A diehard supporter of former President Donald Trump who marauded through the Capitol on Jan. 6 was ordered Monday to spend eight months in prison in the first felony sentencing for the attack that shook American democracy.
Paul Alan Hodgkins got the relatively light sentence after pleading guilty in federal court and apologizing for his role in trying to prevent Congress from certifying President Biden’s election victory.
“If I had any idea that the protest … would escalate (the way) it did … I would never have ventured farther than the sidewalk,” Hodgkins said in court. “This was a foolish decision on my part.”
U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss said he considered Hodgkins’ stated remorse and admission of guilt in granting a lower sentence, even though he warned that his crime should not be taken lightly.
“It was an assault on the Capitol and an assault on democracy,” Moss said.
Hodgkins, 38, of Tampa, Florida, was captured on video footage carrying a Trump flag and two pairs of eye goggles dangling around his neck as he and other attackers romped through the Senate chamber after overwhelming Capitol police.
He even took a selfie with a so-called “MAGA shaman” who wore a horned helmet and sat proudly on the Senate dais.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of 18 months. Defense lawyers said Hodgkins shouldn’t be jailed at all because he is sorry about his involvement and has no criminal record.
The case could set a benchmark for dozens of other Capitol riot suspects who face similar felony charges, but have not been hit with more serious accusations of conspiring to plan the attack with far-right-wing and white nationalist groups.
Prosecutors say Hodgkins came to Washington, D.C., for Trump’s #StopTheSteal rally looking for trouble with rope and protective goggles and gloves in a backpack.
Even though he is not accused of assaulting police or causing damage, Hodgkins jubilantly strode into the Capitol past smashed police barriers and broken windows, say prosecutors. He passed injured police officers and wounded people to enthusiastically play his part in disrupting democracy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky derided Hodgkins’ claims that he didn’t realize how the serious the attack was.
“What does he do?” she asked the court. “He walks toward it. He doesn’t walk away.”
“Time and time again, rather than turn around and retreat, Hodgkins pressed forward,” prosecutors said in a court filing. He could’ve faced up to 20 years behind bars, but prosecutors credited Hodgkins for quickly admitting his guilt.
A defense lawyer had asserted that he would face a lifetime of public shame for being identified as a riot participant.
He also noted that Hodgkins is a former Eagle Scout who sometimes volunteered at a local food bank.
“Whatever punishment this court may provide will pale in comparison to the scarlet letter Mr. Hodgkins will wear for the rest of his life,” Patrick N. Leduc wrote in a recent filing.
That argument is dramatically undermined by the widespread campaign by Trump’s supporters to downplay the Jan. 6 attack and even to glorify the actions of the rioters. Trump himself has repeatedly praised the rioters as “wonderful people” even as he denies inciting the attack.