Independent Journalist Sentenced to Probation for Entering US Capitol on Jan. 6

Independent Journalist Sentenced to Probation for Entering US Capitol on Jan. 6

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A North Carolina independent journalist has been sentenced to 12 months probation, a fine, and 90 hours community service for entering the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Independent journalist Stephen Horn, who entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and later released a documentary incorporating footage he recorded that day, has been sentenced to a fine and 12 months of probation after being found guilty of four misdemeanors.

Mr. Horn, a 25-year-old from Raleigh, North Carolina, was found guilty in September 2023 of entering a restricted area, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted area, violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, as well as parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.

Prosecutors asked for 10 months in jail as punishment, and the judge set sentencing for Jan. 10. Mr. Horn told The Epoch Times shortly after the verdicts were announced that “my attitude is that if you expect the worst, you’ll never be disappointed.”

Fortunately for Mr. Horn, his expectations for the worst didn’t materialize, with Judge Timothy J. Kelly announcing in a Jan. 10 sentencing brief that the journalist must pay a $2,000 fine, be subject to 12 months of probation, and 90 hours of community service.

“This is definitely a victory for us,” Mr. Horn said in a Jan. 10 post on X, noting that prosecutors had asked that the so-called “zero-point offender adjustment”—which gives some first-time offenders a break—should not be applied to him and that he should serve time behind bars.

Press Or Protest?

Prosecutors had challenged Mr. Horn’s argument that he was an independent journalist who was merely seeking to document the dramatic events of Jan. 6, instead arguing that he was one of the thousands of rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol to interrupt the transfer of power.

They pointed to the fact that he scaled the statue of Abraham Lincoln, entered then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office, and joined in at least one chant with the group.

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Stephen Horn films the protest from atop a monument inside the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6, 2021. (U.S. DOJ/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)
Stephen Horn films the protest from atop a monument inside the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6, 2021. (U.S. DOJ/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

His attorneys argued that Mr. Horn was an independent journalist who entered the Capitol along with the crowd to document what was happening, didn’t assault any police officers, and even cautioned people against causing damage inside the building.

The jury was asked to decide whether Mr. Horn, who, less than a week before his trial began, released a documentary called “79 Minutes: Breach of the Capitol,” was a reporter or a protestor.

Prosecutors argued that Mr. Horn worked for his family’s software company and only focused on journalistic endeavors after the Capitol breach.

“His journalism started when he needed an excuse for his criminal liability,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Akers said during Mr. Horn’s two-day trial last September.

The jurors opted to go with “protester,” and Mr. Horn was found guilty.

The Sentencing

During sentencing, the judge challenged Mr. Horn’s claims of being a journalist.

Judge Kelly said he lacked press credentials, had no degree in journalism nor was he part of an organization that paid him to document the events of Jan. 6, according to Christina Urso, an independent journalist and filmmaker who attended Mr. Horn’s court proceedings.

The judge also brought up Mr. Horn’s relatively small social media following and said a reasonable jury could rightly conclude that he was there—at least in part—to obstruct an official proceeding.

“Judge Kelly claimed a reasonable jury could ‘conclude’ that since Horn joined in a chant of ‘USA!’ with the ‘mob,’ that could constitute ‘demonstrating,’ that could ‘disrupt’ a proceeding,” Ms. Urso said in a post on X.

Further, the judge said that even “passive, quiet, and non-violent conduct” could be disruptive because mere presence with a group or mob caused “problems,” per Ms. Urso.

At sentencing, U.S. Attorney Sonia Murphy said the government requested six months of incarceration for Mr. Horn—four months less than prosecutors originally called for—and that making a Jan. 6 documentary “doesn’t right a wrong,” Ms. Urso recounted.

Other Journalists

Mr. Horn released his documentary shortly before his trial began.

In the introduction to the film, Mr. Horn said he offered the video he shot on Jan. 6 to the FBI “because I witnessed vandalism and multiple assaults against police officers.”

“But they decided to arrest me and charge me with four misdemeanor charges,” he said.

Mr. Horn was the latest in a string of Jan. 6 prosecutions of independent journalists.

On Sept. 12, InfoWars host Jonathon Owen Shroyer was sentenced to 60 days in jail after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.

On April 5, InfoWars journalist Samuel Christopher Montoya was sentenced to three years of probation with 120 days of home detention after agreeing to plead guilty to one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.

Mr. Montoya filmed the shooting of Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt in the hallway outside of the Speaker’s Lobby at 2:45 p.m. on Jan. 6.

On Jan. 12, independent journalist Shawn Bradley Witzemann was sentenced to two years of probation with seven days of intermittent confinement after agreeing to plead guilty to one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building.

Mr. Horn’s sentencing comes on the heels of the third anniversary of the Jan. 6 incident and amid a warning by the Department of Justice (DOJ) that it intends to pursue and convict anyone who broke the law that day, even if they never entered the building or weren’t even present at the Capitol.

Former President Donald Trump has said on several occasions that he thinks the Biden administration is mistreating Jan. 6 detainees and has vowed to issue pardons for many of them.

Joseph Hanneman contributed to this report. 

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