A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced a rioter who savagely assaulted an officer defending the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to more than 12 years in prison, calling him an « individual hate army » whose harsh punishment could deter future acts of political violence.
The 151-month sentence, handed down in a two-and-a-half-hour hearing in federal district court in Washington, was one of the harshest yet in the Justice Department’s sprawling investigation into the Capitol attack. It stemmed from one of the most harrowing incidents of the day, an assault on a District of Columbia police officer with a Taser-like weapon that left him unconscious and unable to return to his duties.
The defendant, Daniel Rodriguez, 40, who had previously admitted to driving from California to Washington to do an armed battle on behalf of former President Donald J. Trump, expressed some regret for his actions as he asked for leniency at the judge. But upon receiving his sentence, Mr. Rodriguez smiled and let out a defiant yell of « Trump has won! » before being led from the room by federal marshals.
The judge, Amy Berman Jackson, rejected defense arguments that Mr. Rodriguez was the product of a difficult upbringing and that he had been a mostly law-abiding salesman and warehouse worker before being radicalized by what she has called « the irresponsible and knowingly false claims that the election was stolen.
Judge Jackson, his voice rising in disgust as he documented his actions in detail, said he was sympathetic to Mr. Rodriguez’s statement that his extended absence was detrimental to his sick mother, but judged harsh condemnation as serving a higher purpose of safeguarding democracy from constant threats.
« The shadow of tyranny has not disappeared, » said Judge Jackson, appointed by President Barack Obama.
Patriotism, he told Mr. Rodriguez, « is loyalty to your country, not to a single head of state. »
Few of the more than 1,000 people charged in connection with the Capitol attack were as violent as Mr. Rodriguez, a single, fatherless man who, according to his attorney, « idolarated » Mr. Trump and his MAGA movement.
Over the course of nearly two hours at the Capitol on Jan. 6, prosecutors say, Mr. Rodriguez sprayed a fire extinguisher at police, shoved officers with a wooden pole, took part in a « lifting » effort to break police lines and eventually assaulted Officer Michael Fanone of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department – who had rushed to the scene when he heard law enforcement calling for help – striking him twice in the neck with an electroshock device in in the crowd outside the building.
Even then, prosecutors say, Mr. Rodriguez continued to move forward. He entered the Capitol and tried to anger other rioters, they said, and tried to break a window with a pole-like object he found inside. He also ransacked offices, the government says, and instructed other mob members to rummage through drawers « for information ».
When Mr. Rodriguez finally left the Capitol grounds, prosecutors say, he sent a text message to a chat group he’d created called the Patriots 45 MAGA Gang, showing a gallows with the Capitol in the background. The text of the message read: « Unfortunately no democrats were found. »
« These people are fanatics, » Mr. Fanone, who attended the hearing, later said. « They need to be held accountable. »
In court documents filed before the ruling, Mr. Rodriguez’s lawyers wrote that their client was one of millions duped by the former president, who « doubled down on his lies and falsely claimed he won. »
Mr. Rodriguez, who grew up without a father and never completed high school, was one of those people. He « deeply respected and idolized Trump, » the lawyers wrote, adding, « He saw the former president as the father he wished he had. »
But Mr. Rodriguez has done little to help his own cause in the courtroom. He deviated from that script during a rambling 25-minute statement in which he appeared to interpret the run-up to the Capitol attack in nostalgic terms — a time in which he formed bonds with other Trump supporters, practiced military drills, played paintball and smoked marijuana, in his retelling.
« I did what I thought was right at the time, » she said.
Judge Jackson, in pronouncing the sentence, was not influenced. She said she was especially confused by something Mr. Rodriguez had just said: You had armed yourself in anticipation of a confrontation with law enforcement, to participate in a demonstration intended to safeguard police under a « Blue Lives Matter ».
“Today was not the best day to say you had to be armed and ready because the police don’t always do the right thing,” he said, as one of his lawyers slumped in his chair.
Prosecutors say Mr. Rodriguez set up Patriots 45 MAGA Gang on Telegram in the fall of 2020. But after the election — and Mr. Trump’s repeated lies about the result marred by the fraud — the group chat has become « a breeding ground » for » plans of violence against the seat of the federal government”.
Those plans came to fruition, prosecutors said, after Trump posted a message on Twitter on Dec. 19, 2020, summoning his supporters to Washington for a « wild » protest on Jan. 6.
After the Tweet was posted, Mr. Rodriguez urged others in the chat to rent an RV and drive to DC instead of flying so they could carry guns. He also encouraged chat members, prosecutors said, to arm themselves with knives, bear spray and even ax handles.
« There will be blood, » he wrote in chat the night before the Capitol attack. « Welcome to the revolution. »
Edward Badalian, Mr. Rodriguez’s co-defendant and fellow group chat member, was convicted of conspiracy to obstruct official proceedings in April after a trial before Judge Jackson. Mr. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to similar charges and assault in February.
Mr. Fanone, who left the police force and was prominently featured in the courtroom in his cowboy boots and neck tattoos, watched on deadpan as the prosecution played video from his camcorder that showed him blacking out, being dragged safe and asked, feebly, if the agents had repulsed the attackers.
But he couldn’t sit still as Mr. Rodriguez began his lengthy deposition, and fled the courtroom the moment the defendant described his fellow attackers as « a bunch of misfits » who banded together to » smoking weed ».
“We’re all so much dumber just from going through this,” Mr. Fanone said in the hallway.