WASHINGTON — A former D.C. bartender who joined the Proud Boys in the weeks after the 2020 election and heeded the group’s call to go to the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6 was sentenced Monday to 55 months in prison for obstructing the joint session of Congress.
Joshua Pruitt, 40, appeared before U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly Monday morning facing a request by the government that he serve five years in prison for joining, and at times helping to lead, a mob that entered the Capitol. Prosecutors said Pruitt was among the first rioters to enter the Crypt when police were pushed out of the area, and that he served as a menacing presence in a “Punisher” t-shirt and tactical gloves that helped to intimidate officers and “embolden” the crowd. Most seriously, they said, Pruitt was one of only a handful of rioters who came face-to-face with a member of Congress – in Pruitt’s case, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose security detail immediately rerouted the senator’s evacuation after seeing Pruitt in the Capitol Visitor’s Center.
“One look at Pruitt, and the leader of Senator Schumer’s security detail immediately saw the threat and hustled the 70-year-old Senator down a hallway, having to change their evacuation route on a dime,” assistant U.S. attorney Alexis Loeb wrote in her sentencing memo. “As the leader of the security detail later told the FBI, when he saw Pruitt coming toward them, only seconds from reaching Senator Schumer, it was harrowing – a moment, he told the FBI, he would never forget.”
Pruitt was one of a relatively small number of rioters arrested on Jan. 6 itself for violating D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s curfew order. He was indicted on eight counts on Jan. 27, 2021, and pleaded guilty in June of this year to one felony count of obstruction of an official proceeding.
On Monday, Loeb focused heavily on Pruitt’s involvement in a pre-Jan. 6 encrypted chat with other Proud Boys. According to messages from that chat included in the Justice Department’s sentencing memo, members wrote about a “looming civil war” and the possibility of violence on Jan. 6 – including their desire to use “normies,” non-members of the group, to provide cover at the Capitol.
“Have fun but know it could turn hot,” one message not written by Pruitt read. “Once word comes down about the electoral votes, the normies will make a stink. Make a stink with them.”
In another message, another Proud Boy wrote, “If unrest begins, go with the flow.”
Prosecutors said Pruitt, who had been given the Proud Boys oath by former chairman Enrique Tarrio in December and wanted to do anything required to become a full-fledged member of the group, was an active participant in the chat. In one message noting his girlfriend had recently left him, Pruitt wrote that he had become “even more dangerous.” In other messages after Tarrio was arrested on Jan. 4 for his role in the burning of a church’s Black Lives Matter flag, Pruitt told the chat, “I’m going for blood now,” and “No, I’m in f***ing battle mode.”
Pruitt’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, said Monday if his client’s participation in pre-planning the event had been as serious as prosecutors portrayed it, he would be facing a conspiracy or sedition charge. He also downplayed Pruitt’s lengthy criminal history – which spans at least nine incidents, including charge of assaulting a police officer (which resulted in a pretrial diversion program), a conviction for harassment and an arrest for violating a protection order a week before Jan. 6 – as the result of Pruitt’s alcohol abuse. Pruitt was on both probation and pretrial release on Jan. 6 and was wearing a court-ordered ankle monitor when he entered the Capitol. Prosecutors also pointed out Monday that Pruitt had refused to participate in a court-ordered alcohol abuse treatment program, and that he’d had his pretrial release revoked in his Jan. 6 case because of repeated violations.
Although prosecutors said in initial charging documents that Pruitt had bragged he’d “dropped” a police officer on Jan. 6, he was never charged with assault and no evidence was presented of any assaultive conduct on his part. Loeb argued Pruitt had emboldened and facilitated assaults by other rioters through his presence and menacing appearance – as well as through a large wooden sign across the atrium – just like the Proud Boys had discussed doing in their chat.
Judge Kelly, who served as a federal prosecutor and as chief counsel for national security to the Senate Judiciary Committee before being appointed to the federal bench in 2017 by former President Donald Trump, wrestled most visibly with how to weigh Pruitt’s encounter with Schumer. Kelly said there was no evidence Pruitt had intentionally sought out Schumer – unlike other rioters, he noted, who walked through the halls yelling, “Where is Nancy Pelosi?” – and there was also no evidence Pruitt had identified Schumer.
“It would be different if I had him seeing Mr. Schumer and making a beeline to get to him,” Kelly said.
But, Kelly said, he also didn’t intend to minimize the statements of officers who said they felt Pruitt was chasing them or that they believed Schumer was in such imminent danger they needed to immediately reroute him. Kelly also said he believed it was fair to weigh how deeply a Jan. 6 defendant had penetrated into the Capitol.
In their presentencing report, pretrial services officers recommended Pruitt be ordered to serve 63 months behind bars. Prosecutors asked for 60, and Jenkins argued for 36 months – some or all of which to be served on home confinement. After a brief deliberation Monday, Kelly landed on 55 months, to be followed by 36 months of supervised release.
“What you planned to do that day, and what you did do, was intimidate and at least threaten violence as part of this mob,” Kelly said.
The judge also said the fact that Pruitt had gotten so close to Schumer “absolutely has to be deterred” and, in response to Jenkins’ characterization of Pruitt’s criminal history, said he’d been given fair notice that, “Goodness gracious, you have a problem that needs to be addressed.”
Kelly agreed to recommend Pruitt serve his sentence at the federal correctional facility in Butner, North Carolina, to be near his sister.
Though Pruitt was not charged with other Proud Boys now under indictment for seditious conspiracy, his case carries implications for future prosecutions of members of the group. The encrypted messages recovered from the Proud Boys chat via Pruitt’s phone are among the most direct evidence of pre-planning published in court filings so far. Kelly is also presiding over the cases of the five Proud Boys, Tarrio among them, in the seditious conspiracy case. Along with the same obstruction charge Pruitt pleaded guilty to and the seditious conspiracy charge, all five defendants were also indicted on two counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding police – something Kelly warned Pruitt would have garnered him a much longer sentence. All five defendants in the case have pleaded not guilty and are currently scheduled to begin trial before a jury on Dec. 12.
We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.