© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Police clear the U.S. Capitol Building with tear gas as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather outside, in Washington, U.S. January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith
By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Far-right Oath Keepers militant group member Roberto Minuta was sentenced to four and a half years in prison on Thursday after he was convicted of seditious conspiracy and other crimes arising from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by then-President Donald Trump’s supporters.
“You can feel a way about a government and about the way it’s treating its citizens without resorting to violence,” U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said. “That is why you find yourself where you are today.”
Minuta’s sentencing comes just one week after Mehta sentenced Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes to 18 years in prison following his November conviction for seditious conspiracy and other charges.
Rhodes received the longest prison term handed down to any of the 1,000-plus people charged in the attack that was intended to block Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory over Republican Trump.
Mehta is due to sentence Minuta’s co-defendant Edward Vallejo at 1:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.
Minuta, who provided a security detail to Trump ally Roger Stone during political rallies on the day of the attack, entered the Capitol with other Oath Keepers and, according to prosecutors, pushed past police officers while screaming obscene language.
Minuta on Thursday said he regretted the violent and profane rhetoric he used on Jan. 6, which was captured on video and played for the jury during his trial in moments he said made him cringe.
“As a father I would be embarrassed for my children to see me behave the way I did on that day,” he said. “I’m sincerely disgusted by my behavior.”
He added that he has since disavowed the Oath Keepers and feels “repulsed” by Rhodes’ lack of remorse for his conduct on Jan. 6.
Mehta told Minuta he was not convicted based solely on his own words.
“It’s because your words reflected your state of mind. Your words gave us a window into what you were thinking and ultimately why you came to Washington,” Mehta said.
The sentence Mehta imposed was far lower than the 17-year prison term the government had requested.
“Mr. Minuta is dangerous individual” due to his “warped sense of patriotism,” federal prosecutor Troy Edwards said.
“Mr. Minuta to this very day has not shown remorse for what he did. Throughout his pretrial release he took to Twitter to call Jan. 6 defendants political prisoners,” Edwards said.
Vallejo was not at the Capitol on the day of the attack. Prosecutors said he stayed at a suburban Virginia hotel where the Oath Keepers had staged a “quick reaction force” and stashed firearms to be quickly ferried into Washington if needed.
Matthew Peed, Vallejo’s attorney, sought to shift blame to Trump, who during a speech to supporters shortly before the riot repeated his false claims that the election had been stolen from him through widespread voting fraud and urged them to march on the Capitol and “fight like hell.”
“The tragedy of Jan. 6 is that hundreds of lifelong law-abiding people like Edward Vallejo were lied to by the sitting president and told that the certification was an orchestrated assault on our democracy,” Peed wrote in his sentencing memo.
In addition to Rhodes, three other co-defendants were sentenced last week to between four and 12 years in prison.
Two of those three were acquitted of seditious conspiracy – a felony charge involving attempts “to overthrow, put down or to destroy by force the government of the United States” – but convicted on other felony counts.
Joseph Hackett and David Moerschel, co-defendants in the trial in which Minuta and Vallejo were convicted – are due to be sentenced on Friday.
They too were convicted of seditious conspiracy and other crimes. The prosecution has recommended a sentence of 12 years in prison for Hackett and 10 for Moerschel.