True and false remorse

Yesterday, two major figures in the extreme right wing white nationalist Proud Boys movement that played a major role in the attacks on Congress on January 6th 2021 were sentenced to lengthy prison terms, after having been found guilty earlier.

A leader of the far-right Proud Boys has been sentenced to 17 years in prison, one of the longest terms yet handed out over the US Capitol riot.

US Army veteran Joe Biggs, 38, was an instigator of the storming of Congress on 6 January 2021, prosecutors said.

The former Infowars correspondent was convicted of seditious conspiracy and other charges in May.

The sentence, handed down by US District Judge Timothy Kelly, is below both federal sentencing guidelines and the 33 years sought by prosecutors.

Another Proud Boys member, Zachary Rehl, was sentenced on Thursday to 15 years, also on a charge of seditious conspiracy.

Rehl, a former US Marine and leader of the Philadelphia branch of the Proud Boys, was seen on video spraying a chemical irritant at officers outside the Capitol during the riot.

Biggs was convicted of a slew of charges in May, including seditious conspiracy, intimidation or threats to prevent officials from discharging their duties and interference with law enforcement during civil disorder.

Another prominent participant in the riot, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in May.

Before the sentencing, we saw a familiar pattern. All those rioters who acted brazenly in defiance of the law in the hope of overturning a democratic election and spoke proudly and toughly of doing so, once they were found guilty, expressing tearful remorse for their actions, saying they were misled, in the hope of getting more lenient sentences.

In court, Biggs pleaded for leniency and expressed remorse for his actions.

In court, a tearful Biggs apologised for his actions and said he had been “seduced” by the crowd on the day of the riot.

“I just moved forward. My curiosity got the better of me,” he added. “I’m not a terrorist. I don’t have hate in my heart.”

“I know that I have to be punished, and I understand,” Biggs said.

As he sentenced Biggs, Judge Kelly said he was “not trying to minimise the violence” but that the 6 January riot paled in comparison with other mass casualty events. A stricter sentence, he added, might have created sentencing disparities with other convicted rioters.

Biggs went to trial alongside four other Proud Boys members including former chair Enrique Tarrio, whose sentencing was abruptly postponed on Wednesday. His sentencing is scheduled to take place next week. Prosecutors are seeking a 33-year sentence.

It is hard to judge how genuine these expressions of remorse are, given that they. were made to a judge just before they were sentenced. We have seen other rioters, such as the QAnon shaman, who also tearfully expressed remorse at their sentencing, later say that they were not sorry at all. Also it is rare that people who have developed strong views about something based on years of experience can suddenly abandon those views.

It will be interesting to see what Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys group, says at his sentencing hearing this coming Wednesday. He was not actually present at the riot but was orchestrating things from a distance.

I do not know how judges decide if someone is genuinely remorseful, given that there is little evidence that can be produced in support if it, and and how that should affect their sentencing. I know that there are sentencing guidelines for offenses that come in ranges and maybe judges decide where in that range the sentence should be, given how genuine they think the expressions of remorse are.

Judges have a tough job.

UPDATE: Two more Proud Boys Ethan Nordean and Dominic Pezzola were sentenced today to 18 and 10 years in prison. One of them also tried the remorse angle but it was obviously a fake performance just for the federal judge Timothy Kelly.

Sentencing Pezzola, Kelly said: “You were the one who smashed that window and let people begin to stream into that Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers. It’s not something I would have ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”

Pezzola told the court he was “a changed and humbled man”, his “sorrow and regret … unimaginable”.

After Kelly left the courtroom and as US marshals led him away, Pezzola smiled, raised his hand and shouted: “Trump won,” according to a report from local news station WUSA.


  1. Holms says

    I’m guessing the remorse is genuine for those few days where they have the nervous anticipation of what is to come, only for it to fade and be repented as set about getting on with life in their new circumstances. Whatever the answer however, their tears sure are delicious.

  2. Jörg says


    I do not know how judges decide if someone is genuinely remorseful, given that there is little evidence that can be produced in support if it, and and how that should affect their sentencing.

    Evidence for the plausibility of remorse would be the defendant’s cooperation with the prosecution, and comprehensive testimony.

  3. says

    There’s lots of remorse when your actions cause you to be on the receiving end of the hammer. Not so much when you’re the one hammering.

    I have little doubt that if their sentences were lenient, they’d go right back to what they were doing. Fascist is what fascist does, right?

  4. Matt G says

    If a bunch of liberals behaved this way, they’d be baying for the firing squad. The hypocrisy has no limits.

  5. brightmoon says

    Well the Proud Boys are starting to target drag queens. Easier to abuse them than take over the government, I guess . 🙄I im glad they got the book thrown at them. They’re lucky, the prosecution was asking for more time

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