A South Carolina man who opened a key entrance to the US Capitol from the inside on January 6, 2021, allowing dozens of rioters to enter, was sentenced to three years in federal prison at a trial in Washington, DC.
George Tenney III received one of the heaviest sentences ever for the Palmetto State’s 19 Capitols riot suspects, even after the 36-year-old Anderson chief and his friends and relatives wrote letters pleading for mercy from US Judge Thomas Hogan.
Hogan also ordered Tenney on December 5 to pay $2,000 in damages for the approximately $3 million in damage done to the Capitol building during the riot.
Tenney was one of the first among supporters of President Donald Trump to breach the seat of the U.S. government in an unsuccessful effort to prevent Congress from confirming Democrat Joe Biden as the true winner of the 2020 presidential election.
Once inside, the father of two verbally and physically abused Capitol police and staff to open the Rotunda doors from the inside, allowing more rioters to enter and uploading documents to the state.
“He was the main instigator of one of the two biggest violations in the Capitol that day,” federal prosecutors wrote in their preliminary filings. “Because of Tenney, dozens of rioters broke into the Capitol. Police attacked. Congress threatened. Property damaged. Democracy shelved.”
Prosecutors wanted Judge Hogan to sentence Tenney to four years in prison. Tenney’s attorney, Charles Cochran, deputy Charleston-based public defender, sought the most probation or house arrest.
Tenney demanded indulgence, apologized for his role in the attack, and denied the beliefs that drove him and thousands of other Trump supporters to the nation’s capital that day. Tenney and his attorney accused Trump of bolstering unsubstantiated allegations that Democrats stole the 2020 election with strategic fraud in battlefield states.
Tenney’s attorney wrote, “He now realizes that he has ruined his career, embarrassed his family, jeopardized his freedom, and is a convicted criminal in the service of a ridiculous lie.” “Like most people who protested at the Capitol on Jan. 6, he believed in dangerous and false narratives derived from internet chats, podcasts, and words from senior government officials, including the President of the United States.”
Tenney was passionate about Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theory, according to the case files. He helped run a right-wing Facebook page that made dubious allegations until January 6. Social media messages obtained by federal investigators showed that Tenney was aware that the January 6 election protest in Washington could turn violent.
“We need to talk about a trip to DC,” Tenney wrote to a friend nine days before the attack. “It’s starting to look like we could besiege the capital (sic) building and congress if the electoral votes don’t go right. … we create plans for each scenario.”
“I was watching this guy’s podcast stuff,” Tenney wrote the next day. “(Then Vice President Mike) says Pence is a traitor and will betray the United States on the 6th.”
Tenney and his lawyer now say he has moved away from these beliefs.
“Now he understands that he and the others in the Capitol that day were pawns for malicious politicians and far-right media figures,” Tenney’s lawyer said. Again.”
Friends and relatives sent out a handful of letters describing Tenney as a kind and caring father who learned from his mistakes.
Tenney’s lawyer stressed that his client had already suffered enough – he had lost his lucrative job at Sysco, a restaurant food delivery company, following his arrest in June 2021. Tenney said no other company in his industry would hire him, since his July pleadings made him a convicted criminal.
Tenney said he now works long hours, running his own takeaway in Anderson.
On December 5, he gasped as he explained to the judge in a Washington courtroom what it had cost him to participate in the January 6 uprising.
“I lost my friends,” Tenney said. “I lost my income. … I will never make that mistake again.”
Judge Hogan said he was impressed by the pleas of Tenney and his supporters. He agreed to reduce Tenney’s sentence to less than the nearly four years recommended by federal probation officers and prosecutors. But Hogan said Tenney’s sentence should also reflect the severity of the violence in the Capitol and the lasting damage it has done to the country.
Tenney will begin his sentence in January, two years after the rebellion.