A Marine Corps veteran and ex-New York cop who was seen trying to rip a gas mask off a police officer trying to hold back the riotous crowd at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Thomas Webster, 56, was sentenced to 120 months behind bars by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta on Thursday. He was convicted in May of four felonies and one misdemeanor.
It’s the longest sentence issued by far in the government’s ever-expanding prosecution of participants in the Jan. 6 attack by Donald Trump supporters angry over Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election. Mark Ponder, who pleaded guilty to striking police officers with poles, and Robert Scott Palmer were both sentenced to 63 months behind bars.
Webster faced up to 20 years for assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers, five years for civil disorder, 10 years each for disorderly conduct with a deadly weapon and physical violence on restricted grounds with a deadly weapon, and six months for physical violence on Capitol grounds.
Prosecutors requested a sentence of 210 months in prison. Webster, through his attorney James Monroe, requested a significant downward variance to a sentence of time served. The federal sentencing guidelines suggested a range of 210 to 240 months in prison, and the probation office recommended 120 months.
Following his prison sentence, Webster will spend three years on supervised release. He will also have to pay $2,060 in restitution.
Prosecutors say Webster came to Washington prepared for violence: he allegedly brought a gun, his Marine-issued rucksack, his NYPD-issued bulletproof vest, and some military “meals ready-to-eat” (MREs). The government had asked Mehta for a six-year body armor enhancement because Webster was wearing the bulletproof vest when he charged at Metropolitan Police Department Officer Noah Rathbun.
“You fucking piece of shit,” Webster is heard yelling at police. “You fucking Commie motherfuckers.”
Exhibits in the government’s sentencing memo show Webster’s progression toward Rathbun and, ultimately, his attack.
‘Webster Is One of the Rioters Who Should Have Known Better.’
In arguing for a sentence of more than 17 years in prison, prosecutor Hava Mirell took direct aim at Webster’s testimony that he was justified in his actions.
“Nothing can explain or justify Mr. Webster’s rage,” Mirell said. “Nothing can explain or justify his violence.”
Mirell argued that Webster’s military and police service — he is Marine Corps vet who later served for decades as an NYPD officer, assigned at one point to then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s detail — means he should be held to a higher standard.
“Webster is one of the rioters who should have known better,” Mirell said. “Even if he didn’t know better than to believe Trump’s lies, he should have known better than to assault cops.”
Mirell said that the impact of Webster’s testimony damaged the nation’s legal system itself.
“The jury saw through [his testimony], but a lot of our nation still believes that the rioters were justified in their actions, that they were patriots, that police instigated and provide, this violence and that the rioters were mere protestors,” Mirell said. “The defendant, through his testimony, perpetuated that lie.”
As for the body armor enhancement, the government implied that Webster felt empowered by the bulletproof vest he wore to the Capitol — a sense of strength he might not have otherwise had.
“I question whether he would have come at Officer Rathbun with such force if he didn’t have that extra padding,” she said.
Monroe had argued that the bulletproof vest his client wore that day was incidental, and did not contribute to the crime for which he was convicted.
Mehta agreed that the enhancement applied.
“I think a reasonable viewing of the evidence, plus testimony, suggests that it did contribute to the offense in that it emboldened Mr. Webster to behave the way that he did,” Mehta said. “He might not have been as emboldened by his actions that day had he not been wearing that body armor.”
However, the judge said he was hesitant to apply the enhancement, which would add six years to Mr. Webster’s sentence.
“The consequence of the enhancement is extremely draconian,” the judge said, noting that the enhancement itself was longer than any Jan. 6 sentence that had been handed down thus far.
Mehta also pressed Mirell on the government’s insistence that Webster’s military and police service was an aggravating factor, and not a mitigating one.
“I can see how the government would view [Webster’s background] as something he used to [justify] his behavior that day,” Mehta said. “But to give him no credit, in the government’s view, for a 25-year period of service with integrity, honor, and commendation?”
“It cannot bear the weight of a 90-month variance,” Mirell replied, referencing the defense request for a sentence of time served.
Monroe, Webster’s lawyer, pleaded with Mehta to “protect this court’s integrity” by “making sure that the bad conduct perpetrated by good people like Mr. Webster on Jan. 6 is measured against his conviction.”
Monroe said that to punish his client as the government requested would be a vengeful act.
“[T]he government wants everyone to believe that we should condemn Tom for all eternity for those 46 seconds,” Monroe said. “None of the good deeds he was capable of accomplishing, not the beautiful family he raised, not being a great sone to his parents, being a police officer and hard-working Marine, no credit, zero — that is not how we measure justice. That is revenge.”
Mehta pushed back somewhat, noting that Monroe had requested that his client serve no more jail time whatsoever.
“You asked for a time served sentence,” the judge said. “I dare say that’s not consistent with justice either.”
Webster: ‘Harshest Punishment’ Is Public ‘Shame and Humiliation’
During the sentencing hearing, Webster, who had remained defiant throughout trial and maintained that he was trying to defend himself and others against injury, took the opportunity to speak to the court directly.
“I respect the jury’s decision in my case and I wish I had never gone to Washington, D.C.,” Webster said. “I wish the events that horrible day had never happened.”
