Dominic Pezzola, a New York Proud Boy who triggered the Jan. 6, 2021 breach of the Capitol when he smashed a window with a stolen police riot shield, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the attack.
“You were the one who smashed that window and let people begin to stream into that Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers,” U.S. District Judge Tim Kelly said as he delivered his sentence on Friday. “It’s not something I would have ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.”
Pezzola’s sentence closes one of the most harrowing chapters of the Jan. 6 riot. The image of Pezzola smashing the window became emblematic of the threat to democracy that unfolded that day, and it was featured during the impeachment trial of Donald Trump that unfolded a month later.
Pezzola also filmed himself inside the Capitol smoking a cigar and celebrating the breach.
“I knew we could take this motherfucker over if we just tried hard enough,” Pezzola said in the video in which he also repeated a Proud Boys slogan.
Pezzola was convicted in May alongside four Proud Boys leaders, including the group’s national chair on Jan. 6, 2021, Enrique Tarrio, with conspiring to obstruct Congress’ proceedings that day. Pezzola was also convicted of civil disorder, destruction of government property, assaulting a police officer and stealing the riot shield. Unlike Tarrio and the other three codefendants — Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl — Pezzola was acquitted of seditious conspiracy, the gravest charge the group faced.
Biggs and Rehl were sentenced Thursday to 17 years and 15 years, respectively.
Pezzola’s route to Jan. 6 differed sharply from his codefendants. A businessperson whose work suffered amid the Covid pandemic, Pezzola grew disillusioned with government and delved deeply into far-right politics while largely isolated at home. In November 2020, he sought out camaraderie from the Proud Boys and began attending events and rallies with the group, but he was not a member of senior leadership like his codefendants.
But he quickly stood out to Proud Boys leaders and memorably participated in a street brawl in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 14, 2020 after several members of the group were stabbed by a man they believed was affiliated with antifa.
On Jan. 6, Pezzola joined members of the Proud Boys at the Capitol and was part of the first wave of rioters to breach police lines. After helping wrest a police shield out of the hands of Capitol Police officer Mark Ode, he grabbed it and surged with the crowd to the base of the Capitol, where he used it to smash out window panes and enter the Senate wing of the building.
That breach forced Congress to urgently recess their proceedings, just as they had begun counting electoral votes aimed at certifying Joe Biden’s victory. Pezzola was among the first rioters to enter the building and rushed right into the escape route of Sen. Chuck Grassley, who had been presiding over the Senate after then-Vice President Mike Pence was evacuated.
Prosecutors argued that Pezzola’s role in the conspiracy with the Proud Boys may not have been as a leader of the group but that his conduct on Jan. 6 was some of the most egregious and effective at helping them achieve their goal of disrupting the transfer of power.
“Many Americans will approach the ballot box in 2024 with trepidation,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Erik Kenerson, who said the image of Pezzola smashing into the Capitol is among the ones “that many Americans think of when that wave of fear hits them.”
Kelly’s sentence came after Pezzola apologized for his actions on Jan. 6
“I never should have crossed the barrier at the Capitol that day,” he said.
His wife, Lisa McGee, also tearfully pleaded with Kelly for mercy. She said she had canceled her family’s cable subscription to prevent the “toxicity” from streaming into her home. And she described facing threats and harassment as a result of her husband’s actions.