A man who watched and cheered the Capitol riot, then moved to the front of the mob and hurled a fire extinguisher, a plank and a long pole at officers, was sentenced Friday to more than five years in federal prison, the longest sentence given so far to someone charged in the Jan. 6 attack.
Robert S. Palmer, 54, of Largo, Fla., pleaded guilty in October to assaulting law enforcement officers with a dangerous weapon, and his original plea agreement called for a sentencing range of 46 to 57 months. But after his plea, and his entry into the D.C. jail, Palmer arranged to make an online fundraising plea in which he said he did “go on the defense and throw a fire extinguisher at the police” after being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas.
That was a lie, Palmer admitted Friday. He had thrown a fire extinguisher — twice — a large plank and then a four- to five-foot pole at police before he was struck with one rubber bullet. The falsehood indicated a failure to accept responsibility for his actions, prosecutors argued, and when U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan agreed, she increased his sentencing range to 63 to 78 months, ultimately imposing a 63-month term.
“Look behind you,” Chutkan instructed Palmer in the courtroom. “Those are U.S. marshals. They ran from this courthouse. They put themselves in danger to protect the occupants of the Capitol. That’s what they’re sworn to do. They’re the patriots. The people working in the Capitol that night, they are patriots. Doing what they get paid to do, they didn’t know if they were going to come out of there alive that night.”
Palmer said, “I’m really, really ashamed of what I did.”
He said that while in jail he saw footage of himself on an MSNBC news program.
“I was horrified, absolutely devastated to see myself on there,” Palmer said.
In a letter to the judge last month, he wrote, “I realize that we, meaning Trump supporters, were lied to by those that at the time had great power, meaning the sitting president as well as those acting on his behalf.”
Of the more than 130 defendants who have been charged with assaulting police on Jan. 6, Palmer is the second who has been sentenced. Prosecutors gave him credit for surrendering in March and cooperating with the FBI, and asked Chutkan to give him the low end of the 63- to 78-month range suggested by federal sentencing guidelines. Chutkan said the average sentence given to defendants in that range was 66 months.
After Palmer arrived at the Capitol on Jan. 6, video footage captured him leaning over a railing on the upper west terrace, where the most ferocious fighting was occurring between the mob and police, cheering and holding a sign stating “Biden is a Pedophile,” court records state. He was wearing a “Florida for Trump” hat and a jacket designed like the flag of the United States and can be seen on video cheering on the violence.
About 50 minutes later, Palmer made his way down to the heart of the battle, prosecutors said, holding a wooden plank and then throwing it at officers. It landed atop a riot shield. Palmer was not accused of directly injuring anyone.
Minutes later, another rioter began spraying a fire extinguisher at officers, dropped it, and then Palmer can be seen picking it up and spraying it at the officers until it was empty. He then reared back and threw it into the officers, again hitting a riot shield. Soon after, he picked it up and hurled it a second time, the video shows, along with an orange traffic barrier.
While still on the plaza, around 5:15 p.m., Palmer obtained a four- to five-foot pole and ignored warnings from Virginia State Police officers to drop it. He then began screaming obscenities and threw the pole like a spear, prosecutors said. As he did so, a state trooper fired a 40mm rubber bullet, which hit him in the stomach. The pole did not hit anyone.
The rubber bullet knocked Palmer down, but he soon was back up again, and lying about why he was shot, the government said.
“Attempting to portray himself as the victim,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing memo, “rather than the aggressor, Palmer pointed at his abdomen, shouting, ‘This is the United States. This is what our country is doing to its citizens.’ ”
Palmer later gave media interviews portraying himself as a victim and that he had done nothing wrong.
Chutkan asked him about his online post last month, seeking to raise money for his defense, in which he said he was acting in self-defense.
“When you threw the fire extinguisher and the pole,” the judge asked, “were you acting in self-defense?”
“No, ma’am, I was not,” Palmer replied.
Later, Palmer said: “The officers were so brave to stand there and take the stuff they did. I’m just very ashamed to be a part of that. … It was a lie. It should never have happened.”
Chutkan said, “I don’t know if your remorse now is genuine or not. It sounds like it is. Your actions after your plea undercut that argument.”
The judge added, “The men and women who kept democracy functioning that day, and saved lives, they deserve the thanks of the nation. They didn’t deserve to have fire extinguishers thrown at them; they didn’t deserve to be spat on. Perhaps, having seen yourself on videotape and media coverage, you understand how terrified the rest of this country must have been.”