A man charged with illegally entering the Senate during the Capitol riot in January was sentenced to eight months in prison Monday, marking the first federal sentence imposed for involvement in the incident.
Florida resident Paul Hodgkins pleaded guilty last month to interrupting the tabulation and certification of the 2020 presidential electoral results. He was one member of the mob of Trump supporters that stormed the premises to intimidate lawmakers and interfere with the vote tally, which they believed should have determined former President Trump to be the winner.
Hodgkins received a sentence that fell many months short of the 18-month jail term the Justice Department initially demanded. The prosecutors, who said Hodgkins was complicit in an episode of terrorism, contended that a steeper penalty would curb future political criminal activity and discourage those “who may be contemplating a second act.”
Defense lawyer Patrick Leduc said it was insulting that the Capitol incident be labeled a premeditated extremist insurrection, pointing to the hypocrisy of those who simultaneously condoned the civil unrest that erupted in Minneapolis and Portland in recent months. The defense asked that the defendant receive no jail time.
“Paul Hodgkins is not my enemy,” Leduc said. “All of this commentary about Jan. 6 being an act of domestic terrorism, I find it to be offensive, and I think it is gaslighting the country and it needs to stop….It was a protest that became a riot.”
District Judge Randolph Moss agreed with the prosecution that Hodgkins endangered democratic institutions and members of Congress when he invaded the Senate chamber without authorization carrying a Trump flag as legislators were attempting to confirm Joe Biden as president.
“The symbolism of that act is unmistakable,” the judge said. “In that act, he captured the threat to democracy that we all witnessed that day. … People have to know that assaulting the United States Capitol and impeding the democratic process, even if you don’t come bearing arms, will have consequences.”
However, because Hodgkins pleaded guilty “exceptionally early,” did not commit violence that injured anyone personally, and offered a “sincere” apology, Moss said he deserved a lighter sentence of eight months.
Hodgkins said he did not anticipate the extent to which the Capitol march would escalate and that he only believed he would be charged for a minor offense, such as trespassing, at maximum. He said he now accepts that Joe Biden is the president of the United States.
“While I take some solace in knowing my actions did not involve any violent or reckless behavior, my involvement did contribute to the great problem that took place,” Hodgkins said. “The company of us who remained calmer in our protests may have emboldened others to carry out the destruction that occurred.”