WASHINGTON — A federal judge sentenced Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. to more than two years in prison on Tuesday – the endpoint of what his family described as a years-long descent into political extremism and the QAnon conspiracy theory.
Meredith, 53, pleaded guilty in September to one felony count of transmitting a threat in interstate commerce. According to charging documents and his own admission of guilt, the Georgia man drove to D.C. on January 6 with a vehicle full of weapons and ammunition intending to join former President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally — but arrived too late to participate.
Instead, prosecutors said, Meredith proceeded to text family members threats toward House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser while driving around D.C. over the next day.
In one exchange, when a family member told him Trump wanted him to go home, Meredith responded, "Bull****. He wants heads and I'm going to deliver."
In other messages sent the following day – while Pelosi and Bowser were making public remarks about the riot – Meredith texted, “I may wander over to the Mayor’s office and put a 5.56 in her skull, FKG c***.” Meredith then sent a similar text about Pelosi, saying he was, “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi C****’s speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.”
Meredith's lawyer, attorney Paul Kiyonaga, attempted to portray his comments as hyperbole and "blather." He described Meredith as someone who talked a big game, but never would have followed through on any of his threats.
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U.S. District Judge Amy B. Jackson wasn't convinced, however – in part due to the fact that it was Meredith's own family who turned him in to the FBI. Speaking later in the hearing, Meredith's mother said they did so believing they were "saving his life."
Jackson also pointed to the "arsenal" (as Kiyonaga referred to it) Meredith brought with him to D.C., which consisted of two firearms, several high-capacity magazines and more than 2,500 rounds of ammunition, and to previous altercations – including a traffic-related assaulted while Meredith was still in D.C.
"I cannot, as the defense encouraged me to do, cheerily dismiss the defendant's own words and accept that he packed guns and ammunition for a holiday event with his sons in Colorado," Jackson said. Instead, Jackson said, Meredith repeatedly made it clear in the days and weeks leading up to January 6 what the weapons were for.
"Somebody tells him about multiple bombs found in D.C.," Judge Jackson said of a text he received on January 6. "He responds: 'Ready to remove some craniums.'"
On Meredith’s behalf, the judge heard from two old friends as well as both of his parents. All of them described the Cleveland Meredith they knew as a good man who’d experienced years of mental decline and increasing political radicalization.
“He’s a good boy,” his father, Cleveland Meredith Sr., told Jackson, adding that he “got into the wrong crowd… some of that QAnon stuff, he really fell in hook, line and sinker.”
Meredith himself spoke, calling his threats on January 6 and 7 “political hyperbole that was too hyper.”
“I’m a protector of people,” he said. “I’m a defender of people. There’s not a stranded motorist on the road I don’t stop to help.”
“I was out of control that day,” Meredith said. “I apologize to Speaker Pelosi if she heard about it. If I scared her. I apologize to my family. I apologize to my sons. I’m a good man and I’m very embarrassed about this whole situation. It’s not who I am.”
Jackson said there was “no doubt” the Meredith his family described was there, but also pointed out that, per his own family’s statements, he had repeatedly refused over the past 30 years to grapple with the trauma of his sister’s early death, to accept mental health treatment or to deal with the issues that had led to the loss of his businesses and marriage.
“I do not doubt there was a time when Mr. Meredith was every bit the young man with the bright future that [his parents] describe,” Jackson said. “It was told today that he is a good boy and an incredible young man. But I am presented today with a man in his 50s.”
Jackson said the psychiatrist’s assessment and Meredith’s family’s own statements about his progress over the past 11 months while he’s been incarcerated convinced her that what he needed was an “intensive, multi-layered treatment plan.”
“The problems were there years before QAnon came along,” she said.
She also said the amount of firepower Meredith brought to D.C., along with the “steady drumbeat” of threats from him leading up to January 6, convinced her of the serious need for deterrence.
"It needs to be crystal clear that it is not patriotism. It is not justified to descend on the nation's Capitol at the behest of a candidate who lost an election and terrorize others,” Jackson said.
In consideration of all that, Jackson ordered Meredith to serve 28 months in prison – above the anticipated 12-24 months his lawyer had expected him to face, but below the 37-46 month sentence recommended by the federal probation office. Meredith will receive credit for 11 months already served in the D.C. Jail while awaiting trial, and will have to participate in drug and mental health treatment.
“You have a lot of your life ahead of you,” Jackson said at the close of the hearing. “You get to decide what it’s going to be.”
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