Oath Keeper Who Entered Capitol But Cooperated With Feds Sentenced

James Breheny allegedly wrote online after the Capitol attack about the need to “replace” the U.S. government.
A selfie allegedly taken by James Breheny on Jan. 6.
A selfie allegedly taken by James Breheny on Jan. 6.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia

A regional Oath Keepers organizer who pleaded guilty to a Capitol attack felony last year was sentenced Friday to 36 months of probation, the first six months of which will be served as home detention.

James Breheny was a Bergen County, New Jersey-based organizer with the Oath Keepers, the far-right militia group that played a key role in the physical breach of Congress and menacing of lawmakers. As part of a guilty plea last year, Breheny acknowledged that he entered the Capitol in part to aid the attempt to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory. Prior to that plea, he faced several more charges, including violent entry into the Capitol and related crimes.

Breheny was among those who communicated with other militia members before the attack, though prosecutors said he did not actively plan the attack with them and was not involved in discussions that concerned planning for violence, which was why he was not charged with conspiring with others.

However, prosecutors did say he “joined the mob outside the East Rotunda Doors that forced entry into the Capitol, and thus participated in violence” on Jan. 6, 2021. They also acknowledged the “fulsome, credible, and relevant” information he provided about other criminal defendants, including the leader of the Oath Keepers and other members, and said he was “cooperative and truthful” with law enforcement starting just days after the attack.

In court Friday, U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta, who’s handled a number of Capitol attack cases including that of Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes, said Breheny was the first Oath Keepers member who’d come before him in that “posture.”

“And you deserve some credit for it,” the judge said. (Breheny is no longer a member of the Oath Keepers.)

Mehta stressed that there was “some risk” involved with Breheny cooperating against the militia members, and he emphasized comments earlier in the hearing from Breheny’s attorney Harley Breite, who said that in all three Capitol attack cases in which he’d been involved, prosecutors had been honest and professional.

Some Republicans, including former President Donald Trump and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), have called Jan. 6 prisoners “hostages.”

But, noting Breite’s comments, Mehta said the criminal justice process in the aftermath of Jan. 6 “has not been an effort to politically persecute people.” Breheny’s sentence, in addition to the home detention and probation, included 120 hours of community service and a $2,000 restitution to the Architect of the Capitol.

Breite told HuffPost following the hearing, “We’re grateful for the government’s and the judge’s clear and honest understanding of what really happened that day.” Breheny declined to comment.

Breheny entered the Capitol seconds after a military “stack” formation of fellow Oath Keepers breached the building. He spent a few minutes inside the building and sent texts afterward that included a picture of the inside of the Capitol and messages including “I breached the Capital door!” “We breached the door Baby,” and “Made it in [laughing emoji].”

He later sent messages about erasing evidence of his crime, including “I have to clear chats.” He also deleted his Facebook account, as well as photos of his time in the Capitol, after being warned that the material could be used as criminal evidence against those who entered the building.

In a Jan. 6 Facebook post responding to a conversation about the Capitol attack, which was noted in an FBI agent’s affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Breheny in May 2021, Breheny allegedly said, “People need to stand up and fight we are losing by unfair tactics and misrepresentation sooner or later this had to happen. They refuse to hear the cases that would allow our voices to be heard. So what other option do you have?”

“We exhausted all legal channels. They refuse to investigate any of crimes or voter issues. Therefore the Government has become tyrannical. The People’s Duty is to replace that Government with one they agree with. I’m all ears. What’s our options???”

As part of his guilty plea, Breheny signed a statement of offense affirming the key details of the government’s case against him. The statement said of the Oath Keepers that certain members “mobilized to prevent the transfer of power,” and “believe that the federal government has been coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”

Breheny entered the Capitol “in part to join the efforts to obstruct Congress from certifying the electoral college vote,” Breheny’s statement of offense reads.

Breheny and prosecutors reached a plea agreement in June, with Breheny pleading guilty to one count of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting.

That charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, but prosecutors, in a sentencing memorandum, sought only three years of probation, with the first six months being in-home confinement, in addition to community service and restitution. (Home detention is less restrictive than home confinement, a probation officer told the court, allowing leave for work, religious and medical appointments; Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathryn L. Rakoczy said the government did not oppose those allowances.)

They cited Breheny’s “early acceptance of responsibility and the substantial assistance he has provided to law enforcement pursuant to his cooperation plea agreement.” One half page of the 22-page memo was redacted, with the full version to be filed under seal. The memo commended the “truthful, complete and reliable” information Breheny provided them, much of which they said had been corroborated by other witnesses and evidence.

“With respect to the significance and usefulness of the defendant’s assistance … the defendant provided information about the leader and other members and affiliates of the Oath Keepers who conspired to participate in the attack on the Capitol and interfere with the lawful transfer of power on January 6,” prosecutors wrote, saying that Breheny and others were privy to inside communications and could provide “color and context to their meaning.” A paragraph describing the information that Breheny provided was redacted, followed by the government quantifying the case for reducing Breheny’s offense level.

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the group, was sentenced to 18 years in prison last May after being convicted at trial of seditious conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and tampering with documents. Rhodes’ sentence is the longest of any Jan. 6 defendant aside from Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who was sentenced to 22 years behind bars.

Three weeks before the attack, on Dec. 14, Rhodes published a letter on the Oath Keepers website urging Trump to “strike now” and invoke the Insurrection Act to fight against what Rhodes called “a fraudulent election.” Rhodes implored Trump to “call up the militia,” which he said included veterans and “patriotic Americans of military age.” If Trump failed to act, Rhodes wrote, “we the people will have to fight a bloody civil war and revolution against these two illegitimate Communist Chinese puppets, and their illegitimate regime.”

The week following the publishing of that letter, on Dec. 21, Breheny invited Rhodes to a meeting of “multiple patriot groups” in Pennsylvania on Jan. 3, in order to prepare for Jan. 6, or as Breheny wrote, “our last chance to organize before the show.” He asked participants in the meeting to put their phones in Faraday bags, which block cell signals, before arriving at the summit.

On the morning of Jan. 6, Rhodes added Breheny to a chat on the Signal app called “DC OP: Jan 6 21 (‘Leadership Signal Chat’),” which included several Oath Keepers leaders from multiple states.

In the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Breheny, an FBI agent said Rhodes (then referred to as “Person One”) referred to Breheny in the Signal chat by the alias “Seamus,” who Rhodes told the group “is coming in with a team from NJ, and also has contacts with several militia leaders coming in.” Numerous Oath Keepers members in that group chat participated in the riot and were charged criminally, the affidavit said.

According to the affidavit, in a Jan. 14 interview with law enforcement, Breheny admitted that he’d entered the Capitol, but said was pushed in and did not do so willfully. He also claimed he did not know that he wasn’t allowed inside the building because no police officers he encountered told him to stop. The affiant, an FBI agent, wrote that he determined both of those claims to be false. The agent noted “the ongoing violence and emergency alarms that were sounding at the time,” as well as video footage that he said showed Breheny entering the Capitol “willfully.”

He also said Breheny was inside for a few minutes — long enough to take a picture of the Capitol dome, which was included in the complaint. Another photo from Breheny’s phone taken just outside the Capitol building’s East Rotunda doors showed him wearing a blue face mask and “what appeared to be an ear-piece for a radio,” the affidavit said. (Both sides in court Friday acknowledged that Breheny had experience with radio communication.) After the riot, he joined with other Oath Keepers around 100 feet away from the Capitol’s northeast corner.

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