Infowars host Owen Shroyer, who federal prosecutors said “helped create January 6” by lacing 2020 election conspiracy theories with calls for violence to a large internet following, was sentenced Tuesday to two months in jail after joining a mob of angry Donald Trump supporters during the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly of D.C. handed down the punishment after an hour-plus hearing, saying that on Jan. 6, 2021, “Mr. Shroyer was not merely at the building, but he also did play a role in amping up the crowd on the steps that day,” leading chants of “1776!” through a megaphone near Infowars founder Alex Jones on the east side of the Capitol.
Kelly noted that virtually alone among more than 1,100 riot defendants charged, Shroyer trespassed on restricted Capitol grounds in violation of a prior court stayaway order for disruptive conduct at the Capitol. He added: “I’m not sure that he has disavowed in general what happened on Jan. 6 in any way for me to give him extra credit for remorse.”
Addressing the court seeking probation, the 33-year-old host of “The War Room with Owen Shroyer” said that he voluntarily turned over his phone and electronic devices to investigators, underwent a lengthy interview with prosecutors, and fully complied with more than two years of presentence supervision.
“I was fully transparent and honest. And I’m glad I was to show that I was not part of any larger plan for illegal activity or violence that day,” Shroyer said. He asked Kelly to consider his role as a journalist, but admitted that he “should have sought permission” from his employer. “I did not,” he said.
Shroyer’s case raised a potential First Amendment issue, defense attorney Norm Pattis said, adding that he would appeal. Shroyer was unusual among riot defendants because unlike others who said their actions were influenced by media or online presenters, he was one of those influencers. Shroyer did not enter the Capitol, but he pleaded guilty on June 23 to one count of trespassing on restricted grounds after previously denying wrongdoing.
Investigators were interested in Shroyer’s communications because according to the House Jan. 6 committee, he was in frequent text communication between Jan. 4 and Jan. 6 with three Proud Boys leaders convicted this spring of seditious conspiracy: Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs, a former Infowars employee. All three were sentenced in the past two weeks, with Tarrio receiving 22 years, the stiffest punishment handed down to a Jan. 6 defendant.
At Shroyer’s sentencing hearing, Pattis — who also represents Biggs and Alex Jones — repeated that Shroyer was not part of any larger plot, that Alex Jones has not been charged because he was recorded on video appearing to try to divert a crowd away from the building, and that Shroyer alone among the group walking with Jones was charged and pleaded guilty because he was under court order not to enter Capitol grounds.
Still, Pattis called prosecutors’ request for jail time “chilling,” saying in a court filing that they sought to “criminalize dissent” through “imprisonment based largely on what Mr. Shroyer said on, during and after the riot.”
“In [a] case involving core First Amendment activities, the Court can and must draw a line the Government cannot cross,” Pattis wrote.
In court he added, “Jail for ‘1776!’? That’s King George II or III, not Judge Kelly.”
Kelly made clear that Shroyer was not prosecuted for his political views or statements, such as saying that the 2020 election was stolen, noting that “any American has the right to believe and say things against all evidence.”
But, the judge said, “nothing you’re being prosecuted for and nothing about your conduct that day was about being a journalist,” and all the Constitution’s protections for the rights to free speech, protest, petition and elections did not extend to joining a mob “using violence and the threat of violence” to prevent Congress from performing its duty to affirm the 2020 election results and maintain the peaceful transfer of power.
The law allows prosecutors to use a defendant’s statements against him at sentencing, and Shroyer’s prosecution argued that his statements and actions called out for deterrence through incarceration.
In a sentencing memo, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Troy A. Edwards Jr. and Kimberly Paschall sought a four-month prison term, saying that Shroyer and others drove an angry mob to Washington, and “cannot light a fire near a can of gasoline, and then express concern or disbelief when it explodes.”
Prosecutors said Infowars “drastically amplified his thinly veiled calls to violence on January 6th,” and that Shroyer “spread election disinformation paired with violent rhetoric to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of viewers.”
Afterward, Shroyer continued to spread baseless claims that Trump won the 2020 election and will win next year unless there is fraud. He also told followers that they “should be proud” of events that day that led to multiple deaths, injured scores of police, and caused $3 million in damage and an evacuation of lawmakers and staff.
“This defendant needs to be deterred from returning to commit specifically this type of conduct ever again,” prosecutors said.
Shroyer in January 2021 was under supervision for a pending 2020 misdemeanor case in D.C. Superior Court, which resulted from his disruption of a December 2019 House impeachment hearing by live-streaming himself heckling and accusing Democratic lawmakers of “treason.” Shroyer signed a deferred prosecution agreement in which that case would be dropped if he performed 32 hours of community service and did not engage in disorderly conduct on restricted Capitol grounds for a certain period, a span that had not lapsed before the Capitol breach.