April 20, 2024

A southeast Missouri man with ties to the Kansas City-area Proud Boys pleaded guilty Wednesday to two felonies involving the Capitol riot and was found guilty by a judge on a third felony count.

Nicholas Kennedy, 43, of Sikeston, entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one count of civil disorder and one count of tampering with records, documents or other objects. And Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly found him guilty of a felony count for obstruction of an official proceeding based on an agreed set of facts between the government and Kennedy’s attorneys.

Kennedy’s sentencing has been scheduled for Aug. 28. He faces a likely sentence of between 18 months and 24 months in prison, but could be subject to a maximum of 20 years in prison on two of the felony charges.

He also must pay $2,000 restitution for damage to the Capitol, which the government says totaled more than $2.9 million.

Kennedy’s conviction comes nearly three years after his arrest and as Jan. 6 defendants are hopeful that the Supreme Court will step in to eliminate a commonly held charge against them or that former President Donald Trump will win the November election and issue a pardon to the rioters, whom he refers to as “hostages” and “political prisoners.”

The obstruction of an official proceeding charge — one of the most common felony charges filed in Jan. 6 cases — has been brought against hundreds of Capitol riot defendants, many who argue that the statute was misused against them.

In a case called Fischer v. United States, a federal judge ruled that the government improperly used the law to charge Jan. 6 rioters. The D.C. Circuit overturned the ruling, and in December, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in the case on April 16. A decision is expected before the court’s summer recess.

The outcome of the case could have far-reaching implications and impact many Capitol riot cases. If the Supreme Court rules that prosecutors did misuse the law, the sentences of some Capitol riot defendants could be reduced or — in the cases of those who were charged only with obstruction — overturned.

The Supreme Court’s decision could affect the federal prosecution of former President Donald Trump as well. Obstruction of an official proceeding is among the several charges he faces in the criminal case filed by Special Counsel Jack Smith accusing him of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Much of Kennedy’s hearing Tuesday involved prosecutor Jason McCullough laying out the evidence behind the plea deal.

Kennedy joined the Proud Boys in 2020 and left the organization after his arrest in 2021. In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Kennedy took screenshots and shared posts and memes claiming the election had been stolen from Trump — including a post by Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, saying he would object to the certification of the election.

On Jan. 6, Kennedy met up with several Kansas City-area Proud Boys outside Harry’s Bar, a now-defunct dive bar in downtown Washington, D.C. He got a piece of orange duct tape from one of the Proud Boys and put it on his black baseball cap, which had the letters RWDS on it.

The letters are an acronym for Right Wing Death Squad, a phrase dating back to the 1970s that has been used in recent years by far-right extremists — including the Proud Boys — to express opposition to the left.

Kennedy walked with the Kansas City Proud Boys from the Washington Monument to the Capitol, where they were among the first group to breach the police barriers on the west side of the Capitol. Prosecutors showed videos of Kennedy’s steady march to the Capitol, past two lines of barricades, up the scaffolding put in place to construct the stage for the inauguration and into the building through a fire exit.

Nicholas Kennedy

Once inside, Kennedy was part of a group being held back by Capitol Police as the U.S. Secret Service was attempting to evacuate Vice President Mike Pence from the Senate chamber. He twice pushed at an officer who was trying to keep the crowd back.

Kennedy then walked to the other side of the Capitol and joined a group trying to push its way into the House chamber. Kennedy could see officers on the other side of the door pointing guns at the protesters as Republican lawmakers tried to reason with the mob.

At 2:43 p.m., about the time that Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot while trying to climb through the broken window of a barricaded door leading to the Speaker’s Lobby, Kennedy left the area in front of the House chamber and started making his way out of the building. He exited about 3:01 p.m., about an hour after he entered.

Kennedy wiped his iPhone clean after learning that federal authorities were seeking information about people who entered the Capitol that day. The FBI was able to recover some images and messages Kennedy sent to friends and family, but was unable to find several photos and videos Kennedy took of his actions on Jan. 6.

Kennedy was indicted by a federal grand jury on July 23, 2021, on felony charges of civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding along with misdemeanor counts of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

He was arrested on July 28, 2021, and released on a personal recognizance bond. A second superseding indictment handed down in February added the felony charge of tampering with records, documents or other objects. The misdemeanor counts were dismissed Wednesday as part of his plea agreement.

Court documents filed by the Department of Justice last month indicated that Kennedy was in contact with William Chrestman, of the Kansas City Proud Boys chapter, on the day of the riot and afterward.

Proud Boy William Chrestman, wearing glasses, and Nicholas Kennedy, right, before the Capitol breach on Jan. 6, 2021.

Proud Boy William Chrestman, wearing glasses, and Nicholas Kennedy, right, before the Capitol breach on Jan. 6, 2021.

Chrestman, considered by the government to be a key player in the Capitol breach, threatened a federal officer and carried an ax handle into the Capitol on Jan. 6. He was indicted in February 2021 along with three other Kansas City-area Proud Boys and two Arizona siblings. He pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced in January to 55 months in prison.

Among the items the government listed as trial exhibits were “a string of messages exchanged on the Telegram application” between Kennedy and Chrestman that the document said were originally obtained from Chrestman’s cellphone.

Other exhibits the government described were “authentic copies of two videos of Kennedy that were sent by Kennedy to Chrestman via the encrypted application Telegram on January 10, 2021,” and “an authentic copy of a photograph of Kennedy, Chrestman and others that was taken on January 6, 2021, at approximately 12:42 p.m. eastern.”

Also listed were “authentic copies of four videos that were recovered from William Chrestman’s phone that were taken on January 6, 2021…”

In addition, the government listed as a trial exhibit a copy of a contact for Chrestman that was saved in Kennedy’s cellphone. And the document included several photos of Kennedy. In two — one taken inside the Capitol and one outside — he is flashing a hand gesture that commonly signals “OK” but has been co-opted by the Proud Boys and other far-right groups to signify “white power.”

Until Wednesday, few details had been available about Kennedy’s actions on Jan. 6. Because he was first indicted by a grand jury, there was no “statement of facts” accompanying a criminal complaint as there was in most of the Capitol riot cases. And Kennedy’s name does not appear on the Justice Department’s website listing the defendants in the Capitol breach cases.

Online sleuths who have gathered evidence that has helped authorities identify many rioters have questioned the lack of information about Kennedy’s case, with some speculating that he was a key player in the investigation. They dubbed Kennedy #RWDSStooge because of the initials RWDS on the ball cap he was wearing in photos and videos from Jan. 6.