TACOMA — A Puyallup couple has pleaded guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor for parading inside the U.S. Capitol building during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection in Washington, D.C.
Scott and Holly Christensen were charged in November with multiple misdemeanor offenses for their participation in storming the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, which temporarily disrupted the certification of the 2020 presidential election and ended with five people dead. The Department of Justice said about 140 police officers were assaulted.
The Christensens on Monday, Sept. 25, appeared via remote video in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before Judge Dabney Friedrich, according to court records. Both pleaded guilty to parading, demonstrating or picketing in a capitol building.
The husband and wife were not accused of anything violent. According to charging documents, surveillance footage largely showed them taking photos and videos and demonstrating inside the Rotunda. Three other charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement.
Holly Christensen’s attorney, Robert Jenkins Jr., a lawyer based in Alexandria, Virginia, said the offense his client pleaded guilty to most appropriately reflected her conduct on Jan. 6, 2021.
“I think the other charges overstated her involvement,” Jenkins said in a brief phone call with The News Tribune.
Holly Christensen and her husband have been out of custody on their personal recognizance since their first court appearance in December last year. According to court records, the FBI took them into custody Dec. 7 in Puyallup. Their other charges were disorderly conduct on capitol grounds, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds.
Sentencing was set for Dec. 18. The couple faces up to six months imprisonment, a fine of up to $5,000 and restitution.
Asked if Holly Christensen had any remorse for her actions on Jan. 6, her attorney said it was never her intention to engage in any violent act.
“Nor was it her intention to make any efforts to obstruct Congress from proceeding with its business on that day,” Jenkins said. “She originally came to Washington, D.C., to exercise her First Amendment rights.”
The riot at the Capitol building required more than $2.9 million in repairs, federal prosecutors wrote in court filings. As part of their plea agreements, the Christensens each agreed to pay $500 restitution to the Architect of the Capitol, the builder and steward of the landmark buildings and grounds of Capitol Hill.
More than 1,146 people have been charged in nearly all 50 states and the District of Columbia for offenses related to the attack on the Capitol, according to the Justice Department. Of them, 623 have been sentenced, and 378 were punished with incarceration. Among them was a leader of the Proud Boys and Auburn resident Ethan Nordean, who was sentenced earlier in September to 18 years in prison.
Three other Puyallup residents have been convicted of and sentenced on federal charges in connection to the Jan. 6 riot. Kevin Cronin and his two sons were accused of misdemeanors for taking part in it. Cronin pleaded guilty in January to the same offense as the Christensens and received 18 months probation April 13, a $1500 fine and was ordered to pay $500 restitution, according to court records. Kevin Cronin II pleaded guilty to the same offense and was sentenced June 9 to 30 days incarceration plus restitution.
Dylan Cronin pleaded guilty in February to entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and damaging property of the United States, court records show. Prosecutors said he used a piece of lumber to break glass outside the Capitol building and then climbed in through an adjacent window. He was sentenced Sept. 8 to eight months incarceration plus restitution.
Jenkins said given that Holly Christensen has no prior criminal history and this was a nonviolent offense, he’s hopeful that she will not serve any time behind bars. He said he’s represented upwards of a dozen-and-a-half defendants in Jan. 6 cases. Many were convicted of the same offense, Jenkins said, and most who got jail time were sentenced to less than 30 days.
Generally, individuals convicted of a misdemeanor in federal court serve time at a local facility that contracts with the federal government, Jenkins said, because federal facilities are often reserved for people serving longer sentences.
The News Tribune was not able to reach Scott Christensen’s attorney for comment.
Scott Christensen formerly worked as a real estate agent in the Puyallup area, and he served as a pastor at Renovo Church of Christ, which at one point met weekly at Pierce College. The church is now closed, but a YouTube video showed Scott giving a sermon there as recently as 2015.
In September 2021, an FBI agent met with Scott Christensen’s then-supervisor at a realty office in Puyallup, according to federal prosecutors criminal complaint. The supervisor identified him in several images showing the inside of the Capitol building, and he told investigators they knew Scott had traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend a “stop the steal” rally.
Prosecutors described Scott and Holly Christensen’s participation in the “January 6, 2021, Capitol Riot” in a 6-page document filed Sept. 25. The two attended the “stop the steal” rally at the Washington Monument and then walked to the Capitol building. According to The New York Times, former President Donald Trump gave a speech at the rally shortly before supporters marched on the building and forced their way inside.
The Christensens entered the Capitol building through the East Rotunda at about 2:43 p.m., minutes after the door was breached by rioters, prosecutors said. Alarms were going off while they went into the Rotunda, where they walked around taking photos and video on their cellphones for about four minutes.
At some point, Holly Christensen came into contact with pepper spray, something prosecutors said police used against rioters. At about 2:52 p.m., she and her husband took an elevator to the fourth floor of the Senate side of the building where they used the restroom and Holly cleaned the pepper spray from her face. Investigators noted the fourth-floor hallway was one few, if any others, breached during the riot.
The Christensens re-entered the Rotunda at about 3 p.m., paraded around for several minutes and became separated due to the size of the crows and because police were trying to clear the area of rioters, prosecutors said.
Scott Christensen spoke with police officers in the Rotunda at about 3:09 p.m., according to the criminal complaint. “Which amendment are you protecting right now?” Christensen allegedly said. A minute later, police body-camera recordings allegedly captured him talking to an officer.
“Dude, I’m from Seattle, we invented this stuff,” the man allegedly said. “You guys needs to call the Puyallup … Seattle Police Department.” Christensen then disappeared into the crowd.
Prosecutors said Holly Christensen exited the Capitol building through the Memorial Door at the direction of a police officer at about 3:22 p.m., and her husband left through the East Rotunda Door about 10 minutes later. They remained on Capitol grounds until shortly after 5 p.m. MSNBC’s coverage of the attack on the Capitol showed the couple walking directly behind a reporter’s shot outside the building.