Esther Schwemmer, of Leavenworth, also must pay $500 in restitution for damage to the Capitol building, which prosecutors say totaled $1.5 million. The sentence was handed down via video conference in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
“I’m deeply ashamed of my actions on that day,” Schwemmer told U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, her voice breaking. “Nothing about it was Christ-like…I hope with time I can forgive myself.”
Friedrich told Schwemmer that “none of us are defined by the worst mistake we made.”
“So I hope you can forgive yourself,” Friedrich said. “I do appreciate your, what I think is genuine remorse here.”
Friedrich added, however, that though the crime Schwemmer pleaded guilty to is a misdemeanor, “it is nonetheless a serious offense.”
“Miss Schwemmer was part of the large, violent crowd that reached the U.S. Capitol just over a year ago… And despite what she said at the time of the offense, her actions were in no way an act of patriotism, nor was it an exercise of her First Amendment rights,” Friedrich said. “She was clearly trespassing, she had no right to be there, and her actions indirectly subjected law enforcement officers whose job it is to protect the Capitol and members of Congress and others who were inside the Capitol to great risk.”
Friedrich noted that from the outset, Schwemmer had acknowledged her conduct, cooperated with the FBI and worked to resolve her case. Schwemmer also has devoted her life to her family, her job and to volunteer activities, the judge said.
“She’s done a lot of service work through her church, she ran a local church soup kitchen ministering to the poor, she’s invested in the youth and she’s performed years of faith-based ministry,” Friedrich said.
Schwemmer faced a maximum sentence of six months in prison, five years’ probation and a $5,000 fine. Prosecutors had requested a sentence of 30 days’ home detention as part of a three-year term of probation, 60 hours of community service, and $500 in restitution.
Schwemmer, 56, and her friend Jennifer Ruth Parks, 61, traveled to Washington, D.C., together to attend the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally before following the crowd to the Capitol, court documents said. They were initially charged with four misdemeanors — entering and remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.
Both pleaded guilty to a single “parading” charge. The government dropped the other charges in exchange for their guilty pleas. Parks, of Leavenworth, was sentenced Dec. 8 to two years’ probation, 60 hours of community service and $500 in restitution.
The women were among eight Kansas residents charged for their alleged roles in the Capitol riot. Mark Rebegila of St. Marys pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count on Dec. 1 and is scheduled to be sentenced in March. The cases of the other five defendants — three Proud Boys from Johnson County, a Wichita man and a Topeka man — are winding their way through the courts.
Schwemmer’s and Parks’ involvement in the Capitol breach came to light when the FBI received a tip on Jan. 11, 2021, saying Parks had participated in the “DC mob.” The FBI interviewed both women on Jan. 17, according to court documents. Schwemmer told authorities that she and Parks were eating while they watched people running toward the Capitol building. Schwemmer said the two followed the crowd to another area outside the Capitol and eventually heard people suggest going to the front of the building “to conduct peaceful protesting.”
“Schwemmer claimed that she and Parks walked to the front of the Capitol Building, encountered no barricades and no police officer told them to stop,” the court document said.
“Schwemmer saw the open doors to the U.S. Capitol Building and entered with Parks.”
She told agents they went upstairs and that police were allowing them to walk around. But she said that as soon as a police officer told them to leave, they did.
Schwemmer gave agents a photo of her and Parks taken outside the Capitol building, court records showed. In the photo, she was wrapped in a “Trump 2020” flag and wore a Make America Great Again beanie cap.
In a letter to the judge, Schwemmer apologized to the Capitol Police and members and employees of Congress “for what they must have endured on that day and its lasting impact.”
“I regret the loss of life, the fear members of Congress must have felt, and law enforcement working that day,” she wrote. “While I did not personally damage any property or injure anyone, I realize my presence that day added to the chaos that caused death, physical injury and emotional distress to others. Your honor, I can promise you that you will never see me committing another offense for the rest of my life.”
Schwemmer — a longtime hairstylist who retired in 2019 — said she is “an honest hardworking American” who came to the U.S. from Germany in her 20s. Her husband is an Army veteran.
“I have accepted this country as mine and assimilated into our society,” she said. “I made a stupid choice on 6 January walking in the Capitol. That choice I will carry for the rest of my life.”
She said she had spent 28 years in America “with only a single speeding ticket 20 years ago and I can promise you that there is zero chance of recidivism.”
“I wish only to disappear into obscurity for the remainder of my years,” she said. “I’m determined to stay away from politics and work on trying to make amends for my conduct on January 6. I am deeply sorry that what started out as an act of patriotism on my part ended up so wrong.”