Enrique Tarrio, the former leader of the far-right street fighting group the Proud Boys, has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol — the longest sentence dealt yet to anyone involved.
It’s a stark reminder of the legal peril former President Donald Trump faces in the federal case surrounding his own role in the insurrection. But because Trump’s case is a different beast, involving different legal questions, it’s not necessarily a signal that the former president will be convicted or face similar prison time.
Tarrio was convicted of the most serious charge levied in the January 6 cases: seditious conspiracy, which is defined as a plot involving two or more people “to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States ... or by force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States.” Other members of the Proud Boys, as well as another far-right extremist militia group, the Oath Keepers, have also been previously convicted on the charge.
More than 1,100 people have been charged in connection to the insurrection so far. They have been sentenced to a total of around 600 years in prison as of August 25, according to a Vox analysis of Department of Justice data. That data doesn’t include Tarrio’s sentence, which came down Tuesday, or the sentences of those who will serve out their time at home or in intermittent confinement. More than 100 individuals have been sentenced to at least two years in prison; 27 to more than five years.
Trump, for his part, is also facing potential prison time for his involvement in January 6. The federal government has charged him with four counts: conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy against rights. The former president could face up to 20 years in prison for each of the obstruction-related charges and 10 years for the conspiracy against rights charge. (Trump also faces 13 state charges in a separate, but related case about his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.)
While prosecutors have already sent a strong message about their intent to hold those involved in the insurrection accountable by pursuing these cases and putting hundreds in prison, however, the successful prosecution of many January 6 cases so far might not be predictive of how Trump’s case will play out.
The biggest sentences in the January 6 cases so far
Before the January 6 trials, the last time someone was convicted of seditious conspiracy was in 1995, though there have been several unsuccessful seditious conspiracy trials in the intervening years.
Reaching convictions in the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers cases required a high legal threshold: Prosecutors had to prove that members of those groups didn’t just think about committing violence but made credible plans to do so.
Tarrio himself wasn’t actually at the US Capitol on January 6; he had been arrested for vandalizing a Black Lives Matter banner and possession of two high-capacity rifle magazines with Proud Boys logos at a historic Black church days before. But prosecutors were able to prove that he was still directing his members from afar, making him among a handful of individuals who have been sentenced to more than 10 years in prison for their involvement in the insurrection. The others include:
- Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison in May. He was also convicted of seditious conspiracy. Prosecutors argued that he led the Oath Keepers in illegally bringing small arms to the DC area, and intended to use violence if they deemed it necessary to block the election certification.
- Peter Schwartz, who was sentenced to more than 14 years in prison. He was allegedly the first to throw lawn chairs at police officers protecting the Capitol’s Lower West Terrace, and was found to have caused the police line to fall, which allowed rioters to take over the terrace.
- Daniel “D.J.” Rodriguez, who was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. He repeatedly shocked a police officer with a stun gun while the officer was being beaten by other rioters. That officer lost consciousness and suffered a heart attack, later ending his career in law enforcement as a result of his injuries.
- Kelly Meggs, who previously led the Oath Keeper’s Florida chapter, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and convicted of seditious conspiracy. He was found to have conspired with Rhodes to recruit people to come to DC and prepare for a potentially violent confrontation with gas masks, batons, and armor, storing more weapons at a hotel outside DC.
How Trump’s case is different
The biggest sentences in the January 6 cases have involved individuals who were either at the scene of the Capitol riot or who were organizing insurrectionists behind the scenes. Trump didn’t go to the Capitol after delivering an address that day in which he called on his supporters to “fight like hell.” But prosecutors have tried to place the violence that occurred on January 6 at Trump’s feet nevertheless.
The federal indictment argues Trump and a group of allies that the document refers to as his “co-conspirators” knew that their claims that the 2020 election was stolen were false, but that they spread them anyway — and even launched a “criminal scheme” to support them. The indictment also accuses Trump of planning to stop the certification of the electoral vote, of actually stopping the vote on January 6, and of conspiring to disenfranchise Americans who voted in the election.
They have reams of evidence to back up those charges, but the question is whether a jury will be convinced. Kevin O’Brien, a former federal prosecutor in New York, said that framing Trump as someone who created the conditions for the insurrection rather than as someone actively involved like Tarrio could ultimately be a winning legal strategy — but it could also cause problems for prosecutors.
That’s because prosecutors may want to rely on evidence pertaining to the riot or invoke the riot at trial, which is scheduled for next March. But the indictment doesn’t dwell on the riot as much as it does Trump’s alleged scheme to assemble a slate of fake electors to overturn the election results, and the former president isn’t charged in direct connection to his actions during the riot. That may allow his defense lawyers to argue that the prosecution’s discussion of January 6 should be limited by the judge in the case.
“They want the riot to be part of the case, but they didn’t charge it as a substantive offense,” O’Brien said. “They kind of want to have their cake and eat it too. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to get away with it.”
All of that means that the facts of Trump’s case are very different than those that have preceded it. So though the federal government is generally seen as having built a strong case, there’s no guarantee that Trump, even if he’s found guilty, will face sentences as severe as those faced by Tarrio, his Proud Boys, and the Oath Keepers.