“I just want to do whatever needs to be done to be legit,” Pruitt said.
He discussed protective gear and lodging with other group members. Shortly before the riot, the texts show, his membership was approved.
Pruitt, 40, showed up at three key points at the Capitol on Jan. 6, wearing a “Punisher” tank top, including in the Crypt, where he was photographed hurling a sign across the room and later went face-to-face with police. He was also photographed in the Capitol Visitors Center, where he threw a chair and confronted another group of rioters trying to access the Capitol tunnel system.
Then, in the halls of the Capitol, he began approaching Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the senator was being hustled out of the building. Schumer’s team turned him around and had him run in the opposite direction from Pruitt.
Pruitt never actually assaulted any officers 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 proceeding, and federal sentencing guidelines suggested 51 to 63 months in prison, in part because he has a lengthy criminal history, including assaulting police, cocaine possession and drunken driving convictions.
“You were acting somewhat in concert with others,” U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly told Pruitt, “engaged in planning to some degrees with others. … You did get into the building early, you did penetrate deeply into the building, you did damage property, you played a role in amping up the crowd, you did get very close to one of our national leaders.”
Pruitt, a father of a 9-year-old and an 11-year-old, said he had been blacklisted from working in the D.C. restaurant business. “I’m not happy that January 6th happened at all,” he told the judge on Monday. “To be completely honest, I wish I’d have been watching it from a restaurant rather than participating in it. … Yes, I was wrong and I broke the laws, and I do apologize for that.”
But Pruitt also said: “I did believe the election was stolen. I still do.”
A member of Schumer’s security team said he is haunted by the near-confrontation between the senator and Pruitt.
“I saw Mr. Pruitt approaching us with the intent to inflict harm to the Majority Leader of the United States Senate,” the special agent, identified by the initials M.L., wrote in a victim impact statement. “It was only due to our teams’ preplanning of alternate evacuations procedures and quick actions that this impending meeting did not result in blood shed or serious bodily injury.”
“I was within 30 feet of these nasty insurrectionists,” Schumer said at a hearing in January.
Pruitt worked as a bartender in D.C. until November 2020, when he was filmed being inducted into the Proud Boys by Chairman Enrique Tarrio after a pro-Trump rally. Pruitt later said members of the group had protected him during one of several violent clashes between supporters and opponents of the former president. Pruitt was not a full-fledged member, though, and sought to become one after his first encounter with Tarrio, texts from his chats with other members show.
Defense attorney Robert L. Jenkins emphasized that Pruitt “did not physically attack any law enforcement officers … did not directly cause any bodily injury to any law enforcement officers” and “did not possess or employ any weapons.”
In a conversation with other local Proud Boys on Jan. 5, 2021, Pruitt suggested that he could distract the police while others fought, according to the court record. “Strike when they come first,” he said. “And at that point we put in work.”
Prosecutors say he fulfilled that role. “Well over a year later, many officers remembered him as an instigator,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memo. His appearance was distinctive: A bodybuilder, Pruitt wore a tactical glove with padded knuckles and a tank top emblazoned with the skull logo of a comic book vigilante. Inside the Capitol, he threw a sign and a chair.
One officer described Pruitt as “an agitator” who would get close to police and try to rattle them.
“The defendant did this repeatedly throughout my interaction to include telling me that, ‘You better stop eyeballing me,’ ” the officer recalled in his statement. “When the defendant found his efforts to be unsuccessful he would then retreat into the larger crowd of protesters looking for another target in uniform to provoke.”
In media interviews after the riot, Pruitt said he had no idea that the crowd would converge on the Capitol despite having been in conversations about those plans in a local Proud Boys group chat. He was also part of discussions in which Proud Boys were told not to wear their traditional colors of black and yellow so as to blend in better with the crowd.
The chat “included explicitly anti-Semitic and racist memes,” according to court records, with some anti-Jewish comments made by Pruitt himself. Jenkins said Pruitt did not make or see many of the anti-Semitic or racist posts.
Pruitt did write that he was “going for blood” and excited about violent confrontation.
“My chick (now ex) left me yesterday,” he wrote the Proud Boys group on Jan. 4. “Built up frustration ready to come out. Makes me even more dangerous.”
Pruitt was arrested in December 2020, accused of violating a protection order by threatening an ex-girlfriend; he was on probation and pretrial release at the time of the Capital riot and wearing an ankle monitor.