Ex-Michigan gubernatorial candidate sentenced to 2 months behind bars for Capitol riot role

Ryan Kelley speaks during a rally on Feb. 8, 2022. (Jake May/The Flint Journal via AP, File)

By Associated Press

October 18, 2023

WASHINGTON—A federal judge on Tuesday sentenced a former Republican candidate for Michigan governor to two months behind bars for joining a mob’s Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, where he riled up other rioters and ripped a tarp outside the building.

Ryan Kelley, who finished fourth in a primary field of five Republican gubernatorial candidates last year, pleaded guilty in July to a misdemeanor for his role in the siege.

Several months before his guilty plea, Kelley posted on social media that the Capitol riot was an FBI “set up.” His campaign posted the words “political prisoner” on Facebook after his June 2022 arrest.

US District Judge Christopher Cooper told Kelley that he misused his platform as a candidate for public office by promoting lies about election fraud, including the baseless claim that Jan. 6 was somehow part of an FBI plot.

“A lot of folks voted for you. A lot of folks followed you,” Cooper said before sentencing Kelley to 60 days of imprisonment and ordering him to pay a $5,000 fine.

Kelley, 42, traveled from Allendale, Michigan, to Washington, D.C., to attend then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House on Jan. 6. Kelley told the judge that he wanted to see “receipts” supporting Trump’s claims that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election from him, the Republican incumbent.

“Those receipts never came,” he said. “That is a betrayal, and I was misled into believing those things.”

But he said he doesn’t blame Trump for his conduct on Jan. 6.

“He did invite us there, but my actions were my actions,” Kelley said.

Kelley, a real estate broker, isn’t accused of engaging in violence on Jan. 6. But federal prosecutors said he helped breach scaffolding, stirred up the mob with his shouts and gestured for other rioters to move closer to the Capitol and to police officers guarding the building.

Kelley pleaded guilty to entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, a charge punishable by a maximum term of imprisonment of one year.

Prosecutors recommended sentencing Kelley to three months of incarceration.

“Mr. Kelley engaged in not just a bad decision but a series of bad decisions that day,” a prosecutor, Shanai Watson, said.

Kelley’s arrest roiled what was already a complicated Republican primary for the governor’s race. Conservative commentator Tudor Dixon won the Republican primary but ultimately lost to incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, last November.

Kelley spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally at the state Capitol in Lansing in November 2020, shortly after the presidential election. Kelley urged others at the rally to “stand and fight, with the goal of preventing Democrats from stealing the election,” the FBI said.

After attending Trump’s rally on Jan. 6, he marched to the Capitol and joined a crowd that formed on the West Plaza, where flash bang grenades exploded near him.

Kelley and other rioters climbed through scaffolding covered by a white tarp. Surveillance video captured him tearing the tarp.

“Even though his rip of the tarp was relatively modest, it extended an already existing hole in the tarp and widened the opening through which some rioters advanced on the Capitol Building,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Kelley remained on Capitol grounds for nearly two hours but isn’t accused of entering the building that day.

“Mr. Kelley understands and appreciates that he never should have participated in the protests that turned into a riot that day and that such violence has no place in our democracy,” his defense lawyer wrote.

At a debate last year, Kelley said the riot was “a First Amendment activity by a majority of those people, myself included.”

“We were there protesting the government because we don’t like the results of the 2020 election, the process of how it happened. And we have that First Amendment right. And that’s what 99% of the people were there for that day,” he said.

In a court filing after the primary loss, Kelley’s lawyers said was “still actively involved in political issues throughout the state of Michigan, and is contemplating whether he will run for a different state or federal position.”

Defense attorney Gary Springstead said on Tuesday that Kelley “wants nothing to do with politics at this point.” Kelley told the judge that he wants to focus on his business and his family.

More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. More than 800 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a jury or judge after contested trials. Nearly 700 of them have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds receiving terms of imprisonment ranging from three days to 22 years.

Also on Tuesday, a woman who smashed a window at the Capitol and used a bullhorn to direct other rioters on Jan. 6 was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth also ordered Rachel Marie Powell to pay restitution and a fine totaling nearly $8,000.

In July, Lamberth heard testimony without a jury before he convicted Powell of all nine counts in her indictment. A prosecutor has said Powell, 41, of Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, played a “leading role” during the riot.

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