Thanks to the ongoing valorization of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists as “political prisoners” and patriotic heroes by Republicans and right-wing media, the Proud Boys and other violent “Patriots” currently awaiting trial for attacking the Capitol have naturally turned to doing what they do best: suckering their fellow right-wingers out of millions of dollars by claiming martyrdom at the hands of evil liberals.
Take William Chrestman of Olathe, Kansas, for example. This Proud Boy who helped breach police barriers, threatened police officers while wielding an ax handle, and loudly urged on his fellow rioters before entering the Capitol with the mob, has been busy raising money for his legal defense—and that of fellow Proud Boy Christopher Kuene, also from Olathe—as they await trial at their homes. So far, they’ve collected about $70,000, though that’s only about 10% of the goal.
Chrestman, who was arrested in February 2021, raises funds through a site, “Help Patriot Father,” set up by his daughter. So far, some 680 donors have contributed $38,530 to the cause, with the top donation coming in at $1,000. Another 430 donors have chipped in $31,375 at Kuehne’s site, “Fight for Freedom,” with a top donation of $1,850.
Donors are absolutely convinced of their heroism. “Keep strong, this is an atrocity what is happening in this once free country taken over by demons who will stop at nothing to gain and keep their ill-gotten power,” wrote a woman who donated $20 to Chrestman’s fund. “God be with you and all the other political prisoners being unjustly locked up.”
A donor to Kuehne’s fund described himself as a retired veteran police chief. “I have never had a high opinion of the FBI,” he wrote. “This is outrageous! I worked every crime during my career including homicides, rapes, etc. I never treated the worst of the worst like this.” Another donor to Kuehne’s fund, who dubbed himself “Let’s go Brandon,” told him that “you will go down in history as a hero and a true patriot.”
These two are not alone among the insurrectionists. A number of them have been working hard since Jan. 6 to cash in on their right-wing celebrity status—and prosecutors have been working hard to blunt their ability to do so.
Federal authorities, for example, seized more than $62,000 from Jan. 6 defendant John Earle Sullivan of Utah, who shot extensive video footage inside the Capitol and has earned more than $90,000 from selling it to at least six companies. Prosecutors also are seeking to force a Maine man to surrender some of the $20,000 he’s raised for legal defense while relying on a public defender.
One well-known anti-vaccination activist who participated in the Capitol siege, Dr. Simone Gold, raised more than $430,000 for legal expenses for a misdemeanor charge—which netted her two months in prison—to which she pleaded guilty. Prosecutors pointed out that it “beggars belief” that her legal costs were that great, and the federal judge in her case called her fundraising appeal “unseemly.”
When New Jersey gym owner Scott Fairlamb, who punched a police officer on Jan. 6, used donations to a “Patriot Relief Fund” of over $30,000 to cover his mortgage payments and other monthly bills, prosecutors recommended a fine on top of his three-year prison sentence.
“Fairlamb should not be able to ‘capitalize’ on his participation in the Capitol breach in this way,” federal prosecutors wrote.
The insurrectionists are also following the familiar path of right-wing grifters who have discovered a fresh way to extract money from their fellows: Quarreling over the money, especially as the sums involved grow larger and their distribution becomes more selective.
Among the Jan 6. defendants being held at the D.C. Central Detention Facility—where a number of the people awaiting trial on the more serious charges are being held—bitter feuds have broken out over how the funds are being distributed, or aren’t. As NPR reported last April:
The main driver of this conflict, according to C2B inmates, along with their attorneys and family members, is the growing pool of money donated in the name of the Jan. 6 defendants. An alphabet soup of groups has sprung up to support the Jan. 6 defendants — from A4J (Americans For Justice Inc.), to CAPP (Citizens Against Political Persecution), to PFP (Patriot Freedom Project) and PMP (Patriot Mail Project). As donations have grown, so have resentments. And the conflict that has built inside the jail has been amplified outside by a kind of power struggle over who speaks for the so-called political prisoners.
The largest of these operations is the Patriot Freedom Project, which had raised some $1.2 million, bolstered by a $100,000 donation from right-wing provocateur Dinesh D’Souza. "These are people who have a very good, close to the ground assessment of who needs what," D'Souza told his podcast audience, "so there's no money going to administrative costs or any sort of rigmarole."
Several defendants, however, were dismayed to discover that the money wasn’t going toward all of them. "I hear he donates $100,000 to us," one inmate, who expected the funds to be distributed equally among all of the jailed Jan. 6 defendants, told NPR. "I divided it by the amount of people in C2B, and I got all excited," he said.
That defendant noted that the Patriot Freedom Project featured his photo on its website, but: "I personally have not gotten a dime out of it," he said.
The insurrectionists’ response to the federal charges have been largely defiant. One Proud Boy who was recently handed a four-and-half-year prison sentence told federal Judge Timothy Kelly at his sentencing that he was "not happy that Jan. 6 happened at all," but adamantly clung to his belief that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 presidential election: “I did believe the election was stolen. I still do.”
Kelly found the defendant’s lack of regret "extremely troubling": “There was nothing patriotic about what happened that day, far from it,” Kelly said. “It was a national disgrace.”
Indeed, as the judge in Chrestman’s case observed, these defendants are all charged with serious crimes: “Mr. Chrestman was much more—much, much more—than someone who merely cheered on the violence or who entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.”
As the Justice Department observed last October in one of its filings:
Indeed, the risk of future violence is fueled by a segment of the population that seems intent on lionizing the January 6 rioters and treating them as political prisoners, heroes, or martyrs instead of what they are: criminals, many of whom committed extremely serious crimes of violence, and all of whom attacked the democratic values which all of us should share.
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