By Lindsay Whitehurst
An Arkansas man who propped his feet on a desk in then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office in a widely circulated photo from the U.S. Capitol riot was sentenced Wednesday to more than four years in prison.
Richard “Bigo” Barnett became one of the faces of the Jan. 6 riot by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, and U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said in announcing that sentence that Barnett seemed at times to enjoy the notoriety.
“All the folks who follow ‘Bigo’ need to know the actions of Jan. 6 cannot be repeated without some serious repercussions,” Cooper said, alluding to the media attention and social media following Barnett attracted after the riot.
The 54-month sentence for Barnett, a retired firefighter from Gravette, Arkansas, comes after he was convicted at trial on eight counts, including felony charges of civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding, in this case a Jan. 6, 2021, session of Congress to certify Joe Biden's victory over Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
The photos of Barnett lounging at a desk in Pelosi’s office made him one of the most memorable figures from the riot. Barnett, 63, testified he was “going with the flow” and struck a pose after news photographers told him to "act natural."
He told the judge that joining the riot was “an enigma my life” that he regretted, but said prosecutors wanted him to be “remorseful for things I did not do."
“Jan. 6 was a traumatic dey for everyone, not just law enforcement,” he said. He has vowed to appeal his conviction. He testified at trial that he was swept along with the crowd into the Capitol, and was looking for a bathroom when he unwittingly entered Pelosi’s office and encountered two news photographers.
Cooper, though, said he did not believe Barnett played such a passive role.
It was established at trial that Barnett brought into the Capitol a stun gun with spikes, concealed within a collapsible walking stick. Barnett also took a piece of Pelosi's mail and left behind a note that said, “Nancy, Bigo was here,” punctuating the message with a sexist expletive.
Before leaving Capitol grounds, Barnett used a bullhorn to give a speech to the crowd, shouting, “We took back our house, and I took Nancy Pelosi’s office!” according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors also said Barnett has since posted “falsehoods” on social media about Jan. 6 and downplaying his role. “The defendant still believes he can say or do whatever he wants and if someone else is threatened by it, that’s their problem,” prosecutor Alison Prout said.
Defense attorney Jonathan Gross said Barnett didn't hurt anyone or damage property, and was being singled out because the photo had made him famous.
“Mr. Barnett should not be punished because the government thinks he's a symbol,” he said.
Cooper’s sentence fell short of the approximately seven years prosecutors sought, though it was more than defense attorneys' request for a 12-month term.
More than 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. Just over 500 of them have been sentenced. More than half have received prison terms ranging from a week to over 14 years.
Also on Wednesday, a Pennsylvania man was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of assault and other charges in the riot. Prosecutors say Robert Morss, of Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, dressed in fatigues and tried to take a baton from an officer, and stole a riot shield from another, while working to organize members of the crowd to push past Capitol guards. He yelled to officers: “Take a look around. We are going to take our Capitol back,” prosecutors say.
An attorney for Morss, 29, declined to comment after his sentencing. His lawyer, Nick Smith, noted in court documents that his client saw three tours of duty in Afghanistan as a member of the Army and has already served two years behind bars. Morss alleges he was abused by guards in jail.
“This case has already turned Morss’s life upside down. The government’s suggestion that these heavy blows are insufficient to deter the one-time, situational crimes Morss committed is nonsense,” Smith wrote.
Associated Press reporter Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston contributed to this report.