Jan. 6 defendant claims the Capitol riot had the 'feel of a rock concert' as he seeks leniency

One of two brothers from Virginia Beach who are facing jail time for their roles in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection says the riot on Capitol Hill had the "feel of a rock concert" and is asking for leniency from the court.

The Justice Department wants Eric and Paul VonBernewitz, who both pleaded guilty in January to one misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building, to serve jail time for their roles in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

WUSA9 TV news in Washington, D.C., reports that prosecutors, who filed their sentencing memos Tuesday, are saying that Eric, a 47-year-old furniture company owner, should serve two weeks in jail followed by 36 months of probation. The station reports that judges on the D.C. District court disagree over whether such a "split sentence" is allowed for Class “B” misdemeanor defendants like the VonBernewitzes.

Both VonBernewitzes were among the first rioters to breach metal barriers on Jan. 6. They then entered the building after watching other rioters break windows. According to prosecutors, they stayed inside the building for 14 minutes.

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They also say Eric downplayed his own culpability in the riot during conversations with the FBI, but posted about “wild conspiracy theories” and the need to “round up the globalists” on Twitter. The sentencing memo submitted by Eric's attorney, Austin Manghan, asserts that a fine without jail time or probation would be most appropriate. Manghan wrote that Eric lost his ability to work following his arrest because his company sells furniture to military bases – which he is currently barred from.

The memo portrays Eric’s life before the Jan. 6 riot as a “success story.” Eric, he said, "lost the use of his right arm at age 8 as a result of a car crash. Despite that, Eric became the managing member of a successful company that sells furniture to the military and, in 2017, founded the Virginia Wrestling Club," WUSA9 reports.

Prosecutors' sentencing memo for Paul, 51, argues his conduct was more serious and therefore warrants 45 days in jail, along with 36 months of probation. They say Paul actively joined the crowd in pushing against the metal barriers while police were attempting to hold the line.

Paul’s attorney, Eric Grindrod, argued his client was a “good guy who sometimes gets caught up in the moment” and said he wouldn’t have been at the Capitol at all if not for his brother, who invited him. Grindrod said Paul is regretful for his actions, which, he said, were not the result of premeditation.

“In his interview with the FBI, Paul described the scene as having the feel of a rock concert,” Grindrod wrote in his sentencing memo. “It seems quite likely that Paul would have acted the same way on January 6th if he was part of a crowd at a ballpark, rock concert or political rally. His conduct was impulsive, irresponsible and inexcusable. But it was not thoughtfully directed at achieving some political goal.”

The two brothers are scheduled to appear for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper next week.

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