Adam Johnson, the Manatee County man who became a prominent face of the riot at the U.S. Capitol when he famously posed for a photo toting Nancy Pelosi’s lectern, was sentenced Friday to 75 days in jail.
Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of the District of Columbia ordered Johnson to also serve a year of supervised release and pay a $5,000 fine and $500 in restitution for damage to the Capitol.
The judge lamented at length a highly partisan political culture that he worried was “ripping this country apart.” He said he felt a term of incarceration was necessary to send a message that conduct like Johnson’s was unacceptable.
“Society needs to appreciate that if you’re going to do something like what happened, there are going to be severe consequences,” the judge said.
Johnson admitted that his presence in the Capitol made worse what occurred that day, Jan. 6, 2021. He admitted what he did was wrong. He called his famous pose with the lectern “a very stupid idea.”
“There were things that happened there that should never happen again,” Johnson said. “And I’m ashamed to have been a part of it.”
Johnson, 37, was one of hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump who stormed the U.S. Capitol, disrupting congressional certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The now infamous photo of him toting the lectern in the Capitol rotunda as he smiled and waved helped FBI agents quickly identify him. He was arrested days after the riot.
A stay-at-home father of five who is married to a doctor, Johnson traveled to Washington, D.C., with a friend before a planned rally in support of Trump. He heard the former president’s speech, in which Trump told people to march toward the Capitol. Hearing the building had been breached, Johnson and his friend jogged toward it.
As the mob breached barriers and fought with police, Johnson climbed scaffolding up the side of the building and made his way inside the Senate wing. He marched with others through an office. He posed for a photo beside a sign reading, “Closed to all tours,” and posted it to Facebook with a caption reading, “No.”
He entered the office suite of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, jiggling locked door handles as the speaker’s staff sat barricaded in a nearby office. He found the lectern in a cloakroom and toted it to the Rotunda, where he posed for photos and pretended to make a speech.
He left the lectern there and walked to a House chamber entry where rioters overwhelmed police. He saw officers crushed and people using flag poles to try to break down the chamber doors. He noticed a bust of George Washington and remarked that it would be “a great battering ram.”
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Johnson left after white smoke began filling the hallways. He spent 35 minutes inside the Capitol.
In the days following the attack, Johnson boasted on social media about his presence there, writing that he “broke the internet” and was “finally famous.”
Johnson later deleted social media posts and pictures from Jan. 6 and 7. When FBI agents contacted him, he turned himself in and spent a weekend in jail. He cooperated with the investigation, detailing everything he did in Washington.
In November, he pleaded guilty to a single charge of knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.
In Friday’s sentencing hearing, prosecutor Jessica Arco emphasized the significance of Jan. 6 as a threat to the democratic process and the peaceful transition of power. Johnson’s actions went beyond mere protest, she said.
“There can be no quest that Mr. Johnson knew he was part of a violent mob,” Arco said. While he has a constitutional right to speak his mind, “he converted his political ideas into unlawful acts. ... This is not patriotism.”
Amid plea negotiations, prosecutors received a tip that Johnson wanted to publish a memoir about his experience. This led to a provision of the agreement that he must turn over to the government any profits he makes from books, interviews or products bearing his name or likeness.
Since his arrest, defense lawyers said, Johnson already has suffered consequences. He has dealt with ridicule and threats. Friends stopped talking to him. His wife’s medical practice suffered financially.
“I think he’s embarrassed by what he did,” defense attorney Dan Eckhart told the judge. “And he wants to send a message to everybody that he did this the wrong way, and this was a terrible decision he made to walk inside the Capitol building.”
Speaking at length before imposing the sentence, Judge Walton noted protest is part of the American way but said he was disturbed by a political atmosphere where one segment refuses to accept the results of an election.
“That’s what we see in banana republics,” he said. “That’s where we’re headed if we don’t do something to stop it. I don’t know what we do to stop it.”
He said he worries that the country’s political climate is reminiscent of conditions preceding civil war and encouraged Johnson to read a book called How Civil Wars Start.
The judge commended Johnson for being a good father to his children. But he said it was perplexing to him that someone with Johnson’s background and intelligence would get caught up in a mob.
“The fact that you were merely there contributing to what occurred, that’s something I just can’t overlook,” he said.