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WASHINGTON — Troy Smocks, a Texas man who posted on the social network Parler on Jan. 6 urging supporters of former president Donald Trump to “go hunting” for Democrats, tech executives, and others, was sentenced on Thursday to 14 months in prison.
The sentence from US District Judge Tanya Chutkan was higher than what both Smocks and the prosecutor had asked for. Smocks has been in custody since his arrest in mid-January and argued for a sentence that was equivalent to the roughly nine months he’d already served. The government didn’t back a specific amount of prison time but backed a sentence on the low end of the 8- to 14-month recommended range.
Smocks traveled to Washington on Jan. 6 but wasn’t charged with participating in the riots. Instead, he was charged with — and ultimately pleaded guilty to — posting messages online throughout the day that promoted violence against anyone who didn’t back Trump. He wrote that Trump’s supporters should “prepare our weapons” and “go hunting” for Democrats, tech company executives, and “RINOS,” a term that refers to “Republicans in Name Only.”
Chutkan, who has imposed stiffer sentences than what the government argued for in several other Jan. 6 cases, said that Smocks had failed to show “genuine remorse” for his actions. He will receive credit for the time he’s already spent in jail.
A last-ditch effort by Smocks, who is Black, to argue that his prosecution was rooted in racism backfired. Smocks told Chutkan that he believed he had been treated more harshly than white Trump supporters who were charged with misdemeanor crimes for going into the Capitol. He claimed to be the only Black person charged in connection with Jan. 6 to face pretrial detention, but Chutkan noted that wasn’t true. Although the vast majority of people who attacked the Capitol were white, just Wednesday she presided over a hearing for Mark Ponder, a Black man charged with assaulting police at the Capitol who was also ordered to stay behind bars.
In his defense, Smocks had also compared himself to people who protested for racial justice in the 20th century, and he invoked civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. Chutkan, who is also Black, said she found the comparison “offensive.”
“People died fighting for civil rights, people were gassed, they were beaten, they were tortured mentally and physically,” Chutkan said. “For you to hold yourself up as a soldier in that fight is really quite audacious.”
Smocks is the 19th person sentenced in the Jan. 6 prosecutions. Chutkan’s decision represented the highest amount of prison time that a judge has handed down so far in connection with the cases.
The morning of Jan. 6, Smocks had posted a lengthy message on Parler in support of Trump, including a pledge to come back to Washington on the eve of President Joe Biden’s inauguration: “Many of us will return on January 19, 2021, carrying Our weapons, in support of Our nation’s resolve, towhich [sic] the world will never forget!!!”
That evening after the riots, he posted another message invoking Trump’s statement at a rally earlier in the day that his supporters should “fight like hell”: “So over the next 24 hours, I would say, lets get our personal affairs in order. Prepare Our Weapons, and then go hunting. Lets hunt these cowards down like the Traitors that each of them are. This includes, RINOS, Dems, and Tech Execs. We now have the green light. [All] who resist Us, are enemies of Our Constitution, and must be treated as such.”
Smocks pleaded guilty in September to one count of making threats, a felony crime that carried a maximum sentence of five years in prison. His estimated sentencing range reflected an extensive criminal record — he had approximately 18 prior convictions, many of which involved fraud, according to the government, although the prosecutor noted on Thursday that most of those incidents took place two decades ago. The government also claimed Smocks falsely claimed to be a veteran; the Department of Defense had no record of him serving in any branch of the military.
Smocks’s lawyer, John Machado, suggested there might be evidence of his client’s military service in a document related to one of Smocks’s earlier criminal cases, but he didn’t have a copy to show the judge. The judge said she couldn’t accept that representation without seeing the document itself.
Machado told Chutkan that Smocks had acknowledged that his threatening messages were “inappropriate,” but argued it wasn’t as serious as if he’d directed those threats at specific people by name. Chutkan pointed out that he’d referenced members of Congress and tech executives. When Machado pressed the point, saying it’d be different if the posts named individuals, Chutkan jumped in and replied that he might want to ask the members of Congress who hid under desks during the riots.
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