A Virginia man who wore a sweatshirt with the words “Camp Auschwitz” across his chest as he breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was sentenced on Thursday to 75 days in prison, officials said.
Robert Keith Packer, 57, of Newport News, was arrested about a week after the insurrection and pleaded guilty in January to one count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol building. In addition to his prison time, which aligned with what prosecutors had requested, Mr. Packer must pay $500 in restitution.
Judge Carl J. Nichols of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia said during a virtual court hearing that although there was no evidence that Mr. Packer had used violence against officers, his sweatshirt was “incredibly offensive,” according to NBC News. The judge also said he felt that Mr. Packer’s apology was lacking, compared with those of other defendants who were charged in the riot.
“It seems to me that he wore that sweatshirt for a reason,” Judge Nichols said. “We don’t know what that reason was, because Mr. Packer hasn’t told us.”
Mr. Packer’s lawyer, Stephen F. Brennwald, acknowledged that his client’s outfit was “seriously offensive” but said that he had a free speech right to wear it, according to The Associated Press.
“It’s just awful that he wore that shirt that day,” the A.P. quoted Mr. Brennwald as saying. “I just don’t think it’s appropriate to give him extra time because of that because he’s allowed to wear it,” he said.
Mr. Packer’s sentencing came more than 20 months after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, which set off a sprawling criminal inquiry from the Justice Department. Prosecutors have embarked on the marathon process of trying more than 800 people arrested in connection with the riot.
Earlier this month, a retired New York City police officer who swung a metal flagpole at a Washington officer during the riot received the longest sentence yet — 10 years — in a case stemming from the riot. Two other rioters, Thomas Robertson, another former police officer and Army veteran who prosecutors said had confronted police officers at the Capitol; and Guy Wesley Reffitt, the first defendant to go on trial in the attack on the Capitol, were both sentenced to seven years and three months in prison.
Photographs of Mr. Packer wearing his black sweatshirt, with its reference to the Nazi death camp and a skull, were widely shared by news media outlets and drew widespread outrage. His sweatshirt also included the phrase “Work Brings Freedom,” which is a rough translation of “Arbeit macht frei.” The German words were welded onto an iron arch that stood over one of the gates of the death camp, where more than 1.1 million people, the vast majority of them Jews, were systematically killed during World War II.
Prosecutors said Mr. Packer told F.B.I. agents that he had worn the sweatshirt “because I was cold” and that he didn’t show remorse for storming the Capitol, repeatedly saying that it was “hard to tell” which side people were on.
But during the sentencing hearing, an assistant U.S. attorney, Mona Furst, said that she learned on Wednesday that Mr. Packer had worn an “SS” T-shirt underneath his sweatshirt, according to The A.P. The SS was the Nazi paramilitary organization founded by Adolf Hitler.
Mr. Packer told agents that while he was at the Capitol he had heard a gunshot and seen Ashli Babbitt fall after an officer shot her as she tried to climb into a House hallway through a broken window. Only after armed officers arrived after the fatal shooting did Mr. Packer leave the Capitol, prosecutors said.
In a pre-sentence memo, Mr. Brennwald, Mr. Packer’s lawyer, said his client was not “spoiling for a fight” and was “about as passive as a member of the crowd could have been that day.”
He “appeared to be similar to the character played by Tom Hanks in the movie ‘Forrest Gump’ — a man who went through life almost as if he was outside of his body and mind, looking in,” Mr. Brennwald said about his client’s 36 minutes in the building.