Robert Keith Packer, 57, declined to address U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols before he sentenced him during hearing held by video conference. The judge noted the "incredibly offensive" message on Packer’s sweatshirt before imposing the sentence.
"It seems to me that he wore that sweatshirt for a reason. We don’t know what the reason was because Mr. Packer hasn’t told us," Nichols said.
Photographs of Packer wearing the sweatshirt went viral after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. When FBI agents asked him why he wore it, he "fatuously" replied, "Because I was cold," a federal prosecutor said in a court filing.
Credit: Court Documents
Packer’s sweatshirt depicted an image of a human skull above the words "Camp Auschwitz." The word "Staff" was on the back. It also bore the phrase "Work Brings Freedom," a rough translation of the German words above the entrance gate to Auschwitz, the concentration camp in occupied Poland where Nazis killed more than 1 million men, women and children.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Furst said she learned on Wednesday that Packer also wore an "SS" T-shirt — a reference to the Nazi Party paramilitary organization founded by Adolf Hitler — under his sweatshirt on Jan. 6. Packer "attacked the very government that gave him the freedom to express those beliefs, no matter abhorrent or evil they may be" when he joined the mob supporting then-President Donald Trump, the prosecutor said
Packer "wanted to support the subversion of our republic and keep a dictatorial ruler in place by force and violence," Furst told the judge.
Defense attorney Stephen Brennwald acknowledged that Packer’s attire was "seriously offensive" but argued that it shouldn’t be a sentencing factor because he has a free speech right to wear it.
"It’s just awful that he wore that shirt that day. 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.
Brennwald added that Packer was offended and angry to be labeled a white supremacist "because he doesn’t see himself that way at all." The defense lawyer said Packer wanted him to sue House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for linking him to white supremacy during a press conference several days after the riot.
Packer declined to speak during Thursday’s hearing because he didn’t want his words "splashed out there" on social media his lawyer told the judge.
Packer, a resident of Newport News, Virginia, pleaded guilty in January to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building, which carries a maximum sentence of six months of imprisonment.
Packer told the FBI that he was about 10 to 12 feet away from a rioter, Ashli Babbitt, when a police officer fatally shot her as she tried to climb through the broken window of a barricaded door leading to the Speaker’s Lobby.
"He told the agents he heard the shot and saw her fall back from the window she was trying to climb through," Furst wrote in a court filing.
Furst said Packer didn’t express any remorse during his FBI interview.
"He was more interested in relaying how he received hate mail and how he was ‘hounded’ by the media for interviews," she added.
Packer’s younger sister, Kimberly Rice, wrote a letter asking the judge for leniency. She said her brother’s sweatshirt "could be considered in poor taste" but added that "freedom of expression" isn’t a crime.
Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 75 days of incarceration followed by 36 months of probation. Brennwald sought a probationary sentence with no jail time.
FBI agents arrested Packer a week after the riot. He has remained free while awaiting sentencing.
Packer is a self-employed pipe fitter. Prosecutors say he has a lengthy criminal record, with approximately 21 convictions, mostly for drunken driving and other motor vehicle violations.
More than 870 people have been charged with federal crimes for their conduct on Jan. 6. Approximately 400 of them have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanor offenses,. Over 250 riot defendants have been sentenced, with roughly half getting terms of imprisonment ranging from seven days to 10 years.