The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On Jan. 6, he ‘trusted’ a fellow cop ‘based on lies.’ Now both are felons.

On Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors said, Thomas Robertson, right, and Jacob Fracker, his colleague at the time with the Rocky Mount Police Department, stormed the Capitol and posed for a photo in front of a statue of John Stark. (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia)

On Jan. 6, 2021, Jacob Fracker went with his commanding sergeant in the Rocky Mount, Va., police department to Washington, where they forced their way into the U.S. Capitol and photographed themselves celebrating.

Fifteen months later, Fracker testified against the man he called “Dad,” saying he and Thomas Robertson had sought to stop President Biden from taking office. At Robertson’s April trial, Fracker also testified that when they learned they would be arrested, the sergeant destroyed their phones to hide incriminating photos and videos.

In D.C. federal court Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper sentenced Fracker, 30, to a year of probation, with 59 days of home confinement and 120 hours of community service.

The case is “unique,” the judge noted — Fracker is the first rioter to be sentenced on a conspiracy charge after cooperating against a co-conspirator. Prosecutors had recommended an eight-year sentence for Robertson for his six convictions, including interfering with police and obstruction of justice, and Cooper imposed nearly that much time at a hearing Friday. But the government suggested a probationary sentence for Fracker.

He was “recruited” by Robertson to join the mob, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Aloi said in court, and helped convict his mentor “at a pretty significant personal cost.” She emphasized that he is continuing to help with an investigation into Robertson’s assembly of an arsenal of weapons after the Jan. 6 attack.

Cooper said he would have sent Fracker to a halfway house if one was close enough to accommodate the defendant’s child-care responsibilities. The judge asked Aloi why the government wasn’t recommending that Fracker be punished for giving his phone to Robertson for disposal after the riot.

The prosecutor said Fracker was the one who revealed that the pair destroyed their phones, and since the government was “wholly unaware of the obstruction” until Fracker’s confession, “we agreed not to use it against him.”

In his own letter to the court, Robertson claimed for the first time that Fracker was the one who destroyed their phones, contradicting trial testimony and text messages.

On Tuesday, Cooper pressed Fracker not only on his own mentality that day but also that of the thousands around him who joined an antidemocratic, violent attempt to control Congress.

“What led you and so many others to breach the Capitol that day?” Cooper asked. And why do so many see politics “as a civil war”? Had it occurred to him and other veterans that they were “targeted or taken advantage of” with “appeals to their patriotism”?

Fracker said he could only speak for himself. At the time, he “wanted to know what the future held” for his daughter and thought that “if anybody was going to have any insight, it would be the people speaking that day.”

After the riot, Fracker testified at the April trial, he was exultant: “I had felt like I took a step in making a difference in the election results.” By the time he was on the stand, he said, he felt “weird” and “ashamed.”

“At the time it was all fun and games,” he said. “Here lately I’ve had it actually presented to me and shown to me for what it is. … I know for a fact my mom would slap me in the face if she had saw what I was doing that day.”

In court Tuesday, he said he was also motivated to protect Robertson, who was “no spring chicken.” Robertson, 49, asked Fracker to come to D.C. and organized the trip, including providing gas masks and ready-to-eat meals.

Both men were military veterans; Fracker served in the Marines and the Army National Guard and was injured in Afghanistan. But prosecutors found that Robertson exaggerated his own Army experience to impress the younger man — including claiming after Jan. 6 that he was upholding principles he learned as an Army Ranger, when he had never been one.

“I loved him,” Fracker told the judge. “I trusted him based on lies. But he didn’t tell me how to act that day; I acted on my own.”

At trial, Fracker testified that he tried to protect one officer who had lost his helmet but otherwise ignored the assaults on police all around them.

“I think, as a cop, I felt like they should have been on our side,” he recalled at the trial. “Maybe it was just like a one-track mind kind of thing. Well, I’m a cop, so all cops need to think like this.”

At sentencing, his defense attorney Bernard Crane said Fracker understood better as soon as he saw video of the riot.

“Mr. Robertson blew up Mr. Fracker’s life,” Crane said. He compared the two co-defendants to a fake dollar bill and a legitimate one, and side by side it was clear “which is the real deal.”