A Florida man with the radical “black bloc” protest network has pleaded guilty to felony rioting and assault for his role in the Inauguration Day chaos in the District.
Dane Powell, 31, of Tampa, was the first to enter a guilty plea on felony charges brought against 212 protesters accused of rioting and vandalizing property during the Jan. 20 melee surrounding President Trump’s swearing-in ceremony.
Scheduled to be sentenced July 7, he faces a possible six years in prison for breaking windows and throwing a “brick, large rock or piece of concrete” at officers after joining a mob of masked black bloc protesters who moved en masse across 16 blocks in about 30 minutes, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Friday’s plea was announced by U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing D. Phillips and acting Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham.
Carrying hammers, crowbars, metal poles and wooden sticks, the self-described anarchists broke windows at a dozen businesses, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Bank of America; pulled newspaper stands and trash cans into the streets; spray-painted buildings, and shattered the windows of a police cruiser and limousine.
Federal prosecutors released a superseding indictment Thursday that brought additional felony counts against some defendants, including Powell, which brought an outcry from protesters.
“The prosecutor is using the threat of years in prison to obtain convictions before she has even bothered to make a case against anyone,” said Olivia Alsip, who said she was offered but rejected a plea deal. “Many defendants, like myself, believe these cases to be politically motivated and want to take these ridiculous charges to trial.”
The 212 defendants face eight felony charges: one count of inciting or urging to riot; one count of engaging in rioting; one count of conspiracy to riot, and five counts of destruction of property, said U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Bill Miller.
In addition, 100 defendants have been charged with another count of misdemeanor assault on a police officer. One was charged with assaulting an officer in a separate incident; two were charged with vandalizing a limousine, and one was charged with three felony counts of assault on a police officer while armed.
Defend J20 Resistance, a committee supporting the defendants, countered Friday with a statement insisting that protesters were “violently attacked on Jan. 20 by police using chemical and projectile weapons.”
Disrupt J20 was involved in organizing the inaugural protests, but Defend J20 spokesman Matthew Whitley said the groups are not connected.
“We haven’t seen a shred of new evidence to support this superseding indictment,” said Sarah Hailey, a defendant arrested in the Jan. 20 protest. “The prosecutor is just using excessive charges in order to scare and coerce us into pleading guilty.”
Defend J20 said that more than 100 of those charged have joined an agreement, Points of Unity, in which they vow not to cooperate with prosecutors at the expense of other defendants.
In a press release, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Powell and others threw bricks, rocks and concrete pieces at officers, knocking one unconscious and sending others to the hospital.
“Under the District of Columbia’s voluntary sentencing guidelines, Powell faces an estimated range of 12 to 36 months in prison on each of the two charges,” said the release.
A total of 230 people were arrested on Inauguration Day, but prosecutors later dismissed cases against 19 of them. Another two protesters pleaded guilty to misdemeanor rioting.
The black bloc has been described as a “anarchist tactic” used by violent, anonymous protesters to blend together and conceal their identities. Black bloc mobs were accused of inciting the Feb. 2 rioting over conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley, California.