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September 29, 2022
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Capitol sergeant who survived Jan. 6 fears another attack over Trump’s election lies

Capitol sergeant who survived Jan. 6 fears another attack over Trump’s election lies

WASHINGTON — A U.S. Capitol Police sergeant who came face-to-face with a Proud Boy during the deadly riot on Jan. 6, 2021, said this week that he fears another attack could stem from Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election and rage over the search of his Mar-a-Lago home.

“I live with the fear of another attack happening due to the rhetoric that is currently discussed ad nauseum on social media, radio, and the news,” wrote the sergeant, identified only by the initials “C.T.” in court documents. “It is exhausting to the point where I don’t watch/follow any form of media anymore since I seem to live the news daily.”

He delivered his remarks in a stark victim impact statement in the case of Joshua Pruitt, a member of the far-right Proud Boys organization who will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly on Friday.

Americans can’t “stand back and stand by” and “become complicit” about the election lies that are undermining American democracy, he wrote. Months before the riot, Donald Trump had told the extremist group to “stand back and stand by” when asked during a presidential debate to disavow white supremacy, prompting them to plead allegiance to him.

Inside the Capitol complex on Jan. 6, the sergeant faced off with Pruitt, who pleaded guilty to a felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding in June.

Joshua Pruitt picks up a “Quiet Please” sign and throws it across an atrium at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.U.S. District Court for D.C.

Pruitt, a former D.C. bartender, admitted that he smashed a sign inside the Capitol, tossed a chair in officer’s direction, and came into close contact with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as his security detail rushed him to safety while rioters ransacked offices.

Federal prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo filed Friday that they want Pruitt to spend five years in federal prison.

In the victim impact statement filed with the sentencing memo, the sergeant wrote that he hasn’t been sleeping well since the attack and he wakes up tired most days. His wife says he tosses and turns more at night than he used to.

He wrote that the anxiety in his household over his job has been “overwhelming” and it is difficult to concentrate. He added that his friends, who would’ve described him as very outgoing before Jan. 6, have noticed that he’s become more withdrawn and tries to avoid large crowds. 

Pruitt was at the front line amid a skirmish between police and rioters in front of doors leading to underground tunnels in the Capitol, according to prosecutors, as well as when rioters reportedly challenged officers to fight after one of their own sprayed a chemical irritant.

The sergeant described Pruitt as “an agitator” who would “poke the bear continuously,” getting into officers’ personal space in hopes of provoking a reaction. He wrote that Pruitt had told him to “stop eyeballing me” during an exchange.

Joshua Pruitt outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. U.S. District for D.C.

He also stressed that Pruitt should be punished to the full extent of the law to send a message to others believers of election fraud conspiracies who “seek to enact change through violent means.”

Rioters “were given a path to succeed by a bold lie” and the “continued inaction” of those who aided their movement, the sergeant wrote. Right-wing militia groups “sought to undermine our democratic process of the peaceful transfer of power because they believed a lie told by someone who encouraged their behavior.”

Without naming Trump, the sergeant wrote, “A man gave these men and women an outlet for their extremist ideologies as well as permission to feel empowered by their beliefs to act out because they didn’t get their way.”

He continued, “A man told these militia groups, ‘To stand back and stand by’ which then served as a rallying cry and encouraged them to continue their extremist ways, to prepare to fight ‘the injustice’ and the ‘fraudulent election.’ The Right wing ideology that these groups and individuals hold dear is in fact a cancer within our society.”

With weeks until the midterm elections, the sergeant wrote that other political candidates “who lost by overwhelming majorities” have called “their loss a fraudulent election,” choosing a “new narrative” when things don’t go their way.

He likened their behavior to “a toddlers temper tantrum,” and drew from his experience as a parent to warn that, “If it isn’t addressed immediately the tantrums become worse and worse.”

The U.S. legal system, he continued, “must not tolerate any form of insurrection or coup due to a lie.”

“To not hold these individuals accountable for their actions will only encourage this horrific behavior again and again when they do not get their way,” he added. “And if we ‘stand back and stand by’ as a democratic country then we have become complicit and will allow the cancer to spread exponentially and the downfall of our democracy will fail in vain.”

Johsua Pruitt and an associate dressed in tactical gear head downtown to meet up with other members of their Proud Boys chapter at the rally on Jan. 6, 2021.U.S. District Court for D.C.

In a separate victim impact statement, another member of the Capitol Police, identified as Special Agent M.L., described the suffering that his family has endured in the aftermath of the riot.

“My wife and daughter understand that their husband and father could have died that day, like some of my colleagues. They will never rest easy whenever I go to work again,” the special agent wrote. “One of the hardest moments of my life was returning home and seeing my wife at 2:30am weeping in despair and relief knowing that I made it home … No one should ever wake up not knowing if a loved one will come home.”

The special agent, who was with Schumer when they encountered Pruitt on Jan. 6, said he still thinks about the attack constantly.

“Every day I enter the beacon of our country, the U.S. Capitol, I relive the memories of that day, and none are as impactful as the moments I saw Mr. Pruitt approaching us with the intent to inflict harm to the Majority Leader,” he wrote. “It was only due to our teams preplanning of alternate evacuations procedures and quick actions that this impending meeting did not result in blood shed or serious bodily injury.”

Praising the “heroism, bravery, and resolve of my colleagues held our democracy together as it was on the brink of peril,” the special agent recalled that he never “thought that such a tragedy would come at the hands of fellow Americans.”

Prosecutors’ sentencing memo for Pruitt includes racist and anti-semitic messages he exchanged with the Proud Boys, whose members have been indicted on seditious conspiracy charges.

A previously released document, which prosecutors said was used by the leader of the Proud Boys, laid out a plan to occupy buildings in the Capitol.

The government’s latest filing in Pruitt’s case included further “directives” given to the group’s members a day before the riot, which read, “If the unrest begins, go with the flow. Let the normies wake up America. Show them the PEOPLE are pissed.”

Prosecutors wrote that the Maryland-DC chapter of the extremist group, who had planned to go to the Capitol at least by Jan. 4, sought to “intimidate Congress and anticipated conflict with police who might stand in their way.”

More than 2,500 people stormed the Capitol and hundreds have been charged with assaulting or resisting law enforcement officers outside the building. As NBC News has reported, the FBI is in possession of the names of hundreds of additional rioters who either entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 or are wanted for assaulting officers outside, and have not yet been arrested. The Justice Department has asked Congress for additional resources to bring such potential cases to fruition.

“We don’t have the manpower,” one official told NBC News.

After a steady stream, the pace of arrests has slowed in recent months. Last week saw two new defendants detained, including Antonio LaMotta, a QAnon believer from Virginia who had previously been arrested for showing up armed outside a ballot-counting location in Philadelphia. Online sleuths had spotted LaMotta inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 in surveillance footage that was made public about a year before his arrest.

More than 350 defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the riot. The first eight Jan. 6 defendants to face a jury trial — Guy ReffittThomas RobertsonDustin ThompsonThomas WebsterTimothy Hale-CusanelliAnthony Robert Williams, Matthew Bledsoe, and Erik Herrera — were convicted on every count they faced. Several other defendants have been convicted by judges during bench trials, and just one defendant was fully acquitted.

Reffitt, a Texas extremist whose own son warned the FBI about his father ahead of the riot, and Robertson, a Virginia police officer who stormed the Capitol with a gas mask and while armed with a stick, received the longest sentences in a Jan. 6 case so far. Both got 87 months — more than seven years — in federal prison.

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