A Navy veteran who touted his military service throughout his trial on a range of charges stemming from his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, siege at the Capitol was sentenced to nearly five years in prison in federal court on Thursday.
Kenneth Joseph Owen Thomas, 41, was sentenced to four years and 10 months of jail, followed by three years of probation as well as a $20,000 fine and $2,000 of restitution, after being found guilty on seven charges that included assault against police officers and disorderly conduct offenses. Jurors also acquitted him of two counts that included obstructing a congressional proceeding and deadlocked on two other counts.
Thomas was filmed physically and verbally attacking police officers who were trying to keep the massive throng of protesters from entering the U.S. Capitol that day. Then, after he was charged, prosecutors said he "acted as a one-man misinformation machine," not only denying the events of that day but fundraising off his status as a defendant and offering a platform to other deniers.
On the day of the riot, Thomas, who lives in Ohio, came to Washington, D.C., with his wife and child, court documents say. After attending the "Stop the Steal" rally at the Ellipse, Thomas and his family started to march down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the U.S. Capitol building. The veteran testified in court that as they got close to the compound, his wife said, "Something [is] not right, and then she asked me, you know, please leave right now."
Thomas sent his wife and child to safety but testified that he told them, "I can go and help ... That's what the military trains you to do, is you go towards the danger and provide any sort of aid that you can."
Once he arrived, however, video captured him hitting and punching officers and egging on the mob. Prosecutors said that he shouted chants like "Police stand down" and "this is our house."
"Thomas joined a 'back the blue' chant, but then also joined in when the crowd began yelling,
'TRAITORS, TRAITORS, TRAITORS' at the same police line," a court document said.
He also yelled at the police that "we all took the same oath, I'm a veteran, I took the same oath you took," prosecutors alleged.
Thomas' attorneys argued in a sentencing memo that he was "brutally aware of the seriousness of his conduct" on the day of the Jan. 6 riot and is taking "full and complete responsibility for his actions."
"None of the officers contacted by Mr. Thomas on Jan. 6 reported any physical pain or injuries attributed to Mr. Thomas," the memo argued.
After his arrest, Thomas noted his Navy service to his probation officer, but prosecutors pointed out in a sentencing memo that he misled them about the nature of his service.
According to records provided by the Navy to Military.com, Thomas enlisted in the service in June 2000 but served for only three years, separating in October 2003 as an E-2 apprentice airman.
His only duty station was Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213 in Oceana, Virginia, and his awards include two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, suggesting he spent at least three months at sea on two occasions.
However, on his fundraising campaign page, Thomas described himself as "a Navy veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom [Afghanistan] & Operation Iraqi Freedom [Iraq]." Records provided by the Navy, however, do not show medals that would typically be awarded for participating in those operations.
Prosecutors noted in one filing that "Thomas actively misled the probation officer during his presentence interview, particularly regarding his dismissal from the Navy," telling them he had one "non-judicial punishment for an unspecified offense" when he actually received three non-judicial punishments and was "ultimately dismissed in connection with his misconduct."
That filing noted that those three punishments were over making "provoking speech and gestures" at a fellow sailor, being absent without permission, and using methamphetamines and marijuana.
Overall, the Navy busted Thomas down in rank, put him in the brig for a month and gave him a general discharge over the span of the three offenses. After his discharge, Thomas continued to have run-ins with the law, including a domestic battery and felony burglary conviction.
After he was charged, Thomas took to leveraging his status as a Jan. 6 defendant, explaining away his conduct and the conduct of other rioters on livestreams, podcasts and in-person appearances like the "Jan. 6 Truth and Light Freedom Festival."
All that activity helped raise "over $77,607 in charitable contributions," according to court filings. Those efforts included setting up a raffle where one of the prizes was a "USA v THOMAS Trial Transcript, signed by the defendant and attorneys," the prosecution noted.
At the time of publication, Thomas' GiveSendGo campaign page shows he raised just over $80,000 in funds.
Prosecutors had asked for a prison term of just over nine years and argued for a fine of $77,607, arguing that he "should not be permitted to keep a single cent of this money because doing so would allow him to 'capitalize' on his crime."
Thomas now becomes the latest in a line of military veterans, and even some active-duty service members, who have been charged for their part in the assault on the U.S. Capitol building that day.
According to the George Washington University's Project on Extremism, more than 115 Jan. 6 defendants have some form of military background.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on X at @ktoropin.