Philadelphia Proud Boys leader sentenced to 15 years in prison for Jan 6 crimes

The former leader of a Philadelphia chapter of the neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys who stormed the halls of Congress on January 6 has been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Zachary Rehl, the son and grandson of Philadelphia police officers who used pepper spray against law enforcement outside the US Capitol then lied on the witness stand about it, had called for “firing squads” for “traitors” who wanted to “steal” the 2020 election from Donald Trump.

He was convicted of seditious conspiracy earlier this year alongside three other members and allies of the group for their roles in an assault that federal prosecutors said “unleashed a force on the Capitol that was calculated to exert their political will on elected officials by force” to “undo the results of a democratic election.”

US District Judge Timothy Kelly determined that Rehl committed perjury during the trial when he denied assaulting anyone. Video evidence appeared to show him using a chemical spray against police as the mob broke through barricades and marched to the Capitol.

Rehl’s sentence is among the largest against defendants connected to the attack on the US Capitol during a joint session of Congress as lawmakers convened to certify election results.

Joe Biggs, a prominent figure within the Proud Boys who marched to the Capitol alongside Rehl, was sentenced to 17 years in prison on 31 August, now the second longest sentence for a January 6 defendant to date. Judge Kelly also issued that sentence.

The sentences for Biggs and Rehl are 15 years below sentencing guidelines and roughly half of what prosecutors have asked in their cases.

A jury had convicted both Rehl and Biggs on the treason-related charge of seditious conspiracy as well as conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of an official proceeding; conspiracy to use force, intimidation or threats to prevent officers from discharging their duties; interference with law enforcement during civil disorder; and destruction of government property.

Sentencing guidelines suggested Rehl could face 30 years to life in prison. Federal prosecutors sought 30 years.

Prosecutors also had sought 33 years for Biggs and former Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who is scheduled to be sentenced on 5 September. Co-defendants Ethan Nordean and Dominic Pezzola will be sentenced on 1 September.

Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs are pictured marching towards the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021. (AP)
Proud Boys members Zachary Rehl, Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs are pictured marching towards the US Capitol on 6 January, 2021. (AP)

Proud Boys emerged as what one former member called the “foot soldiers of the right” using the guise of male-dominated drinking clubs to wield threats and physical violence against political enemies, particularly antifascist organizers, while rallying against LGBT+ people and employing white nationalist and antisemitic tropes.

“They turned that vigilantism from antifa to law enforcement and the government itself,” Assistant US Attorney Erik Kenerson told Judge Kelly. “Mr Rehl embraced that vigilantism, and he eventually used it to try to impose his vision of America by force.”

Pennsylvania-area Proud Boys played an outsized role in the attack, from planning in group chats to joining the mob that breached barricades and broke into the Capitol on 6 January, 2021. In messages on social media, Rehl – a former US Marine – called for “firing squads for the traitors that are trying to steal the election.”

“F*** ‘em, storm the Capitol,” Rehl shouted into a video he recorded moments after breaching a police line. Minutes later, video captures him firing what appears to be chemical spray towards officers in his path.

Pezzola seized a riot shield from an officer and used it to break a window, through which the first members of the mob entered the Capitol, according to an indictment. Once inside, Rehl posed for selfies with other members of the Philadelphia Proud Boys chapter and smoked cigarettes as rioters broke into the office of Democratic US Senator Jeff Merkley.

“Looking back, it sucked,” Rehl wrote in a message to Philadelphia chapter members the day after the attack. “We should have held the Capitol … Everyone shoulda showed up armed and took the country back the right way.”

During the trial, Rehl expressed regret for his actions that day, admitting that he felt much differently about the assault in the months that followed than he did in its immediate aftermath as he celebrated with other Proud Boys. At his sentencing hearing, he broke down in tears, pointing to the baseless narrative of election fraud and manipulation that fuelled the attack in the first place, and apologizing to his family who suffered in its wake.

“Politicians spread lies about elections,” he said. “I fell for it hook, line and sinker … It cost me everything.”