Brandon Straka, the out gay founder of the #WalkAway Campaign, will serve three months of home detention with electronic monitoring, spend three years on probation, and pay a $5,000 fine and $500 restitution for his role in the January 6 rioting at the Capitol building that attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election and give Donald Trump a second term in the White House.
“I do agree with the defense that Mr. Straka played a unique role,” Judge Dabney Friedrich said during a January 24 sentencing hearing for Straka, who pleaded guilty last year to a single misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct. “He did not assault any police officers and he did not enter the Capitol.”
On January 6, Straka entered the Capitol grounds knowing that they were closed to the public that day. He was also aware that the rioters at the Capitol building had breached the building. While Straka and his attorney, Bilal Essayli, a partner at Essayli & Brown in Irvine, California, wrote in a statement to the court and a sentencing memorandum that Straka was unaware of the attacks being made on police at the building and that his conduct once on the Capitol grounds was political speech that is protected by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, Friedrich clearly rejected those arguments.
“None of the criminal conduct to which Mr. Straka has admitted to is protected by the First Amendment,” Friedrich said during the roughly 90-minute hearing. “They served to undermine democracy and the rule of law.”
When Straka arrived at the Capitol steps on the east side of the building, he recorded an eight minute video of himself. He was yards away from a door and must have been aware that the people at that door were fighting with police. Saying “go, go,” he urged the crowd to head inside. At one point, rioters fought with a police officer and as they tried to take a plastic shield from the officer, Straka was heard saying, “Take it, take it.” Later, he turned his phone on himself and said “They’re using gas. We’re being gassed right now.” Friedrich rejected Straka’s assertion that he was unaware of what was occurring on the grounds.
“I don’t find it credible despite the fact that he approached from the east side that he had no idea what was going on at the Capitol,” Friedrich said.
Over 150 police officers were injured during the January 6 rioting. One officer died from a stroke during the rioting. One rioter was shot and killed by police inside the Capitol building. Another two rioters died from natural causes and a third died from a drug overdose. Four officers took their own lives following the rioting.
The government sought four months of home detention, three years on probation, and the $500 restitution fee that is meant to pay for Straka’s portion of the damage to the Capitol building. There is no evidence that Straka ever entered the building or acted violently. In a January 18 sentencing memorandum, the defense asked that Straka be sentenced to time served for the two days he spent in jail after his arrest in 2021 and “a short term of house arrest coupled with community service.”
Straka, nominally a Democrat, became popular on the right in 2018 when he recorded a video urging Democrats to abandon the Democratic Party and join the Republican Party. He was interviewed by right wing media outlets, spoke at conservative conferences, at 2020 Trump campaign rallies, and at a January 5, 2021 #StoptheSteal event in Washington, DC. Essayli has a long history in Republican Party politics in California. Roughly 100 people dialed in to attend Straka’s sentencing hearing.
Friedrich was nominated for the federal bench by Donald Trump and approved by the US Senate in a 97 to 3 vote in 2017. Friedrich served in the White House during George W. Bush’s first term and was counsel to Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah, when he chaired the Judiciary Committee in the US Senate in 2002 and 2003.
The government sought “computer monitoring and search conditions” of Straka’s computer and digital devices during his probation, Brittany Reed, and assistant US attorney, said during the hearing.
“We believe that would be particularly important in this instance because of Mr. Straka’s position as a social media influencer,” Reed said. Friedrich declined to impose that condition, though she required some drug testing. While Straka once had alcohol and cocaine problems, he has not used drugs in seven years, he said during the sentencing. The defense opposed both conditions.
“We do not believe computer monitoring is appropriate,” Essayli said. “A computer was not used to commit the offense here…We also don’t believe drug testing is appropriate here.”
Roughly three hours after Straka left the Capitol grounds and while police were still battling with rioters, he sent out a tweet saying “Patriots at the Capitol – HOLD. THE. LINE!!!!” While he soon condemned the rioting, his initial response was to condemn those on the right who were rejecting the violence.
“That didn’t come for several days,” Friedrich said. “Why didn’t he appreciate what happened after he watched the news that evening? The next day he talked about it being no big deal that people went inside the Capitol.”
Friedrich did recognize that Straka eventually expressed remorse and cooperated with law enforcement in three interviews, including one this year, but she noted that in the immediate aftermath, he was still supporting the rioting.
“He still persists in this idea that it is okay to storm the Capitol to protest an election,” she said. “That is not what we do in this country…Patriots don’t do that.”