WASHINGTON — Enrique Tarrio, the former chairman of the far-right Proud Boys, was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison Tuesday afternoon following his conviction on a seditious conspiracy charge in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
His sentence is the longest in a Jan. 6 case so far, surpassing the 18 years for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who was also convicted of seditious conspiracy.
Tarrio was one of four Proud Boys found guilty of seditious conspiracy in May. Federal prosecutors sought a sentence of 33 years in federal prison; U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly sentenced Tarrio's co-defendants to much lower terms than those sought by prosecutors.
Last week, Joe Biggs was sentenced to 17 years, Zachary Rehl to 15 years and Ethan Nordean to 18 years. Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola, the fifth defendant, was found not guilty of the top charge of seditious conspiracy but guilty of other charges; he was sentenced to 10 years.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said after Tarrio's sentencing that the Proud Boys had played a “central role” in leading efforts to breach the Capitol.
“Over the past week, four members of the Proud Boys received sentences that reflect the danger their crimes pose to our democracy," Garland said in a statement. "Today, the leader of the Proud Boys, Enrique Tarrio, learned that the consequence of conspiring to oppose by force the lawful transfer of presidential power is 22 years in federal prison.”
Federal prosecutors called Tarrio a "naturally charismatic leader, a savvy propagandist, and the celebrity Chairman of the national Proud Boys organization." Tarrio, they said, had "influence over countless subordinate members," which he used "to organize and execute the conspiracy to forcibly stop the peaceful democratic transfer of power."
Tarrio was not at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021; he was arrested about 48 hours before the attack because of his actions at a previous pro-Trump event in Washington. Tarrio knew a warrant was out for his arrest thanks to a Washington police lieutenant who has since been charged and pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors said the evidence suggests Tarrio "strategically calculated his arrest as a means to inspire a reaction by his followers."
That Tarrio spent most of Jan. 6 at a hotel in Baltimore, prosecutors said, "does nothing to detract from the severity of his conduct," because he "was a general rather than a soldier."
Tarrio, prosecutors said, is "intelligent, charming, creative, and articulate — a gifted communicator who excels at attracting followers" who "used those talents to inflame and radicalize untold numbers of followers, promoting political violence in general and orchestrating the charged conspiracies in particular."
“To Tarrio, January 6 was an act of revolution,” prosecutors wrote.
They argued for a terrorism sentencing enhancement, saying his actions were clearly intended to influence the government. The judge agreed, applying the terrorism enhancement in Tarrio's case, as he did for Tarrio's four co-defendants.
“My client is no terrorist. My client is a misguided patriot,” Tarrio’s lawyer Sabino Jauregui said, arguing that his client went to Washington to "protest."
“My client comes from a country where there are no rights, there’s nothing,” he said, referring to Tarrio’s Cuban heritage. “He was trying to protect this country, as misguided as he was.”
Tarrio's defense team argued for a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines, seeking an unspecified lower sentence, and they submitted letters of support to the court, including one from a cousin of Tarrio’s who has worked for Miami police for 16 years.
The defense had asked Kelly to see “another side” of Tarrio that is “benevolent, cooperative with law enforcement, useful in the community, hardworking and with a tight-knight family unit and community support.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Conor Mulroe, arguing for the prosecution, called Tarrio’s behavior a “calculated act of terrorism,” saying the consequences need to be abundantly clear to anyone who might be unhappy with the results of the 2024 election and any elections in the future.
“There was a very real possibility that we were going to wake up on January 7 in a full-blown constitutional crisis with the federal government in complete chaos,” Mulroe said. “That is what revolution means and that is what he openly perused and that is what he very nearly achieved. And it didn’t take rifles and explosives.”
Mulroe also pushed back against Tarrio’s lawyers' attributing his actions to “misguided patriotism,” saying Tarrio's plan was for street violence on a national scale to be brought to bear against the seat of government.
The Proud Boys' actions "were absolutely pivotal to what happened on January 6," he said. “They were a tidal wave of force that had such a dramatic effect on the day’s events.”
Before his sentencing, Tarrio delivered a contrite statement, apologizing to members of law enforcement, the citizens of Washington, lawmakers and his family. “To the men and women of law enforcement who answered the call that day, I’m sorry,” Tarrio said.
“I have always tried to hold myself to a higher standard, and I failed,” he said. “I failed miserably. I thought of myself morally above others, and this trial has humbled me.”
Tarrio also walked back statements he had made comparing Pezzola to George Washington, a statement that appeared to irk Kelly when it came up earlier in the proceeding.
Tarrio also sought to downplay his political involvement, saying he did not intend to change the results of the election on Jan. 6 but only planned to go to speak at an event to support Donald Trump and to support his friends.
“I am not a political zealot,” he said. “When I get back home, I want nothing to do with politics, groups, activism or rallies.”
Tarrio added that he would not say anything different after Kelly left the room, an apparent reference to his co-defendant Pezzola, who shouted “Trump won” after he was sentenced to 10 years last week.
About 1,100 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, and more than 300 have been sentenced to periods of incarceration. There are new arrests every week, including the recent arrests of the first person who is seen on video breaching the lower west tunnel at the Capitol and of another defendant who the FBI said stormed the Capitol and recorded a TikTok video in which he bragged that rioters "took the White House."
“The FBI will always protect those who peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement after Tarrio's sentencing. "But we will never condone the actions of those who break our laws, and we will continue to work with federal prosecutors to ensure those perpetrators are held responsible.”
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com