“Unfortunately I became swept up in politics, and former President Trump’s rhetoric, the picture of voter fraud that he painted, created panic and fear in my mind,” Webster continued, his voice breaking at times. “I was overwhelmed with emotion [at the Capitol]. I was frustrated that I could not figure out a way to stop people from getting hurt. I became distraught.”
Webster told Mehta that there are worse penalties for him than going to prison.
“Your Honor, for me the harshest punishment is not jail, but rather being in public and experiencing shame and humiliation,” Webster said. “Wondering if people know who I am, telling my kids as they go off to school to disown me if it comes up … I was their hero up until Jan. 6.”
Toward the end of his remarks, Webster apologized to Rathbun, who was in the courtroom but did not testify.
“Most importantly, Officer Rathbun, I am sorry,” Webster said. “I put myself on the same level as you and that was wrong. I want to apologize to you, and most importantly your family. I know how it impacts your family. I’m sorry.”
Mehta opted for a brief break after Webster’s words before coming back to issue his sentence.
‘The Danger That Was Created Was Created by You, Not by Anybody Else.’
Before reaching the specifics, Mehta, a Barack Obama appointee, spoke for several uninterrupted minutes, offering his take on Webster’s actions, the actions of the mob that day, and the cost the country continues to pay.
The judge directly rejected Webster’s position that he had become angry and distraught in response to actions taken by Rathbun and other officers.
“It appears that from the moment you arrived on scene at that bike rack, you had already become quite aggressive,” Mehta said. “You were already quite confrontational. The danger that was created was created by you, not by anybody else.”
Mehta said that those who lionize Jan. 6 rioters as patriots are missing the point.
“They’re right in the sense that it was a historic moment,” said Mehta. “Where they are wrong is that it was not just one day. It was not just one moment in time. It was a day that continues to affect the very fabric of this country, and for today’s purposes, affect the lives of real human beings. Americans.”
“We have here in court today somebody who served his country, who served the people of New York, and, as his lawyer has put it aptly, in 46 seconds threw all of that away,” the judge continued. “If anybody who thinks it happens just by chance, because he’s a person who lacks character, that because he believed in a particular political ideology [so] of course he acted that way, you would be wrong.”
Mehta said that a person only acts the way Webster did if their “sense of equilibrium, sense of patriotism, sense of self are lost.”
The judge cautioned against anyone who would celebrate the defendant’s incarceration.
“No one should be gleeful that Mr. Webster is sitting here facing a 17-and-a-half year sentence,” Mehta said. “No one should think, ‘it serves him right for believing what he believes.’ He was an ordinary American, and now he finds himself looking at an extraordinary amount of time in jail.”
Mehta, after saying that he continues to be “shocked” every time he views the body-worn camera video of Webster attacking Rathbun, noted that the police line had been “intact” prior to Webster’s assault.
“[N]ot until you arrived did all hell break loose,” Mehta said. “It was your actions, at least on that part of the police line, that opened up the police line and allowed thousands of people through.”
Those people, Mehta continued, breached the Capitol, destroyed property, intimidated the lawmakers and staffers working in the building, and ultimately forced Congress to stop certifying Joe Biden’s electoral win — a proceeding, Mehta noted, that had been a peaceful one “for hundreds of years.”
Mehta said that the attack on the Capitol has done severe damage to the nation.
“Officer Rathbun was a victim that day for sure, no doubt about it,” the judge said. “The other victim was democracy. And that’s not something that can be taken lightly.”
Mehta acknowledged that people in Webster’s life were also victims, in a way.
“Regrettably, Mr. Webster, all the good things that you have done in your life, all the contributions you’ve made to country, community, family — life is fragile, and the decisions we make, even if we lost our mind, can cause us to lose all that in a split second,” Mehta said. “Regrettably that’s what’s happened to you.”
Mehta also took a moment to speak directly to Monroe, Webster’s attorney, urging him to choose his post-sentencing words carefully.
“Mr. Monroe I think you did a terrific job,” said Mehta, who had earlier reminded the courtroom of his own experience as a defense attorney. “I think you’re a wonderful lawyer. What you’ve done is admirable. It is in the best tradition of defense lawyers in this country. But one small piece of advice: when you leave the courthouse and make your statements to the press, assume it’s going to get back to the judge. Don’t blame the jury. Don’t suggest the jury was too traumatized to keep an open mind.”
“It wasn’t because they were traumatized from Jan. 6 that they convicted your client,” Mehta continued. “It’s because your client was guilty.”
As he geared up to hand down the longest sentence yet in Jan. 6 prosecutions, Mehta reflected on the need for a sentence to reflect the gravity of the crime.
“We simply cannot have a country in which, when people on the losing side of an election think [they] can use violence and physical force to undo that result,” Mehta said. “Whether you were told by someone that that’s what happened, that the election was stolen, or you came to believe that independently on your own … we cannot function as a country if people think they can behave violently when they lose an election.”
Mehta’s final words to Webster before issuing his sentence were a somber reflection on what could have been, had Webster resisted Trump’s call to descend on the nation’s capital that day.
“I do wish you hadn’t come to Washington, D.C.,” Mehta said. “I do wish you had stayed at home in New York, that you had not come out to the Capitol that day. Because all of us would be far better off. Not just you, [but] your family, the country — we’d all be better off.”
“Yet here we are,” Mehta concluded. “Yet here we are.”
[Images via FBI court filings.]
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