WASHINGTON — Conservative influencer Brandon Straka was sentenced on Monday to three years of probation after he admitted to enthusiastically joining and encouraging the pro-Trump mob that stormed the US Capitol just over a year ago.
Straka had argued against long-term court supervision, but US District Judge Dabney Friedrich found that three years of probation was necessary as an incentive for him to stay out of trouble. The judge also ordered Straka to spend three months on home detention and pay a $5,000 fine. The judge rejected the government’s recommendation of computer monitoring as a condition of probation, finding that Straka’s social media posts, while “deeply troubling” to the extent he defended the storming of the Capitol, didn’t include specific calls for violence.
“[Straka] as well as others who were at the US Capitol on January 6 have a First Amendment right to say and to think whatever they believe. Mr. Straka also has a First Amendment right to share his views with others. But trespassing on restricted grounds is not covered by the First Amendment,” Friedrich said.
Friedrich scoffed at efforts by Straka’s lawyer to suggest he wasn’t aware of the violence taking place by the time he arrived at the Capitol and expressed serious concern about his tweets and public statements defending the breach. Friedrich said she considered his conduct more “egregious” than other cases she’d handled in which people who pleaded guilty to similar offenses in connection with Jan. 6 received probation. But the judge also acknowledged that Straka wasn’t accused of going inside or of committing violence himself.
Straka, the founder of the #WalkAway campaign and a self-described “former liberal,” became a conservative commentator and social media influencer after posting a video that went viral in 2018 announcing his decision to leave the Democratic Party. He boosted former president Donald Trump’s lies about fraud in the 2020 election, including social media posts that featured lines such as “We can not allow a transition to [President Joe] Biden under these circumstances” and “It’s time to rise up!”
Straka spoke at a Jan. 5, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC, and joined the mob that descended on the Capitol the next day.
The FBI received a string of tips about Straka’s participation in the insurrection. Several witnesses, including an unnamed person who identified themself as a relative, highlighted a video that Straka had posted on Twitter that appeared to show him near an entrance to the Capitol; the video was later removed from the platform, but the relative provided a copy that had been posted on YouTube. In the video, according to the FBI, Straka could be heard urging other people to go inside the Capitol — there was no evidence he entered the building — and to take away a shield from a US Capitol Police officer.
Later in the afternoon, as police worked to clear people out of the building so that Congress could continue certifying the results of the Electoral College, Straka tweeted, “Patriots at the Capitol- HOLD.THE.Line.” He also posted a thread defending the storming of the Capitol, according to excerpts of tweets (his account is not public) that the government included in its court filings.
“Also- be embarrassed & hide if you need to- but I was there. It was not Antifa at the Capitol. It was freedom-loving Patriots who were DESPERATE to fight for the final hope of our Republic because literally nobody cares about them. Everyone else can denounce them. I will not,” Straka tweeted. The next day, he posted a nearly hourlong video claiming that when he’d tweeted in defense of the mob, he “had no idea that there was any vandalism or violence or any of that stuff.”
The original set of charges filed against Straka included a felony for interfering with law enforcement during a civil disorder, but he ended up taking a deal with prosecutors and faced a single misdemeanor count for disorderly conduct. Straka admitted to the conduct described in the video — including joining the crowd in urging other rioters to take an officer’s shield — as part of his plea.
Straka voluntarily participated in interviews with the FBI and prosecutors, and the government described him as “cooperative” in its court filings. Prosecutors didn’t share details about what information he provided. Straka’s lawyer claimed the interviews were “focused on establishing an organized conspiracy between defendant, President Donald J. Trump, and allies of the former president” and that Straka “answered all questions truthfully and denied the existence of any such plot.” There was little discussion about his conversations with investigators during Monday’s hearing; the prosecutor confirmed to the judge that they believed he’d been “truthful” and “helpful.”
Straka pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor for disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Friedrich’s sentence largely matched the recommendation from the government; the prosecutor had argued, in addition to probation, for four months of home detention versus the three months that the judge imposed, and Friedrich noted her surprise that they hadn’t asked for a fine. Although Straka had urged other rioters to go into the building and take a shield away from a police officer, and tweeted support for the insurrection afterward, the government said he deserved credit for expressing remorse later and being cooperative with investigators.
Straka had argued against any period of probation — which involves supervision of his activities by a court officer and restrictions on his ability to travel, among other things — asking instead to be sentenced to the equivalent of the two days he’d spent in custody after his arrest or some combination of home detention and community service. He also asked the judge to order him to pay the top-end fine of $5,000.
Straka’s request for no probation was unusual. Everyone sentenced in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection after pleading guilty has received some period of probation if they’ve avoided incarceration. Last week, one of Friedrich’s colleagues on the DC federal bench rejected another Jan. 6 defendant’s request for a $50 fine and no other punishment, and instead imposed one year of probation and two months of home detention.
Shortly before Friedrich announced the sentence, Straka read a statement he’d prepared. He said that the person the government described in its sentencing brief couldn’t be more “dissimilar” to who he is. He apologized for his conduct on Jan. 6, described himself as a supporter of police and the concept of “back the blue,” and said his followers wouldn’t support him if he promoted violence.