Mehta said he viewed Webster’s conduct as among the most egregious of any defendant sentenced so far. Until Thursday, the lengthiest sentences had been given to Texas militia member Guy Reffitt and local Virginia police officer Thomas Robertson, who were convicted by juries of attempting to obstruct congressional proceedings.
It’s the latest in a string of steeper sentences that have been issued as rioters facing felony charges — some of whom have taken their cases to trial — learn their fate from the judges who have presided over their cases for more than a year.
Images of Webster attempting to rip the gas mask off of Rathbun’s face amid broader chaos at the Capitol are among the most indelible images to emerge from the Jan. 6 attack. Mehta expressed incredulity that Webster took the stand in his own defense and attempted to argue that his effort to rip the officer’s gas mask off was really just to show him his hands and prove he wasn’t a threat.
“There is no doubt in my mind that your conception of what had happened that day and as you described it was utterly fanciful and incredible,” Mehta said.
Mehta said that while any violence toward a police officer would be “bad enough,” that the assault occurred as part of a mob attack meant to disrupt the transfer of presidential power added weight to the crime.
“This happened in the context of something bigger,” he said. “It happened in the context of…one of the darkest days in the history of our country.”
“We simply cannot have a country,” he said, “in which people who are on the losing side of an election think you can use violence and physical force to undo that result. We cannot function as a country if people think they can behave violently when they lose an election.”