A Florida man who carried a Trump campaign flag onto the floor of the U.S. Senate during the January 6 riot at the Capitol building was sentenced to eight months in prison on Monday, becoming the first Capitol rioter to receive prison time for felony charges.
Paul Allard Hodgkins, 38, of Tampa plead guilty to obstruction of an official proceeding for interrupting the certification of the Electoral College results by Congress. He was photographed on the Senate floor carrying a "TRUMP" flag and wearing goggles around his neck.
Reading a prepared message to the court, Hodgkins apologized for his involvement in the riot, saying he got caught up as the crowd at former President Donald Trump's rally moved on to the Capitol and became a mob, escalating to violence.
"If I had any idea that the protest ... would escalate (the way) it did ... I would never have ventured farther than the sidewalk of Pennsylvania Avenue," Hodgkins said, according to the Associated Press.
"This was a foolish decision on my part," he added, acknowledging that Joe Biden is the legitimately elected president of the United States.
Prosecutors sought to have Hodgkins sentenced to 18 months behind bars, writing in a recent court filing that he, "like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy" by attempting to interrupt the certification of the 2020 presidential election results declaring President Joe Biden the winner. They told the court that even though the defendant was not destructive and did not assault anyone, he had still participated in "an act of domestic terrorism" as one of 50 people who had breached the Senate chamber.
The prosecution asked the judge to "send a loud and clear message to other would-be rioters... if and when they're caught they will be held accountable," according to WRC-TV reporter Scott MacFarlane.
Lawyers for the defense asked for leniency and no prison time, strongly objecting to calling the January 6 riot an act of "domestic terrorism." They said it was a protest that became a riot and observed that of the more than 535 individuals arrested in connection with the riot, no one has been charged with terrorism.
The defense attempted to compare the Jan. 6 riot to the violence in Minneapolis after George Floyd was killed in 2020, but Judge Randolph Moss cut off their argument.
Defense lawyers also said in court filings that Hodgkins' actions were similar to those of Anna Morgan Lloyd, who was among the first rioters to be arrested. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct last month and was sentenced to three years' probation.
In pronouncing his sentence, which amounts to less than a year in prison, Moss said that Hodgkins had participated in "an assault on democracy."
"It left a stain that will remain on us ... on the country for years to come," he added.
Hodgkins struck a deal with prosecutors last month to plead guilty to one count of obstructing an official proceeding, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. In exchange, prosecutors dropped lesser charges of entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct.
Photographs and video footage show Hodgkins on the Senate floor wearing a Trump 2020 T-shirt, carrying the campaign flag, and wearing eye-goggles around his neck. He took a selfie with several other rioters, including Jake Angeli, an Arizona resident known as the QAnon Shaman.
Prosecutors agreed that Hodgkins deserved some leniency because he was never accused of assaulting anyone or damaging property and because he almost immediately pleaded guilty after his arrest. But they also emphasized that he had left Tampa for the Jan. 6 Trump rally with rope, protective goggles, and latex gloves in a backpack. They said these items demonstrated that he had come to Washington D.C. prepared for violence.
This sentencing is seen as a key benchmark for how the hundreds of other rioters facing charges might be sentenced should they also plead guilty.