A QAnon follower from Georgia who brought an arsenal of weapons to Washington just after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was sentenced Tuesday to 28 months in prison for making crude threats to kill Speaker Nancy Pelosi and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Cleveland Meredith Jr., 53, missed then-President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally due to trouble with his truck, but was arrested the following day at a hotel near the Capitol after family members alerted the FBI to threatening text messages he’d sent. In a trailer outside the hotel, police found a pistol, an assault rifle and about 2,500 rounds of ammunition, as well as a telescoping gun-sight.
In imposing the sentence, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected Meredith’s claims that he was simply joking around in the flurry of combative messages he sent during the tense days before and after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol.
“It can’t be tolerated in a democracy and I can’t just say, ‘OK, Mr. Meredith you can go home now,’” Jackson said. “There were multiple, stupid ugly threats…Even the defendant knew the language was unacceptable…..He knew exactly what he was up to.”
With credit for the more than 11 months he has already served at a D.C. jail facility since his arrest plus good behavior credit, Meredith is likely to spend roughly another 14 months in federal prison before being released.
While Meredith’s family blamed his actions on an infatuation with the QAnon conspiracy theory, Jackson said that was just the latest chapter in his history of violent altercations and mental issues.
“This has been a long time coming,” the judge said. “The problems were there long before QAnon came along.”
During a sentencing hearing that spanned more than three hours, Jackson read aloud the series of texts Meredith sent during a drive from Colorado to D.C. and after he arrived in Washington.
“Thinking about heading over to Pelosi [expletive]’s speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV,” Meredith wrote in a message to his uncle on Jan. 7.
“I may wander over to the Mayor’s office and put a 5.56 in her skull,” Meredith added in an earlier message.
When a family member messaged Meredith that Trump had called for his supporters to go home peacefully, Meredith said that was impossible.
“Bullshit. He wants heads and I’m going to deliver,” Meredith wrote.
In her statement, Jackson railed against an increase in extreme political language, and she noted that many political leaders continue to make false claims about fraud in the 2020 election. “The heated inflammatory rhetoric that brought the defendant to the district has not subsided,” the judge said. “The lie that the election was stolen and illegitimate is still being perpetrated. Indeed, it’s being amplified not only on social media, but on mainstream news outlets and…it’s become heresy for a member of the president’s—the former president’s party to say otherwise.”
During a brief, emotional statement to the court, Meredith insisted that the threats he issued and his talk of “war” in the Capitol were just overheated rhetoric.
“I had no intention. It was political hyperbole that was too hyper,” Meredith said. “I was out of control that day.”
Meredith apologized for his actions, but also underscored arguments put forward by defense attorney Paul Kiyonaga: that the statements weren’t intended to actually reach Pelosi (D-Calif.).
During the sentencing, Meredith did not address whether his political or ideological beliefs have changed since his arrest, but suggested they’re no longer central to his life. “I don’t want to have anything to do with politics again,” he said.
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Meredith pleaded guilty in September to a felony threat charge that carries a maximum of five years in prison. The plea deal contemplated a sentence of between six months and two years. However, Jackson found that the non-binding sentencing guidelines actually called for a stiffer sentence of between 37 months and 46 months because the threat to Pelosi targeted a government official.
“The fact that the government didn’t point to this before is odd,” said the judge, an appointee of former President Barack Obama. “It’s hard to suggest that these threats weren’t about or motivated by the victim’s performance of their official duties…The defendant was not incensed at Nancy Pelosi because she was a next-door neighbor who parked in his parking spot or a former romantic or business partner.”
Kiyonaga complained bitterly about the increase in the recommended sentencing range and suggested that the change will discourage other defendants from agreeing to plea deals.
“I painstakingly negotiated a plea agreement with the government,” he said. “I think the government has gotten a windfall that it should not take advantage of. I think that will reverberate.”
The judge ultimately sentenced Meredith below the guidelines range, citing in part the harsh pandemic-related conditions at the D.C. Jail, where he is housed with others awaiting trial on charges related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
Meredith’s parents also addressed the court, blaming their son’s obsession with QAnon for clouding his judgment.
“He got in the wrong crowd,” the defendant’s father, Cleveland Meredith Sr., said. “He took some of this QAnon stuff just hook line and sinker and really fell into that hole.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Franks urged a sentence of about three-and-a-half years in the case, while Kiyonaga asked Jackson to sentence Meredith to time served.
Franks did not explain why prosecutors did not seek the enhancement for threats to an official, but he suggested that increased the gravity of the offense.
“Mr. Meredith was within one mile of the Capitol, practically at the doorstep of the speaker of the House,” the prosecutor said. “Whenever anyone is threatened to be killed, it’s serious. When someone who’s the leader, one of the leaders in our country, is threatened, it takes it to another level….I think he was bent on doing what he said he was doing to do, to deliver heads.”
Much of the hearing was devoted to discussion of Meredith’s mental health struggles. There was also mention of substance abuse issues. The lawyers and the judge were vague about substance abuse and health issues Meredith had struggled with, besides an alcohol problem. However, Kiyonaga referred to his client’s actions as “akin to ‘roid rage.” Indeed, a court filing from the outset of the case says a potent steroid was found in Meredith’s room at the time of his arrest.
Meredith’s defense argued that he was being treated unduly harshly compared to others accused of making threats, including some arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 riot. Kiyonaga pointed to the case of Dawn Bancroft, a Pennsylvania woman who has admitted to entering the Capitol illegally that day. When she emerged, she sent a video out on social media saying: “'We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin' brain, but we didn't find her.”
Franks said prosecutors examined Bancroft’s statement and said it didn’t amount to a chargeable threat under Supreme Court precedent. “There were no prospective comments….There was no indication that they were going to follow through on those threats,” he said.
Jackson ultimately concluded the case “really isn’t comparable,” but Kiyonaga said it was unfair that Bancroft was allowed to plead guilty to a parading-in-the-Capitol charge that carries a maximum six-month prison sentence. She is awaiting sentencing.
“There’s something wrong here,” the defense attorney complained. "It’s serious and it’s vile and it’s gross and she has a misdemeanor.”
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