A member of the neo-fascist Proud Boys gang who stole a police riot shield to bust out a window at the US Capitol has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Dominic Pezzola – who smoked a “victory” cigar after breaching the halls of Congress on January 6, allowing a mob of Donald Trump’s supporters to storm the building – is among five Proud Boys who were jointly convicted earlier this year on a range of charges connected to the attack.
Though he was the only one of those defendants who was not convicted for seditious conspiracy, a rare treason-related charge brought against more than a dozen people in connection with the riots, Pezzola has been characterised by prosecutors as one of the most violent offenders in the group, fuelled by a baseless narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from the former president.
Pezzola was found guilty of destruction of federal property, robbery and assault, among several other felonies.
Prosecutors had argued that Pezzola – a former US Marine – “acted as a soldier in the civil war he had envisioned” when he joined the mob on 6 January, 2021. Biggs and Rehl are also military veterans.
His actions “showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he had intended to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.
Prosecutors sought a sentence of 20 years in prison. Federal sentencing guidelines suggested Pezzola could be sentenced to 17 to 22 years.
US District Judge Timothy Kelly issued the sentence one day after sentencing prominent Proud Boys members Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl to 17 and 15 years in prison, respectively – roughly half of what sentencing guidelines had suggested.
Prosecutors are also seeking 33 years in prison for now-former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who is scheduled to be sentenced on 5 September.
Ethan Nordean, aka prominent Proud Boys organizer Rufio Panman, was also scheduled to be sentenced on 1 September. Prosecutors are seeking 27 years in prison.
Judge Kelly determined that Pezzola’s destruction amounted to terrorism, adding what is called an “enhancement” to the sentencing guidelines for the crime of destruction of government property.
The judge applied the same enhancements to Biggs and Rehl but has been reluctant to hand down larger sentences for crimes he has contrasted to mass casualty events.
“You were the one who smashed that window and let people begin to stream into that Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers,” Judge Kelly said on Friday. “It’s not something I would have ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”
The judge called Pezzola “the tip of the spear” that opened the Capitol “like a can opener” to the mob as a joint session of Congress convened to certify election results.
Pezzola’s sentence is among the longest facing the hundreds of defendants charged in connection with the attack. Stewart Rhodes, founder of the far-right anti-government militia group the Oath Keepers, was sentenced to 18 years in prison, thus far the longest sentence to date.
During trial, US Capitol Police officer Mark Ode testified that Pezzola and others “violently” wrestled his shield away from him, pulled him to the ground, hit him with chemical spray, then tried to choke him with his helmet strap. Mr Ode said he feared that he would not make it out alive.
Video footage showed Pezzola using the shield to break a window at the Capitol, through which the first members of the mob entered the building, according to prosecutors.
“I knew we could take this motherf***** if we just tried hard enough,” he said in a selfie video after breaking into the building. He can be seen with a cigar for what he called a “victory smoke”.
“No matter how you look at it, it was going to be a historic day,” Pezzola said during his trial testimony. “I thought it would be cool if I said something profound.”
Pezzola – who has called the charges against him “phony” and “corrupt” – has accused police of inflaming the crowds that day, triggering what he said was his military training to “run toward the danger”.
“In the military and Marine Corps, you don’t ever turn around and run away,” Pezzola said at trial. “You’re conditioned not to think about the flight response. You’re conditioned to run toward the danger. To neutralize the danger.”