Kansas Proud Boys member pleads guilty to obstruction charge in Jan. 6 attack on Capitol
WASHINGTON — A Proud Boys member who joined others from the far-right group in attacking the U.S. Capitol pleaded guilty on Monday to obstructing the joint session of Congress for certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory.
William Chrestman, 49, of Kansas, also pleaded guilty to threatening to assault a federal officer during the riot at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is scheduled to sentence Chrestman for his two felony convictions on Jan. 12. Estimated sentencing guidelines for his case recommended a prison term ranging from four years and three months to five years and three months.
Chrestman brought an ax handle, gas mask, helmet and other tactical gear when he traveled to Washington, D.C., with other Proud Boys members from the Kansas City, Kansas, area, On Jan. 6, and marched to the Capitol grounds.
Chrestman and other Proud Boys moved past a toppled metal barricade and joined other rioters in front of another police barrier. He shouted a threat at officers and yelled at others in the crowd to stop police from arresting another rioter, according to prosecutors.
Facing the crowd, Chrestman shouted, “Whose house is this?”
“Our house!” the crowd replied.
“Do you want your house back?” Chrestman asked.
“Yes!” they responded.
“Take it!” Chrestman yelled.
Chrestman used his ax handle to prevent a barrier from lowering and closing in the tunnels under the Capitol.
Chrestman “assumed a de facto leadership role” for the Proud Boys from Kansas City, leading them around the Capitol building and grounds and serving as “the primary coordinator” of their efforts to disrupt police, prosecutors said in a February 2021 court filing.
“Encouraging others to do the same, the defendant impeded law enforcement’s efforts to protect the Capitol, and aided the armed, hourslong occupation of the U.S. Capitol by insurrectionists,” they wrote.
Chrestman was captured on video communicating with Proud Boys chapter leader Ethan Nordean outside the Capitol. A jury convicted Nordean and three other Proud Boys, including former national chairman Enrique Tarrio, of seditious conspiracy for what prosecutors said was a plot to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 election.
Chrestman, a U.S. Army veteran, has been jailed since his arrest in February 2021.
“It’s been a long process, your honor,” his attorney, Edward Martin, told the judge.
A grand jury indicted Chrestman on six counts, including a conspiracy charge.
Prosecutors said Chrestman may have tried to conceal his participation in the riot by disposing of clothes and gear he wore on Jan. 6 and giving his firearms to somebody else to hold.
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell ordered Chrestman to be detained while awaiting trial. Kelly upheld her ruling in July 2021.
Chrestman was charged with five other Proud Boys members and associates.
A co-defendant, Ryan Ashlock, was sentenced last November to 70 days of incarceration after pleading guilty to a trespassing charge. Two others, Christopher Kuehne and Louis Enrique Colon, pleaded guilty to civil disorder charges and await separate sentencing hearings. Two co-defendants from Arizona — siblings Felicia Konold and Cory Konold — have change-of-plea hearings set for Nov. 1.
More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Approximately 60 of them have been identified as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates.
Also on Monday, The Justice Department decided to appeal the length of prison sentences for four Proud Boys leaders convicted of seditious conspiracy in the U.S. Capitol attack, challenging punishments that were significantly shorter than what prosecutors had recommended, according to court filings.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly sentenced former Proud Boys national leader Enrique Tarrio and three lieutenants to prison terms ranging from 15 to 22 years after a jury convicted them in May of plotting to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election.
Tarrio’s 22-year sentence is the longest so far among hundreds of criminal cases stemming from the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol, but prosecutors had sought 33 years behind bars for the Miami man.
Prosecutors also had recommended sentences of 33 years for former Proud Boys organizer Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida; 30 years for Proud Boys chapter leader Zachary Rehl, of Philadelphia; and 27 years in prison for chapter leader Ethan Nordean, of Auburn, Washington.
Kelly sentenced Nordean to 18 years, Biggs to 17 years and Rehl to 15 years.
Defense attorney Norm Pattis, who represents Biggs and Rehl, said in a text message that the government’s appeals are “ridiculous.”
“Merrick Garland needs a new hobby horse,” Pattis said of the attorney general, whose Justice Department secured the convictions.
Nicholas Smith, Nordean’s attorney, sarcastically said in an email that his client “is encouraged by the government’s agreement that errors led to the judgment and sentence in his case.”
Prosecutors also are appealing the 10-year sentence for Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York. Prosecutors sought 20 years in prison for Pezzola, who was tried alongside the four group leaders. Jurors acquitted Pezzola of seditious conspiracy but convicted him of other serious charges.
The Justice Department already is appealing the 18-year prison sentence for Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in a separate Jan. 6 case, as well as the sentences of other members of his anti-government militia group.
Prosecutors had requested 25 years in prison for Rhodes. U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta sentenced him to 18 years.