A former Navy reservist who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler was sentenced Thursday to three years in prison on firearms charges.
The sentence U.S. District Judge Michael Nachmanoff imposed for Hatchet Speed in federal court in Alexandria was just five months less than the term sought by federal prosecutors and much longer than the one-year term sought by Speed’s lawyers.
Speed, 41, of McLean, is a military veteran who held top-secret clearances while working for a defense contractor.
The gun charges against him in Virginia are separate from charges brought in Washington, D.C., for obstructing an official proceeding, the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress for certifying the Electoral College vote. He will sentenced on those charges next month; sentencing guidelines in that case call for a term of nearly five to six years.
Speed’s lawyers asked the judge not to be prejudiced against him because of his inflammatory views. In conversations with an FBI undercover employee in 2022, Speed expressed admiration not only for Hitler but also for Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.
In recorded conversations, Speed also made antisemitic comments and proposed targeting Jewish people with acts of violence. He also collected neo-Nazi memorabilia.
But Nachmanoff said Speed’s admiration for despicable historical figures and his views on advocating violence to achieve his objectives demonstrate the danger he poses to the public.
“The defendant’s statements of admiration for Adolf Hitler, Eric Rudolph and Ted Kaczynski ... and his belief that such activities could be justified are all highly relevant,” Nachmanoff said.
Prosecutors said Speed, a member of the far-right Proud Boys group, believed the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. After Joe Biden took office, Speed began making preparations for what he believed was imminent civil war and started stockpiling weapons, including the three silencers that were the subject of his Virginia trial.
In Thursday’s closing statements, prosecutor Thomas Traxler said Speed studied the manifestos of Rudolph and Kaczynski to try to “come up with a better game plan than they had.”
Speed had claimed he was innocent because the devices he purchased were actually “solvent traps” used to collect excess fluid when you clean a gun.
The devices are indeed marketed as solvent traps, but their design is similar to that of a silencer. The only significant difference is that the “solvent traps” require drilling a hole in the end to turn them into functioning silencers.
Speed bought the devices, which are made of titanium and sell for hundreds of dollars, after he tried to buy silencers and faced significant delays. Speed said he did not believe he was required to register the devices as silencers with the government unless he drilled holes in them — something he never did.
Prosecutors, though, said the law governing silencers covers devices intended for use as a silencer, regardless of whether they are functional or sold under another name.
Speed’s first trial in Virginia ended with a hung jury and a mistrial, as jurors apparently struggled with the legal definition of a silencer and whether Speed was required to register them. He was convicted at a retrial, after one of the initial jurors reached out to prosecutors and explained what caused the jury’s confusion.
Traxler said the legal loophole that Speed thought he uncovered was “too cute by half” and urged a stiff sentence to discourage others from doing likewise.
Speed, who intends to appeal his conviction, did not speak at Thursday’s hearing.
Also on Thursday, a U.S. Capitol police officer who tried to help a Virginia fisherman avoid criminal charges for storming the building his law enforcement colleagues defended was sentenced on Thursday to two years of probation and four months of home detention.
Michael Angelo Riley, a 25-year police veteran, was on duty when a mob attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, injuring more than 100 officers. Riley’s voice cracked as he lamented how his “awful judgment” cost him his career, tarnished his reputation, ended friendships in the department and traumatized his family.
“The amount of regret and remorse I have over this situation in unimaginable,” Riley told U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson before she sentenced him.
Before the hearing, prosecutors recommended a prison sentence of two years and three months for Riley. Jackson agreed to spare him a term of imprisonment.
The judge said Riley’s actions were “shocking conduct for any member of law enforcement.”
“You knew exactly how bad January 6th was,” she added. Jackson also ordered him to pay a $10,000 fine and perform 150 hours of community service.
On Jan. 6, 2021, Riley investigated a report of an explosive device at Republican National Committee headquarters and helped an injured officer. The following day, he posted a Facebook message calling for federal charges against anybody who assaulted police, damaged property or breached the Capitol.
“If we don’t send a message it will surely happen again,” he wrote.
Less than two hours later, Riley read a Facebook post by Jacob Hiles, a fisherman he knew from YouTube videos. Hiles wrote about his own participation in the riot and posted a video of rioters clashing with police.
Riley, 51, of Maryland, privately messaged Hiles and identified himself as a Capitol police officer who agreed with his “political stance.”
“Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to be charged. Just looking out!” Riley wrote.
They continued to exchange friendly messages until Hiles told Riley that the FBI was “very curious” that they had been communicating.
“They took my phone and downloaded everything,” Hiles wrote.
Riley immediately deleted all of their private messages, according to prosecutors.
Riley was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice. In October 2022, a jury convicted him of one count but deadlocked on the second.
Riley described his actions as “stupid and reckless” but said he didn’t think he was breaking the law.
“It certainly doesn’t excuse my lapse in judgment,” he said.
Riley “fully understood the horrors of” the Jan. 6 attack, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Howland said in a court filing.
“And yet, when the time came for (Riley) to hold the line, he sided with a known rioter, a person he had never met or spoken to, because of the rioter’s political views and because he happened to be a good fisherman,” Howland wrote.
Riley’s lawyers said he already has paid a steep price for contacting Hiles: He has lost his job and his K-9 partner, a dog named Toby.
“If he could do it all over again, he never would have contacted him,” they wrote.
Hiles pleaded guilty in September 2021 to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. Jackson sentenced him in December 2021 to two years of probation and ordered him to complete 60 hours of community service.
More than 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 riot. Over 600 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted after trials decided by a jury or judge. Over 450 of them have been sentenced, with over half getting terms of imprisonment ranging from seven days to 10 years.
More than 100 police officers were injured at the Capitol on Jan. 6.