WASHINGTON (AP) — A Texas man who attacked the U.S. Capitol with a metal tomahawk — and is now the face of a website selling merchandise portraying jailed rioters as “political prisoners” — was sentenced Friday to seven years behind bars.
Shane Jenkins, 46, tried to smash a Capitol window with his tomahawk during the Jan. 6, 2021, siege. He also repeatedly threw makeshift weapons at police officers, hurling a desk drawer, a flagpole, a metal walking stick and a wooden pole with a spear-like point.
A website touts Jenkins as the founder of a group that seeks to “shed light on the January 6th defendants and the treatment they have faced from the government.” The website sells T-shirts, hoodies, hats, tote bags and other merchandise with Jan. 6-themed slogans, including “Free the J6 political prisoners” and “Want my vote? Help the J6ers.” Another shirt for sale features former President Donald Trump’s mugshot over the words “Indicted we stand.”
The website also commemorates Jenkins’ own role in the riot. It displays a cartoon avatar of Jenkins, nicknamed Skullet, and a logo depicting crossed tomahawks below a silhouette of the Capitol building.
Prosecutors don’t know how much money Jenkins has generated from the website’s merchandise sales. But they said he has used another fundraising site to collect more than $118,000 in donations.
“Far from contemplating the harm he has caused, examining his conscience, feeling shame for his actions, and resolving to change, Jenkins has chosen to use his January 6 status to build a brand in order to garner money and attention,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Defense attorney Dennis Boyle said Jenkins hasn’t received money from the sale of Jan. 6 merchandise and doesn’t own the site that sells it, although he couldn’t say who does.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who sentenced Jenkins, said it was “shameful” for him to capitalize on his role in the riot. The judge also rejected the notion that Jenkins and other jailed rioters are political prisoners who can’t get a fair trial.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mehta said. “It’s all on video.”
Jenkins expressed remorse for his actions on Jan. 6, saying he got “caught up in the heat of the moment.”
“I love this country,” he told the judge. “And I’m not some crazed maniac set out to destroy this nation.”
Prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of 19 years and eight months. They also asked the judge to impose a fine of at least $118,888, equaling the money Jenkins has publicly raised.
Mehta denied their request for a fine. He also refused to impose a “terrorism” enhancement that would have significantly increased his sentencing guidelines.
In March, a jury convicted Jenkins of charges including civil disorder and obstructing the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress for certifying the presidential election victory of Joe Biden, a Democrat, over Trump, a Republican.
Jenkins flew from Houston to Washington, D.C., a day before Trump’s rally near the White House on Jan. 6. Jenkins believed baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen from Trump and envisioned that a “medieval melee style battle” would erupt at the Capitol, prosecutors said.
“His language invoked imagery of war and violent retribution, and his goal was to intimidate and retaliate against a government that would not install his preferred candidate,” they wrote.
Boyle said Jenkins’ actions on Jan. 6 were motivated by a “misunderstanding about the election.”
“There remain many grifters out there who remain free to continue propagating the ‘great lie’ that Trump won the election, Donald Trump being among the most prominent,” Boyle wrote. “Mr. Jenkins is not one of these individuals; he knows he was wrong.”
The defense lawyer said Jenkins endured a tumultuous, abusive upbringing to became a “pillar in his community.” When he was 20, Jenkins shot and killed his stepfather in self-defense after the man pointed a shotgun at him and made death threats, according to Boyle, who said Jenkins wasn’t charged in the 1997 killing.
Prosecutors acknowledged that Jenkins wasn’t prosecuted for his stepfather’s killing, but they said his “extensive” criminal record before Jan. 6 included assault convictions and shows he has a “penchant for violence.”
In July, Jenkins and 11 other inmates at the jail in Washington assaulted another Capitol riot defendant, Taylor Taranto, in a TV room, according to prosecutors. Taranto had been saying derogatory things about Ashli Babbitt, the rioter who was fatally shot by a police officer inside the Capitol, and Babbitt’s mother, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have argued that Jenkins played a pivotal role in the Jan. 6 attack. He struck a windowpane six times with the spike end of the tomahawk that he had carried in a backpack. He pulverized and sprayed the shatter-resistant glass.
“Are we going in or not?” he shouted at the crowd.
After Jenkins stepped down from the window ledge, another rioter stepped in to break the window.
“It is difficult to overstate the significance of Jenkins’ actions at this location,” prosecutors wrote. “As the first to attack this window, Jenkins crossed a line that had previously not been crossed at the (Lower West Terrace) — he had attacked the Capitol itself.”
Rioters eventually destroyed the window, allowing them to enter a conference room, where they made improvised weapons from the broken parts of wooden furniture. Mob members used the furniture pieces to attack police officers guarding an entrance in a tunnel on the Capitol’s Lower West Terrace.
More than 1,100 people have been charged with Jan. 6-related federal crimes. Approximately 800 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted by juries or judges after trials in Washington. Over 650 have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds of them receiving terms of imprisonment ranging from three days to 22 years, according to an Associated Press analysis of court records.