2 Convicted Jan. 6 Rioters Donated To MAGA Republican Joe Kent

Joe Kent, center, speaks during a rally for Jan. 6 defendants on Sept. 18, 2021. He unseated a more moderate Republican in the 2022 primary, and then narrowly lost the general election.
Joe Kent, center, speaks during a rally for Jan. 6 defendants on Sept. 18, 2021. He unseated a more moderate Republican in the 2022 primary, and then narrowly lost the general election. Nathan Howard/Associated Press

Two federally convicted participants in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol contributed to the congressional campaigns of Republican Joe Kent, a Donald Trump loyalist who has indulged in conspiracy theories about the attack that day and suggested most of the imprisoned rioters deserve pardons.

Last June, David Charles Rhine, an accounting firm owner from Bremerton, Washington, contributed $250 to Kent’s 2024 congressional campaign, as well as $375 to a joint fundraising committee that Kent runs with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). He had previously given $250 to Kent in 2021, when Kent first ran for Congress unsuccessfully.

That donation followed the Department of Justice’s conviction of Rhine in April on four misdemeanor charges related to his conduct at the riot. Those charges were: entering or remaining in a restricted federal building; disorderly conduct in a restricted federal building; disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and demonstrating in a Capitol building. Rhine, who was carrying two pocketknives and pepper spray when he entered the Capitol, was sentenced to four months in prison in September.

In addition, Alexander Sheppard, a resident of Powell, Ohio, just outside Columbus, contributed $500 to Kent in February 2022. The DOJ convicted Sheppard, one of the first rioters to enter the Capitol, on five criminal counts in January 2023, including a felony for obstructing an official proceeding. In September, Sheppard was sentenced to 19 months in prison.

Sheppard entered the Capitol through a smashed window, crossed multiple police lines aimed at stopping the mob’s advance, and yelled at officers guarding the speaker’s lobby just outside the House chamber, according to the DOJ. “I’m here with some goddamn heroes, and we just shut down Congress!” he recorded himself saying in a video at the time. “They called an emergency session, they said we’re too scared, they’ve shut down Congress. Let’s fucking go!”

Three days later, according to the DOJ, Sheppard wrote a message about the then vice president on social media, saying that “[w]e shouldn’t hang Mike Pence. Firing squad!”

In late January, HuffPost reported that during the 2022 election cycle, Kent had received $8,600 in donations from Carlos Ayala, an alleged Jan. 6 rioter. His campaign told HuffPost that it would not return Ayala’s donations, because Kent respected his right to due process. “Mr. Ayala is innocent until proven guilty,” said Erin Van Natta, a Kent campaign spokesperson.

Sheppard and Rhine, however, have been convicted in federal court. Kent’s campaign did not immediately reply when asked Thursday whether he would return the donations.

Kent, a veteran of the U.S. Special Forces, is trying to unseat Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D), who defeated him in the 2022 general election in Washington state’s 3rd Congressional District.

Gluesenkamp Perez has already begun making an issue of Kent’s ties to the right-wing fringe of the “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, movement. 

“Like the members of the January 6 mob, Joe Kent is an angry, dangerous man who only believes in democracy if his side wins,” Gluesenkamp Perez told HuffPost in a statement Thursday.

Kent has endorsed many of the election-denying conspiracy theories promoted by Trump. He has insisted that the 2020 election was “rigged” and “stolen,”embraced the unfounded notion that the FBI orchestrated the Capitol riot, and promoted Trump’s 2024 presidential run as a way to ensure pardons for an untold number of Jan. 6 defendants he sees as unfairly accused.

In the 2022 Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District, Kent unseated then-Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack. Trump had carried the 3rd District, which encompasses southwestern Washington state, by 4 percentage points in 2020. But thanks in part to the support of moderate Republicans, Gluesenkamp Perez, an auto repair shop owner, defeated Kent in the 2022 general election by less than 1 percentage point.

Kent has two Republican competitors in the August primary: Leslie Lewallen, a Camas city councilor, and Leslie “Nick” French of Camas. As of the end of 2023, Kent was the far-and-away fundraising leader.