WASHINGTON - A military veteran who stormed the U.S. Capitol with a loaded pistol, metal-plated body armor and a gas mask was sentenced on Wednesday to seven years in prison, one of the longest among hundreds of Jan. 6 riot cases.
Christopher Michael Alberts, 35, of Pylesville, Maryland, isn't accused of brandishing his concealed gun during the riot on Jan. 6, 2021. But he used a wooden pallet as a makeshift battering ram against police officers who were guarding a stairwell outside the Capitol, according to federal prosecutors.
Alberts told U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper that he was trying to protect others outside the Capitol as police deployed tear gas and non-lethal munitions to hold back the mob.
"I wasn't trying to hurt anybody," he said. "I just wanted it all to stop."
Cooper told Alberts that he was one of the leaders of the mob that day.
"You were not simply a bystander," the judge said.
Alberts, a former Virginia National Guard member, spent six hours on Capitol grounds on the day of the riot. He was armed with a 9-millimeter pistol — loaded with hollow point and high-pressure rounds — and brought an extra magazine of ammunition.
Alberts was the first rioter to reach the northwest steps outside the Capitol and the first to "go hands on" with a Capitol police officer at that part of the complex, prosecutors said.
"Alberts, with his body armor, gas mask, military gear, and rage, rallied and instigated the mob," prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Cooper also sentenced Alberts to three years of supervised release after his prison term. Prosecutors asked for Alberts to be taken into custody immediately after his sentencing, but the judge allowed him to remain free until he reports to prison at a date to be determined.
Prosecutors had recommended a 10-year prison sentence for Alberts, who said he served in the Virginia National Guard from 2005 to 2011 and was deployed to Iraq for one year in 2007 and 2008.
In April, a jury in Washington, D.C., convicted Alberts of all nine counts that he faced at trial, including a felony charge of assaulting, resisting or impeding police.
During Wednesday's hearing, Capitol Police Officer Stephen Sherman described how helpless he felt when Alberts rammed into him with the wooden pallet as another rioter tried to pull him down the stairs.
"You came to the Capitol that day to start a war and you, in fact, turned that staircase into a war zone," Sherman said.
Alberts' voice cracked as he turned to apologize to Sherman.
"If I had known that day would turn into what it turned into, I would have stayed home," Alberts said.
Defense attorney Roger Roots said Alberts, a tow truck driver, commonly carried a gun with him for self-protection while working.
A prosecutor, Shalin Nohria, said Alberts fully loaded a magazine with hollow point and high-pressure rounds — and had an extra round in the gun's chamber — because he wanted to be "as lethal as possible" on Jan. 6.
Alberts attended then-President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally but left before it ended and headed to the Capitol building, yelling on his way that he was "taking over the Capitol." He repeatedly screamed insults at police officers trying to hold off the mob of Trump supporters, who disrupted the joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden's 2020 electoral victory.
Alberts brought other tactical-style gear to the Capitol, including a two-way radio, an earpiece, a throat mic, bungee cords, binoculars, a ski mask and two knives.
Police officers tried to stop rioters from accessing the Upper West Terrace by deploying pepper spray and pepper balls, but the protection from his gas mask and body armor allowed Alberts to keep advancing toward the Capitol building, prosecutors said.
Alberts later urinated on a wall of the Capitol and then joined other rioters in confronting a line of police officers, throwing a bottle at them and using a bullhorn to berate them, according to prosecutors. Around 7:22 p.m., when an officer observed a bulge on Alberts’ right hip, police frisked Alberts, seized his loaded firearm and arrested him.
More than 1,000 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Jan. 6 attack. Approximately 100 of them have been convicted by juries or judges after trials. Over 600 others have pleaded guilty.
More than 570 riot defendants have been sentenced, with over half receiving terms of imprisonment ranging from three days to 18 years. Only 12 other rioters have received a longer prison sentence than Alberts, according to an Associated Press review of court records.