WASHINGTON — A retired firefighter who went to a «cult deprogramming» expert to find out how he came to believe Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 presidential election was sentenced to more than four years in federal prison Tuesday for throwing a fire extinguisher. of fires to police officers. while guarding the United States Capitol on January 6.

Robert Sanford, dressed in prison orange, told Chief Judge Paul L. Friedman that he was embarrassed, embarrassed and disgusted by his behavior on January 6. Sanford, who was working as a firefighter in Chester, Pennsylvania, was arrested in mid-January. 2021, and he has already spent approximately eight months in custody, which will be reduced from his 52-month sentence. He will also serve three years of supervised release.

«The mob mentality is real, and I got caught up in it,» Sanford said, apologizing to the officers he assaulted and first responders who saw his conduct that day, saying he was proud of the job he had done as a firefighter.

«I never wanted to tarnish that reputation. On January 6, I did,» Sanford said.

Sanford, his lawyer sayinghad worked with an individual who specializes in «cult deprogramming» and was «faced with facts about the ‘stolen election’ conspiracy theory, among others, and how psychological manipulation is used to indoctrinate followers of a conspiracy».

In court on Tuesday, defense attorney Andrew Stewart said Sanford had «clearly overreacted» to the actions of law enforcement when they tried to rein in the violent mob on January 6 and was «totally sorry» for his conduct.

Stewart said Sanford was willing to sit down and take a hard look at the lies he believed and how he ended up «falling down the proverbial rabbit hole,» which set him apart from other Jan. 6 defendants who still can’t acknowledge basic reality. Stewart said.

Robert Sanford.
Robert Sanford.Justice Department

Judge Friedman said that Sanford «should have known better than most» what the police were dealing with that day and what kind of damage a heavy fire extinguisher could cause.

Friedman reiterated that the defendants cannot be punished «just because they believe the election was rigged» or «just because they believe in Donald Trump» or «for his words and speech.» What could be penalized are the illegal actions they committed that day, he said. Friedman said that thousands of people on Capitol Hill had contributed to the mob mentality.

Friedman also spoke about the importance of general deterrence, saying many people still believe the election was stolen and believe in Trump, though he noted that «not many of them showed up» in Manhattan when Trump was indicted last week. Alluding to the investigation Trump faces by special counsel Jack Smith, Friedman said he suspects we’ll see what happens in federal court in DC «in a few months» if Trump is indicted.

Former US Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, whom Sanford hit with a traffic cone, made a victim impact statement in court Tuesday. He noted that he had dedicated half his life to public service, that more than 140 officers were injured on Jan. 6 and that many officers did not immediately seek medical attention because they «felt compelled to be there» and protect the building. . He said there would have been an «elected officials bloodbath» if the police had simply left and not done their job on Jan. 6.

If «the old guy,» Trump, asked Sanford to go to the Capitol again, Gonell said, he had no doubt Sanford would be there.

Some officers who were injured may not attend sentencing hearings because they are discouraged by what they perceive to be relatively low sentences handed down to the Jan. 6 protesters, Gonell said.

«I still think it’s worth it,» Gonell said. «That’s why I’m here today.»

Gonell retired in December, in part due to injuries he sustained on January 6.

Nearly 1,000 people have been arrested in connection with the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and around 1,000 cases are expected to be filed before the statute of limitations expires in 2026. More than 3,000 people participated in activities that could result in criminal acts. charges while entering the Capitol building or engaging in violent or destructive activities outside.