Texas Runoff between Rep. Tony Gonzales and Pro-Gun YouTuber Is Key GOP Test

US District Court of District of Columbia
Ryan T. Nichols spraying officers with a large canister of chemical spray that rioters had stolen from D.C. police officers on January 6, 2021.

A Texas man who repeatedly declared his intent to use force to halt certification of the 2020 presidential election results on Jan. 6, 2021, brought two guns to a D.C.-area hotel and fought with police at the U.S. Capitol that day, was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison after prosecutors said he was in “a class of his own” among Capitol rioters.

Appearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, the defendant, Ryan T. Nichols, also was fined $200,000, by far the largest financial penalty yet handed down in a Jan. 6 case, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office confirmed.

Most of the more than 800 defendants sentenced so far in Capitol riot cases either have not been fined, because they lacked the money to pay, or were fined only a few thousand dollars, in addition to a $2,000 restitution payment for damage to the Capitol, which all defendants have been assessed.

But Senior U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth said Nichols refused to cooperate with probation officials about his financial status, so Lamberth ordered him to pay the maximum amount allowed under federal sentencing guidelines.

Nichols, 33, traveled to the District with a friend, Alex K. Harkrider, and spent most of the two years after the Jan. 6 riot in the D.C. jail. While there, he participated in the “J6 choir,” which released a version of “The Star Spangled Banner” that was lauded by former president Donald Trump. Nichols also claimed he received poor medical treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder that he said dates to his time in the Marine Corps in Okinawa, Japan.

Partly as a result of his poor treatment, Nichols was released from the jail in November 2022, before his scheduled trial. But when Nichols pleaded guilty in November 2023, Lamberth ordered him back to jail, despite a letter of support from Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), who called Nichols “a man of good character, faith and core principles.”

Mobs of riotous Trump supporters stormed the Capitol while Vice President Mike Pence was presiding over a joint session of Congress to formally certify Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.

Nichols pleaded guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding and assault on law enforcement. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of nearly seven years, saying Lamberth should go above the sentencing guidelines range of about four to five years in prison. Defense attorneys asked Lamberth to release Nichols on the time he has already served.

Nichols wrote on Facebook before Jan. 6, 2021, that he was “bringing the wrath of God, and there’s not a … thing you can do to stop it,” and, “If Pence doesn’t do the right thing, WE FIGHT.” Prosecutors said he showed up to the Capitol wearing a ballistic chest plate and other tactical gear and wielding a crowbar. He pushed to the front of the mob at the Lower West Terrace, hit multiple officers in the tunnel with two streams of pepper spray from a stolen police canister, then entered the Capitol and used a bullhorn to exhort the crowd to get their weapons ready to fight the police.

After Nichols left the Capitol, he posted a video of himself in his hotel room, saying: “I’m calling for violence! And I will be violent!” Nichols ended the video by stating: “I will … die for this. But before I do that, I plan on making other people die first, for their country, if it gets down to that.” Prosecutors played video of Nichols’ statements, and his use of pepper spray, for the judge Thursday.

“Nichols’ case has many factors that distinguish it from other Capitol riot cases,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas B. Brasher wrote in a sentencing memo. Brasher said that “the bloodthirsty nature of his rhetoric, the preparations for violence … the scale and persistence of his assaults on and resistance against police officers … and his calls for sustained revolt after the attack on the Capitol – each taken independently – set Nichols apart from the vast majority of Capitol riot cases. When taken together, though, they place him into a class of his own.”

“I went to Washington, D.C., because I believed that is what the President asked us to do,” Nichols wrote to a judge in 2021 in an attempt to be released on bail. “I left when the President posted on Twitter and Facebook for everyone to leave. So I did,” Nichols told the judge.

In arguing for a stiff sentence for Nichols, Brasher said Thursday that many Jan. 6 defendants have claimed they were merely caught up in the rush of the crowd outside the Capitol. “Ryan Nichols was a leader of that crowd,” Brasher said. “A self-proclaimed leader. He wanted to be a leader. A person who stood on a ledge outside a window and encouraged rioters to get their weapons. This type of political violence … cannot be normalized.”

Joseph McBride, Nichols’s lawyer, said his client was “a good man who did a bad thing,” and noted that Nichols immediately turned himself in soon after Jan. 6, 2021, and has “always wanted to be held accountable for his actions.” But he said the ordeal of months in solitary confinement in the D.C. jail, and months of mistreatment there, should enable him to be released after having served a total of 28 months.

Nichols stood and apologized to “the victims of Jan. 6,” including members of Congress, police officers and D.C. residents. “My actions and words that day were heinous, disgusting and awful.” He said he had stopped taking his medication for PTSD during the 2020 election season, causing him to act irrationally.

“I’m no longer a danger to society,” Nichols said. “I’m on my meds and will never be off them again. I know what I said, but I want to assure you I do not stand for violence.”

Lamberth told Nichols that “you appear to be sincere in your expressions of regret today, but the court has not had great success in determining the sincerity of Jan. 6 defendants,” including those who apologize in court but later return to claims of being political prisoners.

The previous largest fine – $90,000 – was also imposed by Lamberth, last week against convicted rioter John Sullivan, who sold video he recorded inside the Capitol of the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt to media outlets for about $90,000. Another defendant, Daniel J. Rodriguez, who was sentenced last year to 12½ years in prison for assaulting police, was ordered to pay nearly $97,000 in restitution for injuries he inflicted on officers.