“I just want to do whatever needs to be done to be legitimate,” Pruitt said.
He discussed protective gear and housing with other group members. Shortly after the riot, the texts show, his membership was approved.
Pruitt, 40, appeared at three key points in the Capitol on Jan. 6 wearing a Punisher tank top, including in the crypt, where he was photographed tossing a sign across the room and later to his face face faced police. He was also photographed at the Capitol Visitor’s Center, where he threw a chair and confronted another group of rioters trying to gain access to the Capitol’s tunnel system.
Then in the halls of the Capitol, he began to approach Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (DN.Y.) as the senator was being pushed out of the building. Schumer’s team flipped him over and made him run in the opposite direction from Pruitt.
Pruitt never assaulted any officer or made physical contact with staff. But on Monday, a federal judge sentenced him to 55 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Pruitt pleaded guilty in June to obstructing an official trial, and federal sentencing guidelines suggested 51 to 63 months in prison, in part because he has a long history, including assaulting police, cocaine possession and drunk driving convictions.
DC Proud Boy and bartender plead guilty to crime in Capitol riot
“They acted somewhat in concert with others,” US District Judge Timothy J. Kelly told Pruitt, “to some extent involved with others in the planning.” …You got into the building early, you got deep into the building, you damaged property, you played a role in heating up the crowds, you got very close to one of our national leaders.”
Pruitt, father of a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old, said he was blacklisted from working in the DC restaurant business. “I’m not happy that January 6 happened at all,” he told the judge Monday. “To be perfectly honest, I wish I’d watched it from a restaurant instead of attending. … Yes, I was wrong and broke the laws, and for that I apologize.”
But Pruitt also said, “I believed the election was stolen. I still do.”
A member of Schumer’s security team said he was haunted by the near confrontation between the senator and Pruitt.
“I saw Mr. Pruitt approach us with intent to harm the Majority Leader of the United States Senate,” the special agent, identified with the initials ML, wrote in a victim impact statement. “Only due to the pre-planning of alternative evacuation procedures and quick action by our teams, this forthcoming meeting did not result in bloodshed or serious bodily harm.”
“I was within 30 feet of these nasty insurgents,” Schumer said at a hearing in January.
Pruitt worked as a bartender in DC until November 2020, when he was filmed being inducted into the Proud Boys by Chairman Enrique Tarrio after a rally in support of President Donald Trump. Pruitt later said members of the group protected him during one of several violent clashes between Trump supporters and opponents. However, Pruitt was not a full member and attempted to become one after his first encounter with Tarrio, as evidenced by texts from his chats with other members.
Defense Attorney Robert L. Jenkins emphasized that Pruitt “did not physically assault any law enforcement officer…did not directly physically harm any law enforcement officer” and “did not possess or use any weapons.”
Speaking to fellow local Proud Boys on Jan. 5, 2021, Pruitt suggested that according to the court record, he could distract police while others fought. “Strike if they come first,” he said. “And that’s where we put in the work.”
Prosecutors say he fulfilled that role. “Well over a year later, he was remembered by many officers as an instigator,” prosecutors said in their sentencing note. His looks were unmistakable: As a bodybuilder, Pruitt wore a tactical glove with padded knuckles and a tank top adorned with a comic book vigilante skull logo. In the Capitol he threw a shield and a chair.
One officer described Pruitt as “an agitator” who approached police and tried to unsettle them.
“The defendant did this repeatedly throughout my interaction, including stating, ‘You better stop eyeing me,'” the officer recalled in his statement. “When the defendant found his efforts unsuccessful, he would retreat into the larger crowd of protesters and look for another target in uniform to provoke.”
In media interviews after the riot, Pruitt said he had no idea the crowd would gather at the Capitol, although he had had conversations about those plans in a local Proud Boys group chat. He was also part of discussions urging Proud Boys not to wear their traditional black and yellow colors to better blend in with the crowd.
The chat “contained explicitly anti-Semitic and racist memes,” according to the court filings, with some anti-Jewish comments from Pruitt himself. Jenkins said Pruitt did not make or see many of the anti-Semitic or racist posts.
Pruitt wrote that he “craves blood” and relishes violent confrontations.
“My chick (now ex) left me yesterday,” he wrote to the group Proud Boys on Jan. 4. Makes me even more dangerous.”
Pruitt was arrested in December 2020 and charged with violating a protection order by threatening an ex-girlfriend. He was on parole and parole in the capital at the time of the riot and was wearing an ankle monitor.
A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that Pruitt’s membership in the Proud Boys was approved shortly before the January 6, 2021 riot. It was then approved. The article has been corrected.