Adam Johnson, the Florida man who posed for a picture while carrying the lectern of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in the Senate Rotunda of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and led a pro-Trump mob that tried to break into the House chamber that day, was sentenced to 75 days in jail Friday and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine.
“A message just has to be sent,” Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton told Johnson. “If you’re going to associate yourself with this type of behavior, and you’re going to try to engage in conduct that undermines the fundamental fabric of this society, that your freedom is going to be taken away.”
The judge recommended two books to Johnson: “How Civil Wars Start” and “The Next Civil War.”
“What we’re experiencing now is exactly some of the things that were experienced prior to those events taking place,” Walton said to Johnson. “And you contributed to that.”
Johnson was apologetic, and his attorneys noted that he began cooperating fully with federal agents as soon as he was arrested on Jan. 8, although he had destroyed his photos and social media accounts by then. He told the judge he knew that if he had committed similar acts in other countries, “I’d be on a firing wall, not before you.” He acknowledged the riot “was violent.”
“There were things there that happened that should never have happened,” Johnson said. “I’m ashamed to have been a part of it.”
Johnson, 37, of Bradenton, Fla., is a stay-at-home father of five boys between the ages of 6 and 14, according to court records, married to a medical doctor. He flew to D.C. on Jan. 5 of last year and participated in a rally that night where he was captured by a Washington Post videographer yelling expletive-laden comments that Walton interpreted to mean that Johnson did not believe President Biden was legitimately elected.
Walton said Johnson could have turned around and gone home after that rally, in which he posted a photo of himself on Facebook with the caption, “Riot!!!” But he did not.
Instead, after President Donald Trump’s morning “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, Johnson learned of the mob assaulting the Capitol and sprinted to join in, prosecutors said. He wound up spending 35 minutes inside the Capitol, and it was his actions in addition to parading with Pelosi’s lectern that gave Walton and the prosecutors greater concern.
As a group of rioters approached the House chamber, with elected representatives huddled inside, Johnson yelled for the mob to use a bust of George Washington as a battering ram to break down the doors to the chamber. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Arco played multiple videos that captured Johnson screaming encouragement to fellow rioters. Johnson also made his own video of rioters disarming a police officer, and stood near a D.C. police officer who was being crushed between doors during the attack.
Johnson also entered three highly sensitive areas of the Capitol, prosecutors said, and was photographed jiggling the handle of Pelosi’s office suite, seemingly trying to enter. Johnson said people have asked him what he would have done if the door had opened and he found the speaker of the House inside. He said he would have asked her to take a photo with him.
Walton did not find that claim credible.
“If that door had been opened,” the judge said, “God knows what would have happened.”
Johnson then took Pelosi’s lectern.
“Removing the lectern from the place it was taken from was a very stupid idea,” Johnson said. “Foolish, and something I shouldn’t have done, and I did make a mockery of a very intense and not great day.”
Walking into the Senate Rotunda with the lectern, he was photographed by veteran news photographer Win McNamee while waving at the camera. His defense lawyer, Dan Eckhart, said Johnson “looks like a fool, wearing a hat, parading around.”
The photo almost instantly went viral, leading people to identify Johnson to authorities. But in the meantime, prosecutors said, Johnson boasted that he “broke the internet” and was “finally famous.” He sent messages that said, “I peacefully entered and peacefully left … I truly believe it was my responsibility as a citi[zen] … I was not an agitator … I was outside the doors [where the session was held] but never entered … I was there to record history, I was there to know.”
Johnson had erased most of this material by the time he was visited by the FBI and arrested. Prosecutors said they considered that an aggravating factor in recommending a sentence of 90 days in jail and a $5,000 fine. But they said his subsequent cooperation with investigators was a mitigating factor. Johnson pleaded guilty to entering and remaining in a restricted building, and faced up to six months in jail.
Eckhart said Johnson had been approached with many offers for book or television deals, and had rejected them all. News of the offers led prosecutors to request, and Johnson to agree to, a provision in his plea agreement in which any profits he derived from his involvement in Jan. 6, 2021 — whether media interviews or T-shirts with his likeness on them — is assigned to the United States.
Walton acknowledged the difficulty of raising five boys. But he then asked, “How can you call yourself a good role model for those five boys, when you come up and do something like this?” Johnson said he gathered the boys shortly before his arrest and told them, “I’m going to jail because I broke the law, I did something wrong.” He said he has been shunned by longtime friends, and told Walton “your judgment is half the equation. The other half is the people that leave from this, and how they speak about it.”
Walton ordered that Johnson be given credit for his time served, which court records show to be about 11 days. Johnson is the seventh of 108 defendants sentenced so far to receive a $5,000 fine, which is the highest given by any judge.