WASHINGTON — A North Carolina man who traveled to Washington, DC, with a cache of guns and ammunition on Jan. 6 and texted about “putting a bullet” in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “noggin” the day after the insurrection was sentenced Tuesday to 28 months in prison.
Cleveland Meredith Jr. had tried to get to DC for the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the assault on the US Capitol but arrived late in the day because of car trouble. He sent a series of texts to friends and family that threatened violence while he was en route and the day after the attack, including the Jan. 7 message that featured in the felony charge he pleaded guilty to: “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi CUNT’s speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.”
Announcing Meredith’s sentence, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that threats against lawmakers, members of the executive branch, judges, and the media were multiplying, and she lamented that even certain public officials — she did not name names — “think nothing of calling for someone’s head if they disagree with them.” She said that it wasn’t enough for someone in Meredith’s position to say later that they were joking or didn’t intend to act on a threat.
“That is the most tired and hollow excuse and this sentence needs to clearly express that these kinds of statements cannot be shrugged off,” Jackson said. “They cannot be erased by adding ‘LOL’ at the end.”
Jackson repeated criticism she’s made before in the context of the Jan. 6 prosecutions about former president Donald Trump and his allies continuing to push the lie that the 2020 election was stolen. She said those claims were still being “amplified” and, “worse,” that it had become “heresy” for Republicans to say otherwise. Jackson said it had to be “crystal clear” that it isn’t patriotism or “standing up for America” to threaten members of another political party and terrorize people “at the behest” of a candidate who lost an election.
“It is the definition of tyranny and authoritarianism” regardless of whether the people who respond to that call think it’s a “lark” or take it seriously, the judge said. “I can’t just say, ‘Okay, Mr. Meredith, you can go home now.’”
Meredith was arrested at his hotel in DC after the relative he’d texted the Pelosi threat to alerted Meredith’s mother, and she contacted the FBI. At the time, he had an assault-style rifle with a telescopic sight, a semiautomatic gun, more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition, and high-capacity magazines.
He’ll receive credit for the approximately 11 months that he’s already spent in jail. Jackson ordered him to comply with mental health treatment, crediting arguments made by his lawyer that his behavior in January was in part because of untreated illness. Once he’s released, he’ll spend three years on supervised release. Jackson said she planned to stay involved in his reentry progress.
Tuesday’s hearing had started with a few setbacks for Meredith, with Jackson deciding that the estimated sentencing range he faced was higher than what his lawyer and the government had negotiated in his plea deal. Over objections from defense attorney Paul Kiyonaga, the judge concluded that two “enhancements” applied to his case — that there was evidence showing his intent to act on the threat against Pelosi, and that Pelosi qualified as an “official victim” because Meredith’s threat was rooted in her status as speaker of the House.
The plea deal had estimated that his sentencing range was either 6 to 12 months in prison or 18 to 24 months. The enhancements applied by the judge bumped up the range to 37 to 46 months. These guidelines aren’t binding on judges — Jackson ultimately concluded it was more prison time than was necessary — but judges consider them as important benchmarks and they served as the foundation for the government’s recommendation that Meredith receive a sentence in the middle of whatever range the court adopted.
Kiyonaga had argued that his client was “a lot of talk,” that the threat against Pelosi was “bullshit,” and that Meredith had legitimate reasons for traveling with weapons unrelated to carrying out violence against Pelosi or others — he’d wanted to use the guns recreationally during an earlier trip to Colorado and also wanted protection in case he encountered “social unrest.” Jackson was unconvinced, saying that the fact that Meredith had packed an “arsenal” of guns and ammunition and traveled with them when he sent the threat was enough to boost his sentencing range.
In arguing for a stiff prison sentence, Assistant US Attorney Anthony Franks highlighted the series of messages that Meredith had sent aside from the one he’d been charged for about shooting Pelosi. They included bragging about bringing weapons to DC to surround and “slowly constrict” the city and threatening to shoot DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and “Burn DC to the FKG ground.”
As the violence unfolded on Jan. 6, a friend texted Meredith, “I think Trump wants you to go home peacefully!!” Meredith replied: “Bullshit, he wants HEADS and I’m gonna deliver.”
On Jan. 7, in response to a message asking if he’d be back home that evening, Meredith replied: “Strategizing on best way to assault this city...do I go in fast on Sportbike or do I go in the back door on dirt bike Staying one more day since I got here late, need to FK with these commies.”
Franks argued that Meredith’s threat against Pelosi was “troubling” and “disgusting,” and that the sentence should be harsh enough to deter him from doing something similar in the future and also send a message to others.
Kiyonaga argued for a sentence limited to the time that Meredith already served in jail, followed by a period of supervised release. He argued that Meredith had been “plagued” by a “deepening sense of lack of purpose,” as well as largely untreated mental illness leading up to Jan. 6. Meredith found that purpose in conspiracy theories, including the QAnon collective delusion, Kiyonaga said, and viewed the events at the Capitol as a “vindication” of what he believed.
Kiyonaga insisted that Meredith had no plan to act on any threats, and that the texts he sent reflected “rapid-fire,” “let your hair down” messages that a person would send to family members. He highlighted the cases of defendants facing less serious charges in connection with Jan. 6 who also voiced threats about Pelosi and other public officials, including one woman who was recorded as she left the Capitol saying, “We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain, but we didn’t find her,” but wasn’t charged with making threats; that defendant, Dawn Bancroft, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for illegally demonstrating in the Capitol.
Jackson rejected those comparisons, noting that the weapons that Meredith had traveled with set him apart from most other Jan. 6 defendants as well as people charged in other threat-related cases who received less prison time.
Meredith addressed the judge near the end of the hearing, saying he'd had “no intention” to act on his messages. He described them as “political hyperbole that was too hyper.” He apologized to Pelosi and to his family and was audibly tearful as he asked to be able to go home.
The judge credited his comments in court as “heartfelt and sincere.” But she also made a point of reading out loud the profane and violent messages that Meredith had sent before, during, and after Jan. 6, saying that in his case the “words are critical.”
“The bounds of decency and the bounds of the law have not changed one bit and they need to be enforced,” the judge said shortly before announcing the sentence.