Facing jail time and dire personal consequences for storming the U.S. Capitol, some Jan. 6 defendants are trying to cash in on their participation in the deadly riot, using it as a platform to raise money, promote business activities and build social media profiles.
A Nevada man jailed for rioting asked his mother to contact publishers for a book he was writing about the “Capitol Incident”. A Washington state rioter helped his father peddle clothing and other merchandise bearing slogans such as “Our Home” and images of the Capitol building. A Virginia man released a rap album with riot-themed songs and a cover photo of himself sitting on a police cruiser outside the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
These actions sometimes complicate matters for defendants when they face judges at sentencing, as prosecutors point to profit-seeking activities in the pursuit of harsher penalties. The Department of Justice, in some cases, tries to recover the money that the rioters have earned from the insurrection.
In one case, federal authorities seized tens of thousands of dollars from a defendant who sold his Jan. 6 footage. In another case, a Florida man’s plea deal allows the US government to collect profits from any book he publishes over the next five years. And prosecutors want a Maine man who raised more than $20,000 from supporters to return some of the money because a taxpayer-funded public defender is representing him.
Many rioters paid a high personal price for their actions on January 6. When sentencing, rioters often ask for clemency on the grounds that they have already suffered serious consequences for their crimes.
They have lost jobs or entire careers. Marriages collapsed. Friends and relatives avoided them or even reported them to the FBI. Strangers sent them hate mail and online threats. And they’ve racked up expensive legal bills to defend themselves against federal charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.
Websites and crowdfunding platforms set up to collect donations for those accused of the Capitol Riots attempt to portray them as abused patriots or even political prisoners.
An anti-vaccine doctor who pleaded guilty to illegally entering the Capitol has founded a nonprofit that has raised more than $430,000 for his legal fees. The fundraising appeal of Dr. Simone Gold’s group, America’s Frontline Doctors, did not mention her guilty plea, prosecutors noted.
Before sentencing Gold to two months behind bars, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper called it ‘unseemly’ that his nonprofit invoked the Capitol riot to raise funds that also allowed him to pay His salary. Prosecutors said in court papers that it was “unbelievable” that she incurred nearly $430,000 in legal costs for her misdemeanor case.
Another rioter, a New Jersey gym owner who punched a police officer during the siege, raised more than $30,000 in online donations for a “Patriot Relief Fund” to cover his mortgage payments and other monthly bills. Prosecutors cited the fund in recommending a fine for Scott Fairlamb, who is serving a prison sentence of more than three years.
“Fairlamb should not be able to ‘capitalize’ on its participation in the Capitol breach in this manner,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote.
Robert Palmer, a Florida man who attacked police officers on Capitol Hill, asked a friend to create a crowdfunding campaign for him online after pleading guilty. After seeing the “Help Patriot Rob” campaign, a probation officer calculating a sentencing recommendation for Palmer did not give him credit for accepting responsibility for his conduct. Palmer conceded that a message for the campaign misrepresented his conduct on Jan. 6. Accepting responsibility can help reduce months, or even years, of a sentence.
“When you threw the fire extinguisher and board at the police, were you acting in self-defence?” asked U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan.
“No, ma’am, I wasn’t,” Palmer said before the judge sentenced him to more than five years in prison.
A group calling itself the Patriot Freedom Project claims to have raised more than $1 million in contributions and paid more than $665,000 in grants and legal fees for the families of the Capitol riot defendants.
In April, a New Jersey-based foundation associated with the group filed a tax exemption claim with the IRS. In early August, an IRS database did not list the foundation as a tax-exempt organization. The Hughes Foundation’s IRS application says its funds will “primarily” benefit the families of the Jan. 6 defendants, with about 60% of donated money going to foundation activities. The rest will cover management and fundraising expenses, including salaries, he adds.
The rioters found other ways to enrich themselves or promote themselves.
Jeremy Grace, who was sentenced to three weeks in prison for entering the Capitol, tried to cash in on his participation by helping his father sell t-shirts, baseball caps, water bottles, decals and other gear with phrases such as “Our home” and “Back the Blue” and images of the Capitol, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Grace’s “audacity” to sell “Back the Blue” props is “particularly disturbing” because he saw other rioters confront police officers on Jan. 6. A defense attorney, however, said Grace did not break any laws or make a profit. by helping his father sell the merchandise.
Federal authorities have seized more than $62,000 from a bank account belonging to riot defendant John Earle Sullivan, a Utah man who made more than $90,000 selling his Jan. 6 video footage to at least six companies. Sullivan’s attorney argued authorities had no right to seize the money.
Richard “Bigo” Barnett, an Arkansas man pictured resting his feet on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s D-California office, has charged donors $100 for photos of him with his feet on a office while under house arrest. Defense attorney Joseph McBride said prosecutors had “no grounds” to prevent Barnett from raising money for his defense ahead of the December trial date.
“Unlike the government, Mr. Barnett does not have the American taxpayer footing the bill for his legal case,” McBride wrote in a court filing.
Texas real estate agent Jennifer Leigh Ryan promoted her business on social media during and after the riot, boasting that she was “getting famous”. In messages sent after Jan. 6, Ryan “considered what business she needed to prepare for as a result of the publicity she received by joining the crowd at the Capitol,” prosecutors said in court documents.
Prosecutors cited Treniss Evans III’s social media activity in recommending a two-month prison sentence for the Texas man, who drank a glass of whiskey in a congressional conference room on Jan. 6. Evans “aggressively exploited” his presence on Capitol Hill to expand his social media following on Gettr, a social media site founded by a former Trump adviser, prosecutors wrote ahead of Evans’ sentencing, scheduled for next Tuesday.
A few rioters write books about the mob attack or have marketed videos they shot during the riot.
A unique provision in Adam Johnson’s plea agreement allows the US government to collect profits on any book he publishes for the next five years. Images of Johnson posing for photos with Pelosi’s podium went viral after the riot. Prosecutors said they insisted on the disposition after learning that Johnson intended to write a memoir “of some sort.”
Ronald Sandlin, a Nevada man accused of assaulting officers near the doors of the Senate gallery, posted on Facebook that he was “working on a Netflix deal” to sell riot video footage. Later, during a jail call, Sandlin told his mother that he had met right-wing author and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza and was in touch with podcaster Joe Rogan. He also asked his mother to contact the publishers of the book he was writing about “the Capitol incident,” prosecutors said.
“I hope to make it into a movie,” Sandlin wrote in a March 2021 text message. “I’m planning on Leonardo DiCaprio playing me,” he wrote, adding a smiley face emoji.