The latest person to be sentenced over their participation in the January 6, 2021 Capitol Hill riot was 57-year-old Robert Keith Packer of Virginia. Mr. Packer became something of a celebrity in the aftermath of the riot because of the offensive sweatshirt he wore while on the Capitol grounds. It depicted a human skull with the words “Camp Auschwitz” and an English translation of the motto displayed on the gates to the concentration camp. That sweater was the star of the sentencing hearing, receiving far more attention than anything that Packer actually did while trespassing on the Capitol grounds and inside of the building. That’s probably because the court couldn’t find evidence of him doing anything other than “parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.” Of course, you have to dig down through twelve paragraphs of this report from the Associated Press before you learn the extent of his offenses. For the sole misdemeanor charge of “parading,” Robert Packer was sentenced to 75 days behind bars out of a possible six-month maximum sentence.
A Virginia man who stormed the U.S. Capitol while wearing an antisemitic “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt over a Nazi-themed shirt was sentenced on Thursday to 75 days of imprisonment.
Robert Keith Packer, 57, declined to address U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols before he sentenced him during hearing held by video conference. The judge noted the “incredibly offensive” message on Packer’s sweatshirt before imposing the sentence.
“It seems to me that he wore that sweatshirt for a reason. We don’t know what the reason was because Mr. Packer hasn’t told us,” Nichols said.
Because it’s central to this story, let’s just get the matter of the sweatshirt out of the way up front. There was nothing ambiguous about it and it wasn’t being misinterpreted by anyone. That sweatshirt was patently offensive and it clearly celebrated the holocaust. With that said, the First Amendment clearly gives Packer the right to wear it if he wishes to do so and it should not have been a factor in his sentencing. We don’t lock people up for “saying things” even if the speech is a decoration on their clothing. Or at least we didn’t use to, anyway.
But it clearly sounds as if that’s what happened in the courtroom when Packer was sentenced. As noted in the excerpt above, the judge called out the “incredibly offensive” message before passing sentence. Packer declined to address the court, but the FBI agents who questioned him testified that when they asked him why he wore the sweatshirt he told them, “because I was cold.”
One possibly interesting side note concerning Packer’s participation on January 6th was also mentioned in the report. He was only a few feet away from Ashli Babbitt when she was shot and killed by a Capitol Hill Police officer. That took place outside of the Speaker’s Lobby inside the Capitol Building.
As we’ve seen in many other cases that have reached their conclusion in this fiasco, Robert Keith Packer was not found to have vandalized or stolen any property and he did not attack any law enforcement officers. He was guilty of trespassing. The Associated Press report makes note of Packer having “a lengthy criminal record.” Having prior convictions can certainly lead to a harsher sentence in some cases, but that shouldn’t have been a factor here. His convictions were for driving while intoxicated and “other motor vehicle violations.” They didn’t exactly track down the Golden State killer when they put the cuffs on Packer.
The judge in this case could have easily sentenced Robert Keith Packer to probation and time served for his nonviolent, non-destructive participation in the riot. The Department of Justice could have offered him probation and skipped over all of this drama. But that’s not how things work today. Packer is viewed as having been somehow associated with Donald Trump and being opposed to the Biden administration, so he must be made an example as a message to everyone else.