Barber sentenced to 45 days for role in Capitol riot
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Saying he felt his remorse was genuine, but his conduct serious, a federal judge sentenced former Parkersburg City Councilman Eric Barber to 45 days in prison and 24 months probation Tuesday for his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol.
“One message we have to send is that we do take this very seriously,” Judge Christopher Cooper, U.S. District Judge for the District of Columbia, said in the sentencing hearing, which was remotely conducted.
“You’re not a bad guy,” Cooper said to Barber after pronouncing the sentence. “As you said yourself, this was a mistake.”
Barber, 43, pleaded guilty in December to one count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building and one count of theft, the result of him taking a charging station from a C-SPAN media stand inside the Capitol.
The prosecution recommended 90 days imprisonment on the parading, demonstrating or picketing charge and 30 days for the theft, along with three years probation. The defense sought probation and restitution, citing Barber’s cooperation with investigators, his remorse and the fact that he did not engage in “destructive or assaultive behavior” while inside the building, according to a sentencing memo filed by his attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Ubong Akpan.
Barber disagreed with the sentence.
“A stolen phone charger is nothing compared to a stolen election,” he said Tuesday in response to a request for comment following the hearing. “Any crimes I committed Jan. 6 pale in comparison to the lifelong criminal enterprise Nancy Pelosi has engaged in during her decades in Congress.”
Barber said the outcome would have been different had his judge been appointed by former President Donald Trump.
“I would have received no jail sentence,” he said. “Unfortunately, I had (an) Obama appointee and as a result I’ll have to do six weeks in a minimum security facility as a political prisoner.”
Barber attended the Jan. 6 rally at which then-President Donald Trump repeated unsubstantiated claims the 2020 election results had been altered by fraud. Barber walked with the crowd to the Capitol, where protesters had forced their way into the building.
Barber denied entering the building in an interview that day with The Parkersburg News and Sentinel, but he was arrested in March 2021 on multiple misdemeanor charges. A criminal complaint filed by the FBI said closed-circuit footage and images and videos shared on social media showed him inside the Capitol.
Speaking for the prosecution at Tuesday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brenda Johnson said Barber “planned to engage in violence before he came to Washington, D.C.” She pointed to Barber wearing a combat-style helmet and saying in an interview with the FBI that he wanted to “go punch an Antifa terrorist in the face.”
Akpan argued the bigger question was whether he went with the intention of breaching the Capitol and attacking Congress, which she said he did not.
The defense’s sentencing memo references numerous statements made by Barber in an interview with the FBI, where he said his actions on Jan. 6 were wrong.
Speaking to the judge Tuesday, Barber pointed out that even in the interview where he denied entering the building, he said the riotous behavior was wrong.
“My remorse was immediate, and I still feel that way today,” he said.
Cooper asked Barber if he knew how many people died on Jan. 6. Barber said there were five deaths and at least one Capitol Police officer committed suicide afterward. Cooper said he was glad Barber knew that but added there were actually four officers who later took their lives.
The judge said he wanted Barber and other defendants to understand the gravity of what happened and “how dangerous it could have been had law enforcement reacted differently.”
Barber referenced multiple injuries people suffered that day and said some Congressional staff members were “literally terrorized.”
“I’ve got to live the rest of my life knowing I had a part in all these occurrences,” Barber said.
Johnson questioned Barber’s acceptance of responsibility and his cooperation with investigators, noting he did not volunteer that he had been walking in the Speaker of the House’s suite of offices. Akpan argued in the defense memo that Barber did not realize where he was.
Cooper later said he took Barber’s presence in what would have been a restricted area — as opposed to the Rotunda and Statuary Hall, which are open to the public on many occasions — into account for the sentence.
Akpan cited Barber’s cooperation with the House of Representatives committee investigating Jan. 6 in the defense memo. A recording of a portion of Barber’s testimony was played near the close of the prime time hearing that aired last week.
Johnson said there was no way of determining at this point how beneficial Barber’s testimony was and suggested it could have been an attempt to gain more attention.
“He likes the 15 minutes of fame, so to speak,” she said.
Akpan later countered that Barber did not know any of his comments would be aired publicly.
“This is certainly not fame that anyone that I can think of would want,” Barber said.
Johnson also cited Barber’s criminal record, including a prison sentence in 1999 on charges of breaking and entering and petit larceny, as well as other drug and alcohol-related infractions. She said he failed to check in with the D.C. probation office twice while on a personal recognizance bond following his arrest.
“We strongly believe that incarceration is warranted,” Johnson said.
Barber attributed the crimes of his youth to not being raised in stable environments and said his time in prison had “a significant impact on my mental health.” He spoke of having a prison mentality years later.
Barber said he got involved with the community to try to balance the scales and eventually ran for and was elected to Parkersburg City Council. While he said he was proud of what he accomplished in office, he added that the partisan nature of local politics was also detrimental to his mental health.
Barber was arrested during his first year in office on charges of disorderly conduct and obstruction after an incident in his neighborhood. He later pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct. Barber found himself in multiple other controversial situations, often related to social media posts, but he also was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police Blennerhassett Lodge 79 in his unsuccessful bid for re-election in 2020, something he pointed out to the judge Tuesday.
Barber told Cooper he lost his previous job as a result of his actions on Jan. 6, and he is concerned about not being able to provide for his family if he is incarcerated so long that he loses his current job.
“My immediate concern is how this sentence may impact my family,” he said.
Cooper said Barber falls “toward the low end of culpability and involvement” and had cooperated with law enforcement. While he said he believed he was remorseful, the judge said Barber’s attitude expecting violence was troubling and he stayed in the Capitol longer than many.
Cooper said he had not ordered jail time and probation for other Jan. 6 defendants but thought Barber would benefit from mental health and substance abuse treatments available through probation. After Akpan objected to the “split sentence,” Cooper amended it so that the probation was only on the theft charge, for which he also sentenced Barber to seven days in prison that were suspended.
Cooper said Barber would be contacted by the Bureau of Prisons about when and where to report to serve his sentence. His probation will be supervised in West Virginia.
Barber was also ordered to pay $500 restitution for damage to the Capitol and $52.95 to C-SPAN for the charging station.
After the hearing, Barber said 45 days is more than most defendants receive for similar charges but “will be over fairly quickly.” He said 2020 demonstrations and rioting at protests over the death of George Floyd in Minnesota were not pursued as vigorously.
“Had federal prosecutors been so enthusiastic about prosecuting Antifa rioters as they were with Trump supporters, maybe (people) would have been hesitant to engage in behavior that liberals celebrated as a form of peaceful protesting,” he said.
Misdemeanor counts of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building or grounds were dismissed, per the plea agreement.