a productive member of society.

He has a job at a discount tire store. His fiancée is pregnant.

Welcome to the real world, Shawn. Maybe you can document your new life on social media.

Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for the USA TODAY Network as well as the author of three critically acclaimed non-fiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in the northeast, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: kellym@northjersey.com

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ Proud Boy Shawn Price sentenced: What can we learn?