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Richard "Bigo" Barnett sentenced to 4.5 years; plans to appeal conviction

by Bill Bowden | May 24, 2023 at 9:59 p.m.
Richard Barnett, right, with his attorney, Jonathan Gross, after Barnett was sentenced to 54 months in prison on Wednesday. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bill Bowden).

WASHINGTON — Richard “Bigo” Barnett was sentenced on Wednesday to serve 4.5 years in prison for his role in the U.S. Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.

U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper also ordered Barnett to pay $2,000 in restitution and $465 in court fees.

Barnett, 63, of Gravette, will get credit for four months he served in the District of Columbia jail, said Jonathan Gross, his attorney.

The judge is allowing Barnett to self-report to prison. After he is released from prison, Barnett will be on probation for three years.

Barnett’s legal team had argued for a maximum of one year in prison, while federal prosecutors wanted 7.25 years.

Gross told the court that seven years could be a life sentence for Barnett.

Barnett said he plans to appeal his conviction.

Prosecutors were trying to get him to apologize for things he didn’t do, Barnett told the judge.

“They want me to be remorseful, but I could not do that,” he said. “They want me to admit to things I did not do.”

In January, after a two-week trial, a jury in the District of Columbia found Barnett guilty of all eight counts — four felonies and four misdemeanors.

He faced enhanced charges for entering the Capitol with a dangerous weapon — a Hike ’n Strike Walking Staff stun gun that he bought a week earlier at the Bass Pro Shop in Rogers.

Barnett testified in his trial that the stun gun wasn’t working on Jan. 6, 2021, possibly because the night before he had knocked it over into the shower while the water was running.

Judge Cooper questioned that excuse along with others during the sentencing hearing on Wednesday.

“You may disagree with me but the stun gun didn’t short out because you dropped it in the shower,” Cooper told Barnett.

The judge also cited Barnett’s excuse for losing the cellphone that he used to shoot video at the Capitol. Barnett testified that he might have put it on his pickup truck and driven off.

Cooper said Barnett had perjured himself on the stand.

“It is an affront to me and to our court system,” said the judge.

While in the Capitol, Barnett posed for pictures with his foot on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite. His lawyers said the government targeted him because of that photo, which was circulated widely in the media.

“For better or worse, you became one of the faces of Jan. 6, and I think you kind of enjoyed it,” Cooper told Barnett, noting that he attempted to sell autographed photos and to copyright the phrase “Nancy, Bigo was here you beotch,” which he wrote on a note he left in Pelosi’s office.

“You have far from shown any responsibility for being there that day,” said Cooper.

Police interference

Besides the dangerous weapon, among the more serious charges against Barnett, he was found guilty of interfering with Metropolitan Police Officer Terrence Craig during a civil disorder.

Craig was trying to protect a police line in the Capitol Rotunda, to keep protesters from going back into other parts of the building.

In an order on Tuesday, Cooper wrote that Barnett had threatened Craig 15 times based on video presented in the trial.

“I think the evidence was more than sufficient … that you threatened him both verbally and by flashing your stun gun,” Cooper told Barnett on Wednesday.

Barnett told the judge he wasn’t proud of his behavior in the Capitol Rotunda, “but I did not intend to threaten him.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, Gross told the court that the government’s case boiled down to six seconds of police body-worn camera video — four seconds of Barnett waving and two seconds where he adjusts his jacket and reveals the stun gun.

Barnett had left his American flag in Pelosi’s office, and he wanted a police officer to go get it for him, but Craig didn’t leave the line.

According to prosecutors, Barnett verbally threatened Craig, saying he was going to “make it real bad for him” if somebody didn’t get his flag.

In one video, Barnett could be seen waving. Prosecutors said he was calling protesters over to challenge the police line.

But Gross disagreed.

In Wednesday’s hearing, he said a female police officer had gotten into a fight with a female protester, and Barnett was calling people over to film the altercation.

“Obviously, you are unable to see that from the video,” Gross told the court.

The other two seconds of important video occurred when Craig pushed Barnett, said Gross. Afterwards, Barnett adjusts his jacket and briefly reveals the stun gun.

Governor’s race

Gross told the court that, at the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, Barnett was contemplating a run for governor of Arkansas.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Barnett said he twice announced his candidacy for governor, but television reporters edited it out. They were interviewing Barnett at rallies to support local police.

“I was so disgusted with all the choices …” Barnett said of the candidates in the governor’s race. “Somebody needed to be in there that’s not a politician, not from a political family or dynasty.”

He said Jan. 6 derailed his political plans.

Barnett said Cooper trusted him enough to release him from jail and let him go home to Arkansas to wait until his trial. Barnett asked the judge to trust him again and “if you can find it in your heart to give me probation.”

Barnett said his actions on Jan. 6 were “hard to explain.”

Cooper said he didn’t believe Barnett drove to Washington just to participate in a peaceful rally. His social media posts indicated otherwise.

“You said you believed the election had been stolen and something should be done about it,” said Cooper.

The judge said Barnett’s 10-pound flag pole was more than necessary to support his flag, implying that the pole itself could have been used as a weapon.

Barnett didn’t physically attack anybody that day, but the judge said, “I shudder to think” what might have happened had Pelosi or any of her staffers been in the office when Barnett and other rioters arrived.

Cooper said there have been complaints about the police response that day, but he thought it was conservative, what with rioters running through the Capitol halls, “knocking on doors and hooting and hollering.”

Cooper said he read several letters from Barnett’s family and friends that were included in a court filing.

“I have no doubt that you are a good family man … that there is good in your heart, that you are generous with your money,” said the judge. “But that part of you is completely at odds with your criminal conduct.”

While in Pelosi’s office suite, Barnett bled on an envelope, so he took and left a quarter for it. During his trial in January, he said he took the envelope because it was a "biohazard." Taking the envelope resulted in a theft charge against Barnett.

Barnett told Cooper on Wednesday that he had seen police outside the Capitol shooting smoke grenades into the crowd of “peaceful protesters.”

During his trial, Barnett testified, “I heard someone scream the police are attacking us. It flipped my world upside down. I went into full crisis mode. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. … All of a sudden, I’m watching the people I believe in, the people I trust, doing something really, really bad.”

But during a one hour and 45 minute interview with the FBI in Bentonville two days after the riot, Barnett didn’t mention seeing any police brutality at the Capitol, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gordon told the jury.

Barnett was found guilty of the following charges:

— 18:231(a)(3); Civil Disorder

— 18:1512(c)(2) and 2; Obstruction of an Official Proceeding and Aiding and Abetting

— 18:1752(a)(1) and (b)(1) (A); Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building or Grounds with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon

— 18:1752(a)(2) and (b)(1)(A); Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building or Grounds with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon

— 40:5104(e)(2)(C); Entering and Remaining in Certain Rooms in the Capitol Building

— 40:5104(e)(2)(D); Disorderly Conduct in a Capitol Building

— 40:5104(e)(2)(G); Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building

— 18:641; Theft of Government Property


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