Researching and writing this column remains one of my great pleasures. The biggest challenge used to be deciding what to write about every two weeks but, such has been the state of the world over the past couple of years, the stories seem to just land on my laptop. Such is the case today as I sit and write in front of the news and hear that Paul Hodgkins, a 38 year old Florida man who entered the Capitol building on January 6, has been sentenced to eight months in prison.
On the surface, that sounds light. But when you consider the precedent that it’s set, it’s really important. Hodgkins was part of the mob that entered the Capitol with the aim of disrupting the certification of the election. He deserves his jail time. As far as we can tell, he’s not one of the people who engaged in vandalism or violent conduct. He entered and he left.
This is important because other judges presiding over the hundreds of other arrests for felony charges will now know that a precedent has been set. Eight months is the minimum, just for being there. Anybody who smashed a window, threw a fire extinguisher, hit a cop with a flag pole, carried cuffs or bear spray — the prison time will only stack up.
“Although you were only one member of a larger mob, you actively participated in a larger event that threatened the Capitol and democracy itself,” said U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss of Washington, as reported by NBC News. “The damage that was caused that way was way beyond a several-hour delay of the vote certification. It is a damage that will persist in this country for several decades.”
Naturally, Hodgkins and his lawyer did their best in court to plead for a lighter sentence involving no jail time. Patrick Leduc, the lawyer, argued that Hodgkins is “law abiding, hardworking, honest, caring, kind, thoughtful, generous, and the kind of person you would want for a neighbor.”
Leduc said that Hodgkins simply got swept up in the crowd, in the heat of the moment. However, prosecutors said that Hodgkins had plenty of opportunity to leave the building sooner, once he saw how serious the situation was. His calls of “the big boys pulled me in” fell on deaf ears.
That said, Hodgkins did show remorse: “I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I am truly remorseful and regretful for my actions, not because I face consequences but because of the damage that day’s incident caused and the way this country that I love has been hurt… I realize that my involvement did still contribute to the greater problem that took place. The company of us who remained calmer in our protests may have made others feel emboldened.”
Prosecutors asked for 18 months of prison time. Hodgkins pleaded with the judge, saying that he will likely lose his job as a mechanic if he serves any time at all. The judge said that some prison time is appropriate and sentenced him to eight months.
Again, it sounds light. But from Hodgkins’ end, he will surely severely regret the 15 minutes he spent inside the building while wearing a Trump shirt and carrying a Trump flag. It will surely go down as the worst decision he ever made, and others who made similarly bad decisions and are awaiting sentencing will be watching in horror.
Jon Schaffer (photo: Klaus Hellmerich)
One of those, of course, is metal musician Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth. Like Hodgkins, Schaffer is pleading guilty to the felony charges. Unlike Hodgkins however, Schaffer’s charges do appear to include violent crimes. Besides the fact that Schaffer entered the Capitol wearing a cap emblazoned with the logo of far right terrorist group the Oath Keepers, he was also carrying bear spray.
There was a coordinated effort by the insurrectionists to use bear spray (a strong pepper spray) against law enforcement officials. There’s frankly no reasonable explanation for Schaffer to be carrying the substance in Washington DC, where bear sightings are very rare. Here’s what the FBI quoted Schaffer as saying before he attempted to overthrow the government:
“My name’s Jon Schaffer, I’m from Indiana. A group of thugs and criminals hijacked this country a long time ago. And now they’re making their big move, and it’s not gonna happen…People need to wake up and snap out of the Matrix, because they’re going down. They made the move, they’re messing with the wrong people here, trust me on that. And we needed it to be open like this. Open fraud. Open theft. Because now we see you, and you’re going down, mark my words.”
Schaffer made his motives very clear. Then he went to Washington wearing his white power hat and armed with bear spray. He entered the Capitol, screaming like a goon. He’s caught on video looking, not like the patriot that he believes himself to be, but like a traitorous criminal who hates democracy and America.
So when we boil it down and we await Schaffer’s sentencing — Hodgkins got eight months for simply entering the building and leaving after 15 minutes. Schaffer entered while wearing white supremacist clothing and carrying a weapon.
According to his Wiki page: “On April 16, 2021, Schaffer agreed to plead guilty to two charges: obstruction of an official proceeding of Congress and trespassing on restricted grounds of the Capitol while armed with a dangerous weapon. He was the first participant in the storming to plead guilty.Prosecutors agreed to a recommendation of between 3.5 and 4.5 years in prison, depending on his cooperation in prosecuting other rioters. He would also be granted sponsorship for the United States Federal Witness Protection Program.”
Don’t expect a new Iced Earth album any time soon.