WASHINGTON, D.C. — A former member of the Proud Boys in Rhode Island was sentenced Tuesday to two months in federal prison for shoving police officers during a breach of the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Bernard Joseph Sirr, 47, of North Kingstown, is the latest member of the hate group convicted of the attack on the US Capitol. Three weeks ago, jurors found Enrique Tarrio, former leader of the Proud Boys, and members including Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl guilty of seditious conspiracy.
Sirr, an Army veteran, later told federal investigators that he’d gotten involved with the hate group through a friend in the military. Sirr was angry about the 2020 election, what he was hearing on podcasts and other media about a “stolen election,” and wanted to take action, his lawyer said, according to court records.
Sirr’s involvement resulted in a felony charge, the loss of his job, and now, federal prison.
“I had been told our democracy would end if I didn’t act to save it. And I believed those things,” Sirr said in remarks to the court Tuesday, as he apologized for his actions. “I carry an overwhelming shame for being influenced by the media and acting the way I did. I was angry and frustrated. I was led by resentment, but I am the one who allowed myself to be led.”
Along with the prison sentence, US District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden also ordered Sirr to serve a year of supervised release, which includes six months home confinement, and to pay $2,000 in restitution.
Sirr could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison, up to three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $25,000.
Federal prosecutors had recommended a sentence of 10 months.
While the sentencing guidelines set the range of eight to 14 months, Assistant US Attorney Stephen J. Rancourt wrote that they considered Sirr’s honorable military service, lack of a criminal record, and his interview with law enforcement after his arrest. Sirr told them that he’d disaffiliated from the Proud Boys after the attack on the Capitol, and provided information about the group, Rancourt wrote.
Sirr was at the forefront of the mob attempting to shove through the police officers guarding the tunnel area of the Lower West Terrace. He filmed the mob’s attack on one officer. He only backed off when police officers used anti-riot spray against him and the crowd.
“Sirr’s first expression of any remorse was after he was arrested, fired from his job, and faced with the possibility of imprisonment,” Rancourt wrote in a sentencing memo. “A sufficient sentence of incarceration is necessary to provide specific deterrence to Sirr that participation in a riot, and specifically his conduct towards law enforcement, can never be justified nor repeated.”
Sirr’s lawyer, Robert N. Driscoll, argued that Sirr’s actions were “perfectly out of character” and that he was already suffering from long-lasting consequences from his actions. Driscoll recommended three years probation, or, barring that, up to 60 days in prison.
“The reality is that people like Bernard were told lies, fed falsehoods, and believed that our election was stolen when it clearly was not,” Driscoll wrote in a sentencing memo. “He understands that his conduct was harmful and inexcusable, and he is profoundly saddened by the fact that he was a member of a mob that took part in what is a great national embarrassment.”
At the time, Sirr was a facilities engineer at the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center and raising a family in North Kingstown.
He was also a supporter of then-President Donald J. Trump, and after the 2020 election, he tweeted his fury over the results and misinformation about the election from Trump’s surrogates. Using the handle “@l_lycurgus,” Sirr warned that “the noose is tightening around the traitors necks” and “Patriots are ready to FIGHT against this election fraud.... are you?”
Sirr told investigators that a friend from the military got him an application for the Proud Boys — he retweeted a comment that the group was made up of “regular Americans — and attended multiple meetings with local members. As Congress prepared to certify the Electoral College, Sirr went with a group of local Proud Boys to D.C.
On Jan. 5, 2021, the night before, Sirr tweeted to Trump: “I’ll be there on January 6th. My brothers and I will stand by your side.”
After the speeches at the Stop the Steal Rally at the Ellipse on the Mall, Sirr and a group of six to eight Proud Boys from the New England chapters headed for the Capitol, according to court records. Sirr had packed a first aid kit and hand-held radios that he distributed to the others so they could communicate.
His actions over 70 minutes at the Capitol were captured on multiple videos.
Sirr joined a mob of rioters confronting law enforcement officers in the tunnel area of the Lower West Terrace.
During a video taken inside the tunnel, Sirr is at the front of the police line pushing against rioters who are assaulting officers. He pushed against a police shield and, with the group, chanted “Heave-ho!” as they shoved back at law enforcement.
Sirr filmed the mob as they dragged MPD Officer Michael Fanone and violently beat and tazed the helpless officer. Sirr kept returning, until he was hit with pepper spray and forced out by officers. He yelled at the officers to “join us” and “be on the right side of history.”
He kept trying to get into the tunnel, but finally left after being sprayed by anti-riot gas.
Sirr was arrested in June 2022 and indicted by a grand jury on six counts. He pleaded guilty in January to interference with officers during a civil disorder; the other counts were dropped in the plea agreement.
After his arrest, Sirr surrendered a dozen guns; the conviction means he is barred from possessing firearms. He lost his job at the Rhode Island Nuclear Science Center and is now seeking freelance work as a master electrician. His lawyer wrote to the court that the impact of Sirr’s actions will be long lasting.
“Bernard has had a great deal of time to reflect on the choices he made to bring him to this low point in his life, and he has had to confront his personal shame, embarrassment, as well as face what will be his new future,” Driscoll wrote. “Simply put, Bernard is now a felon who participated in the Capitol riot on January 6 — a day that will linger in this country forever.”
Sirr is one of more than 1,000 people who have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the Capitol, including more than 320 people who are charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.
Sirr told the judge that he’d let down his family. He apologized to his wife and children, to those who were touched by the mob violence on Jan. 6, and to law enforcement at the Capitol. “Though I never intended to cause you harm, I was part of a mob that threatened you,” Sirr said. “Mimicking others, I said things like ‘pick the right side’ though you were on the correct one.”
He said that over the last two years, he’d been shaken by who he had become, and that he was working to atone for his actions.
“I did not smash windows that day or destroy barricades, but I was part of the mob and I am responsible for the damage, both to the Capitol and to our nation, but also to the people who I hurt,” Sirr said before he was sentenced. “I’m looking for forgiveness from my country.”
Sirr was free on personal recognizance and is permitted by the judge to self-surrender to federal prison.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.