Capitol Rioter Who Pleaded Guilty Asks Court Not To ‘Cancel’ Him With Prison Time

Screenshot/The New Yorker
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July 9, 2021 3:41 p.m.

Judge, don’t cancel me!

That was the essence of the 31-page sentencing memorandum from Capitol rioter Paul Hodgkins, 38, of Tampa, who pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding last month and likely faces one or two years in prison.

“We now live in a county that seeks to cancel one another,” Hodgkins’ attorney Patrick N. Leduc wrote in the memo. “It is the end state and the result of becoming a post-Christian society.”

Hodgkins was one in a group of rioters who briefly occupied the Senate chamber during the attack, taking with him a “Trump 2020” flag and mean-mugging for a quick insurrection selfie.

But Leduc, making appeals to the court’s mercy and pursuing sweeping detours into American history, painted his client as nothing less than the ideal citizen.

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“This case is the story of a man who represents all that we would want in our fellow Americans,” Leduc said near the beginning of the sentencing memo. “Law-abiding, hardworking, honest, caring, kind, thoughtful, generous, and the kind of person you would love to have for a neighbor. It is the story of man who for just one hour on one day, lost his bearings and his way.”

So it went: Hodgkins had a momentary lapse of judgement, Leduc argued, and the court’s treatment of him would send a message to the rest of the nation.

“Paul is an avatar of us all, and how this Court deals with his misconduct will say much about where we are and what we will become as a nation,” the memo argued, adding later, “the prize that the Mr. Hodgkins received for being in the Capitol is unwanted notoriety, and the scarlet letter that many of his fellow citizens will compel him to wear, without an ounce of knowledge or understanding of the man he now is.” (A footnote in the memo helpfully noted that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter “explores guilt, revenge, and redemption in colonial America.”)

The tension between “grace and vengeance,” Leduc added, is a throughline in American history, and is now represented in the effort to “cancel” his client.

“This push and pull has manifested itself into the present cancel culture that permeates our society,” the memo read. “A significant percentage of our population will ‘cancel’ Mr. Hodgkins because of 15-minutes of bad judgment, casting stones in his directions, all the while never fully realizing their own indiscretions and hypocrisy.”

What hypocrisy could millions of Americans be ignoring in their anger at his client, the Capitol rioter? Leduc didn’t really explain, but instead continued on about the scarlet letter that will supposedly tag his client for life.

Yet another footnote commented on the historical resonance between public humiliation in colonial America and “perp walks” and newspaper-printed mug shots in modern times: “In the internet age, grace is a foreign concept.”

The filing argued against any confinement for the defendant, stating that had he not stepped into the Senate chamber on Jan. 6 he may be facing a misdemeanor rather than a felony charge. Any prison time, it said, would turn a productive member of society into a homeless ward of the state. Leduc attached a picture of an at-peace Hodgkins after an Easter service, saying it showed “the look of a man who has found the freedom that one receives when one experiences heavenly grace.”

“While seemingly ironic, from an eternal view of this earthly life, the events of January 6th, 2021, for Paul Hodgkins, have worked together for Paul’s good,” he wrote.

Leduc concluded with an extended comparison to the Civil War, noting Lincoln’s desire for a “lenient” policy toward the post-war South and asserting, “This Court stands in the shadows of Lincoln and Grant.”

“Many on one side of the spectrum seek vengeance and the malice with which that would bring, and a deepening division of the nation as a result,” the memo concluded.

“However, a sentence that provides Paul Hodgkins ‘charity’ would go a very long way toward healing a nation in dire need of seeing what undeserved ‘grace’ looks like. Paul Hodgkins should not be cancelled. A merciful and charitable sentence would be one that Lincoln and Grant would approve.”

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