A Virginia couple who stormed the Capitol with signs protesting safe and effective coronavirus vaccines, and proceeded to document the deranged act online, has been sentenced to home confinement.
Jessica Bustle and her realtor husband, Joshua, pleaded guilty in June to a misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building after participating in the Jan. 6 riot alongside thousands of MAGA supporters. Prosecutors alleged that, during the riot, Jessica was holding a sign that read, in part, “VACCINE INJURY is the REAL PANDEMIC” while her husband followed behind and filmed.
The pair was eventually forced out of the Capitol by law enforcement and became the first defendants to plead guilty to misdemeanors for nonviolent conduct adjacent to the more depraved crimes that day.
“Patriots do not attack the operations of the government,” D.C. District Judge Thomas Hogan said on Wednesday after sentencing the couple.
The Bustles are among over 500 individuals who have been charged in the siege—and among a handful of people who have copped to their crimes. Federal guidelines stated that the Bustles could have faced up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 each for their role in the siege. Prosecutors, however, asked for one-month home detention for Joshua and three-month home detention for his wife because of her “incendiary language” about the riot and politics.
In addition to 30 days of home confinement, Hogan sentenced Joshua to two years probation, 40 hours of community service, a $10 special assessment, and $500 restitution. Jessica was sentenced to 60 days of home confinement, two years probation, a $10 special assessment, and $500 restitution.
Hogan said Wednesday that part of his rationale for giving the pair a non-custodial sentence stemmed from the fact the Bustles were in D.C. for an anti-vaccine rally—and not at Trump’s behest to disrupt the election.
During the Wednesday hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Romano said that although the couple was involved in “an attack on the legislative seat of the United States and the transition of power” their crimes were not as severe as other rioters and therefore warrant a lesser sentence. Romano also mentioned that Jessica’s pregnancy as a factor in their recommendation, which included two years of supervised probation each.
Defense attorneys for the Bustles, however, argued that the couple did not participate in a riot at all—because they simply walked into a building for 20 minutes.
“They walked into a breached building... casually talking to police officers,” Timothy Anderson, Joshua’s attorney, said while arguing his client should only get a fine. “They created no dangerous situation in their own actions.”
Jessica’s attorney Nabeel Kibria, who argued his client should get probation, added that the couple “fell victim” to former President Donald Trump’s online rhetoric, who was “telling people to do certain things.” The couple is no longer on social media, he added.
In their own statements to the court, Joshua admitted that he did “break the law” and was hoping for mercy so that his family could move further south to get a “fresh start.” Jessica also apologized, before writing that she “loves our country and that’s all.”
Prosecutors noted in court documents that Jessica documented her and her husband’s participation in the Capitol riot on Facebook, including uploading several videos of the riot and then posting about their experience.
Just before entering the Capitol, Jessica posted a selfie on Facebook alongside the caption: “We don’t win this thing sitting on the sidelines. Excited to stand for truth with my fellow patriots and freedom fighters in DC today. Lessss do this,” according to a criminal complaint.
In the photo taken in a car, Jessica was also wearing a knit beanie with the phrase “LIONS NOT SHEEP.” Her anti-vaccine sign is visible in the backseat.
In another Facebook post after the siege, Jessica inveighed against Vice President Mike Pence, who was being targeted by some rioters for refusing to violate the Constitution and help Donald Trump plot to retain the presidency. She also touched on the emerging martyrdom of Ashli Babbitt, the rioter shot and killed during the riot.
“Pence is a traitor. We stormed the capital. An unarmed peaceful woman down the hall from us was shot in the neck by cops. It’s insane here...Pray for America!!!!” she wrote.
Just before the sentencing, Judge Hogan asked Jessica about her anti-vaccine rhetoric and she responded that her son had been “injured” by vaccines. She added that the day of the riots, the couple was in D.C. to attend a “medical freedom” rally and “didn’t understand” what “storm the Capitol” meant—but still chose to post the comments online.
“Those Facebook posts were made before I had any clue what was going on,” she said, adding that she does not agree with the violence that took place that day.
Before the hearing ended, Hogan added that while he wasn’t going to “lecture” Jessica about her anti-vaccine beliefs, he hopes she’s reading “accurate” information as the highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus surges.
Even though there were plenty of pandemic truthers in the crowd that day, the couple stood out for their focus on anti-vaxxer disinformation.
Bustle wrote in another lengthy Facebook post that she and her husband spent a majority of Jan. 6 “at the Health Freedom Rally which was a couple of blocks over from the Trump Rally. When we finally decided to head over to the capitol we were let in… like literally, my husband and I just WALKED right in with tons of other people.”
The complaint states that while inside the building, Jessica also wrote that law enforcement was “nice” to them and even agreed with them about “not taking the CV Vax.”
“We need a Revolution,” Jessica Bustle wrote in another post, according to the complaint. “Keep praying for America and its people.”