WASHINGTON — The first “Stop the Steal” speaker to be charged in connection with the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol avoided jail time Monday thanks in part to his cooperation with the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the Capitol riot.
Brandon Straka, 45, pleaded guilty in October to one misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. He appeared before U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on Monday for sentencing, and was ordered to serve 90 days of home detention as part of a three-year probationary sentence. Straka will also have to pay $5,000 in fines, in addition to $500 in restitution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brittany Reed told Friedrich Straka’s conduct on January 6 was “egregious” and that – despite the cooperation agreement he’d taken that got him out of a felony charge of impeding law enforcement during civil disorder – he should not be lumped in with other defendants who were caught up in the heat of the moment.
Straka, a right-wing activist who’s amassed more than a half-million followers on Twitter, founded the #WalkAway social media campaign during the 2018 midterm elections. He describes himself on Twitter as a “former liberal” on a “mission to #RedPill humanity” – a reference to the Matrix series commonly used in conservative circles to describe actions to convert others to their cause.
Straka was invited to speak at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Freedom Plaza in D.C. on January 5. Leading up to January 6, prosecutors said Straka posted messages to his followers saying a civil war had begun and that “we’re not going to be peaceful much longer.”
On January 6 itself, prosecutors said Straka headed to the U.S. Capitol after receiving texts that the building had already been breached. Once there, videos show him encouraging other members of the mob to steal an officer’s riot shield and discussing his desire to enter the building. Afterward, he posted messages encouraging rioters to “hold the line” and comparing January 6 to 1776.
“I’m completely confused. For 6-8 weeks everybody on the right has been saying ‘1776!” & that if congress [sic] moves forward it will mean a revolution! So congress moves forward. Patriots storm the Capitol – now everybody is virtue signaling their embarrassment that this happened,” Straka wrote in one tweet.
Straka’s attorney, Bilal A. Essayli, told Friedrich the DOJ was “trying to have it both ways” by allowing Straka to plead to a misdemeanor while claiming he was responsible for inciting violence against officers.
In a sentencing memo, Essayli noted Straka had turned over passwords to all of his seized electronic devices and had sat for three interviews with the Justice Department, during which he “provided information on individuals the government was investigating in separate cases.”
During Monday’s hearing, however, Essayli attempted to portray Straka as the target of overzealous prosecutors. Friedrich expressed skepticism about that.
“He wants me to believe he was there completely oblivious to what was going on around him, that he was just a peaceful protester, and it’s very hard to believe that based on his conduct and his statements,” Friedrich said.
Ultimately, Friedrich landed on a three-year probationary sentence as well as a $5,000 fine. She said the financial disclosures in the case showed Straka – who has claimed to have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from followers for his legal defense – could afford to pay it. Straka will also be placed on location monitoring for the first 90 days of his sentence, which will be served on home detention.
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