Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos
The conspiracy case that federal prosecutors appear to be building around the behavior of two key groups involved in the January 6 Capitol insurrection—namely, the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys—ratcheted another notch tighter this week when one of the men involved in the Oath Keepers' "stack" formation that day entered a guilty plea as part of a cooperation agreement with prosecutors.
One Proud Boys leader, erstwhile national chairman Enrique Tarrio, also pleaded guilty to the charge on which he had been arrested prior to Jan. 6—namely, setting a Black Lives Matter banner afire during a December 12 "Stop the Steal" event—and also has struck a deal with prosecutors, though it's unclear whether he is providing evidence in the January 6 prosecutions. Meanwhile, the first of the insurrectionists who pleaded guilty, Paul Hodgkins, was given an eight-month sentence Monday by a federal judge who warned that the seemingly light term should not be considered a harbinger of future sentences in other cases.
Tuesday's plea deal for Oath Keeper Caleb Berry is the third such piece to fall into place for prosecutors. Earlier this month, two insurrectionists cut plea deals: Mark Grods, a 54-year-old Oath Keeper from Alabama, and Graydon Young, 55, another Oath Keeper from Florida. Both men are believed to be providing evidence in the conspiracy case against the 15 other Oath Keepers charged in the riot, one that prosecutors have been gradually building and may eventually encompass the group's founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes.
Charging documents in Berry's case indicate that he will admit to dropping off weapons at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, as part of creating a "quick reaction force" the Oath Keepers planned to deploy in Washington, D.C., should things take a violent turn. Oath Keepers leaders have insisted the weapons were only intended for use if antifascists showed up to stop them.
Berry also acknowledges that he participated in a tactical "stack" formation comprised of Oath Keepers that played a key role in the mob's ability to penetrate security barriers at the Capitol on January 6. Prosecutors are likely to be asking him for information about pre-planning and surveillance by the Oath Keepers near the Capitol before the insurrection, since Berry also "traveled to and then observed the restricted Capitol grounds" on January 5, one day beforehand, according to the affidavit.
Tarrio's guilty plea for burning the BLM banner also included misdemeanor charges that he was carrying high-capacity ammunition magazines in his luggage when arrested. He is scheduled to be sentenced in late August.
He told Senior Judge Harold L. Cushenberry Jr. that he was unaware the banner had been taken from a nearby African-American church.
"If I'd have known that banner came from a church, it would not have been burned," said Tarrio, who also said he had no regrets about burning a BLM banner because he thinks the movement "has terrorized the citizens of this country."
The prosecutor overseeing Tarrio's case noted to Cushenberry "for the record" that "nothing in the agreement is intended to prevent the government from bringing different or additional charges" against him in the future "based on his conduct on January 6th, 2021, or any other time." Tarrio, who had been barred from D.C. on January 6, has said he was not involved in any of the planning around the event, despite the key role played by Proud Boys in the insurrection.
Hodgkins was the first of the insurrectionists to be sentenced, after the 38-year-old from Tampa, Florida, pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding by entering the Capitol on January 6 with the mob. The eight-month sentence was less than half the 18 months sought by prosecutors, but District Judge Randolph Moss was more lenient because he had not participated in violence and had a clean criminal record.
"It is essential to send a message that this type of conduct is utterly unacceptable and that grave damage was done to our country that day," Moss said. "At the same time, I do not believe that Mr. Hodgkins—other than having made some very bad decisions that day and done some really bad things that day that did some real damage to the country—that he is a threat or that he is inherently an evil person."
Moss, however, was also clear that he did not buy defense arguments that the January 6 riot was not an insurrection: "Although Mr. Hodgkins was only one member of a larger mob, he actively and intentionally participated in an event that threatened not only the security of the Capitol but democracy itself," he said. "That is chilling, for many reasons."
Unlike other defendants, Hodgkins also was openly repentant: "I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I am truly remorseful and regretful for my actions in Washington," he told the judge. "This was a foolish decision on my part that I take full responsibility for it."
Other Jan. 6 defendants have been openly defiant. One such indictee—Pauline Bauer of Kane, Pennsylvania—has declared herself a sovereign citizen and filed court documents based on that far-right movement's pseudo-legal mumbo jumbo in her case. During her court hearing on Monday, she repeatedly interrupted the judge and declared herself immune from American laws, according to NBC4's Scott MacFarlane.
"Every man is independent of all laws, except those of nature," declared Bauer, who decided to represent herself in court. She added: "I think the American people will be shocked to find out who owns the Capitol building right now."
Bauer, who is representing herself, had previously filed documents in her case declaring herself a "Living Soul, Creation of God" who was a separate entity from the "Vessel" charged with the crime. She told the judge she won't let pretrial services come into her home and won't turn over her passport, calling the search of her home "illegal."
According to court documents, Bauer had organized buses full of people to attend the January 6 "Stop the Steal" rally, and had been a particularly bloodthirsty participant in the Capitol siege.
"This is where we find Nancy Pelosi," Bauer can be heard saying inside the Capitol in a body-camera recording placed in evidence by prosecutors. "Bring that fucking bitch out here now. Bring her out here. We're coming in if you don't bring her out."
At a June appearance, Bauer had addressed the court with undiluted sovereign-citizen lingo: "I am a free soul, I am not part of your corporation, I am making a special Divine appearance."
At Monday's hearing, District Judge Zia Faruqui attempted to persuade Bauer to let her appoint an attorney in her case. She refused.
Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League told The Daily Beast that sovereign citizens like Bauer have been gulled by a conspiracist belief system that has little attachment to reality.
"Their filings and documents, to the layperson, have the look and feel of being actual legal filings, but they're actually flights of fancy, magical thinking," Pitcavage said. "As a result, all their arguments fail. Some judges will take the time to address them issue by issue. Some will more abruptly or harshly dismiss them as gobbledegook."