The 15-year sentence for Zachary Rehl was the third longest sentence handed down yet in the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol.
Two former leaders of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group, including former Philadelphia chapter leader Zachary Rehl, were sentenced to more than a decade each in prison Thursday for spearheading an attack on the US Capitol to try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election.
The 17-year prison term for organizer Joseph Biggs and 15-year sentence for leader Rehl were the second and third longest sentences handed down yet in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.
Rehl and Biggs were convicted of charges including seditious conspiracy, a rarely brought Civil War-era offense.
In handing down the sentences, US District Judge Timothy Kelly, said the Jan. 6 attack trampled on an “important American custom,” certifying the Electoral College vote.
“That day broke our tradition of peacefully transferring power, which is among the most precious things that we had as Americans,” the judge said, emphasizing that he was using the past tense in light of how Jan. 6 affected the process.
Defense attorneys argued that the Justice Department was unfairly holding their clients responsible for the violent actions of others in the crowd of Trump supporters at the Capitol.
For Rehl, prosecutors asked for a 30-year prison sentence. He was seen on video spraying a chemical irritant at law enforcement officers outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, but he repeatedly lied about that assault while he testified at his trial, said prosecutor Erik Kenerson. “He tried to craft a narrative to fit the evidence and he was caught,” Kenerson said.
Rehl also led at least three other men into the Capitol and into a senator’s office, where he smoked and posed for pictures while flashing the Proud Boys’ hand gesture, prosecutors said in court documents.
“Rehl led an army to attempt to stop the certification proceeding, was proud that they got as close as they did, and his only regret in the immediate aftermath was that they did not go further,” they wrote in a court filing.
Kelly read from some of the “chilling” messages Rehl sent after Jan. 6, including one, the judge said, that read, “Everyone should have showed up armed and taken the country back the right way.” The judge shook his head and said, “I mean, my God.”
Rehl sobbed as he told the judge he deeply regretted being at the Capitol that day. “I’m done with all of it, done peddling lies for other people who don’t care about me,” Rehl said. “Politicians started spreading lies about the election, and I fell for it hook, line and sinker.”
Defense attorney Norman Pattis, who represents Biggs and Rehl, said they are “misguided patriots,” not terrorists, and said long sentences would fuel division.
Rehl and others who rioted at the Capitol that day were following Trump’s urging, and genuinely believed that something was fundamentally wrong with the election when they took to the streets, he said. “What they’re guilty of is believing the president who said the election was stolen from him,” Pattis said.
Kelly acknowledged that was a factor, but a “very modest one.”
With Rehl’s sentencing, 37 Pennsylvanians have been sentenced for participating in the Jan. 6 attack, with several others still awaiting sentencing. Two others died by suicide while waiting to be sentenced.
More than 80 Pennsylvanians have been arrested for taking part in the Jan. 6 attack. According to the Justice Department, only Florida and Texas have had more residents arrested in connection to the insurrection.
In total, more than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Over 600 of them have been convicted and sentenced.
Keystone senior community manager Patrick Berkery contributed to this report.
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