Breaking News
More () »

Capitol rioter rattles off conspiracy theories about China, Fauci at sentencing hearing

Tristan Chandler Stevens, of Florida, was convicted in September on nine counts, including five felonies.

WASHINGTON — A Florida man convicted of assaulting multiple officers on Jan. 6 was ordered to serve five years in federal prison Friday – but not before presenting a judge with a lengthy list of conspiracy theories he said explained his mindset on Jan. 6, 2021.

Tristan Chandler Stevens, 27, of Pensacola, Florida, appeared Friday afternoon for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden. McFadden, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2017 by former President Donald Trump, found Stevens guilty of five felony counts in September – including four counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding police.

Stevens was one of nine defendants indicted for his role in a prolonged assault on law enforcement who were attempting to hold the Lower West Terrace Tunnel during the Capitol riot. Stevens was convicted of assaulting former U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell with a stolen riot shield and of either assaulting or assisting in the assault on numerous other officers during the approximately two hours he spent in the tunnel.

Prosecutors also highlighted Stevens’ violent language toward police. At one point, Stevens can be heard asking a DC Police officer if they know what happens to traitors.

“They get tied to a post and shot,” Stevens said. “Are you ready for that.”

Gonell, who has since medically retired from the force, gave a victim impact statement Friday saying Stevens’ actions had forced him out of the profession he’d dedicated his life to. But according to McFadden, Stevens’ own words had just as much, if not more, of a role in convincing him he needed a significant sentence.

In a conspiracy-laden rant prior to hearing McFadden’s ruling, Stevens made baseless claims about Dr. Anthony Fauci launching a “bioweapon” against the United States and a Chinese-backed shadow government running the country. He also repeatedly described Jan. 6 as an “entrapment operation” by the federal government to, he claimed, cover up the fraudulent 2020 presidential election. Stevens did briefly address the officers he was convicted of assaulting – although he failed to pronounce Gonell’s name correctly.

“I didn’t mean to make Gornell [sic] feel frustrated and ineffective,” he said.

McFadden, who sentenced another defendant in the case, David Lee Judd, of Texas, to 32 months in prison last week, told Stevens he thought his conduct was far more serious.

“Any American of good conscience should be outraged by your treatment of these officers,” McFadden told him. “But for the valiant efforts of [Gonell] and other officers like him, I think he’s right that the vice president and members of Congress could have been seriously hurt.”

McFadden also told Stevens his speech in court lacked remorse and contained “pretty shocking statements” that made him concerned about his willingness to follow the law.

“It’s ridiculous to suggest there was some kind of entrapment that caused you to do what you did,” McFadden said. “You battled those officers. You chose to do what you did.”

Prosecutors asked for a sentence of 78 months in prison, which was more than two years higher than the 51 months recommended by probation. Ultimately, McFadden landed in the middle and ordered Stevens to serve 60 months, or five years, behind bars. Stevens will also have to serve two years of supervised release after his prison term is up.

Stevens’ attorney, Lauren Cobb, asked McFadden to recommend he be placed at a federal facility as close to Pensacola as possible. She also asked for him to be allowed to self-surrender, which the DOJ did not oppose.

“Mr. Stevens, you’re lucky,” McFadden finished the hearing by saying. “If the government had asked for step back, I would have ordered it.”

Another of Stevens’ co-defendants, Patrick McCaughey, was scheduled to be sentenced next month. He was convicted of using a riot shield to pin DC Police Officer Daniel Hodges in a doorframe.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

Before You Leave, Check This Out