Lucas Denney lived a quiet life in Mansfield, where he raised two children and lived off disability payments after his Iraq War combat service.

Then he fixated on national politics and read online about dark conspiracies plotted by evil, shadowy figures. His short-lived foray into politics, however, would prove disastrous.

U.S. District Judge Randolph Moss sentenced Denney to more than four years in federal prison for violently assaulting outnumbered police officers defending the U.S. Capitol from a mob of Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. He must then serve three years probation and pay restitution. The amount hasn’t been determined.

Inflammatory rhetoric about the 2020 presidential election radicalized Denney, turning him into a violent right-wing extremist, according to court records. The 45-year-old decorated Army veteran and son of a Dallas police officer pleaded guilty in March to assaulting, resisting or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon. He faced up to 20 years in prison.

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection said that Trump’s election lies emboldened and mobilized many of his supporters. Committee members said Trump asked them in a tweet to gather in Washington, D.C., that day, writing “Be there, will be wild!” That infamous prompt “electrified and galvanized” his followers, a committee member said.

Denney, a former military police officer, was given one of the longest prison sentences to date of any local Jan. 6 defendant. Guy Reffitt, another North Texan with militia connections who arrived in D.C. ready for a fight, was sentenced this summer to more than seven years in prison. Reffitt, an oil rig worker from Wylie, had faced as many as 15 years.

Prosecutors asked the judge in Washington, D.C., to give Denney about eight years in federal prison.

“His conduct on January 6, 2021, and in the weeks prior, as well as his violent rhetoric, demonstrates a violent character and disrespect for law enforcement,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Benet Kearney wrote in a court filing.

Denney’s Iraq War injury left him with PTSD, memory problems and other psychological disabilities, which had led to angry outbursts. But before his arrest last year, Denney had never been convicted of a crime, his lawyer said. And like many charged in the violent siege on the Capitol, he was previously largely ambivalent about politics. But when Trump raised hell with false allegations about a stolen election after he was defeated by Joe Biden in 2020, Denney appeared to find a new purpose in life.

He formed a local militia called the Patriot Boys, seemingly modeled after the Proud Boys, and showed up to local events and political protests with a cadre of armed compatriots in khaki fatigues.

“I’ve been super busy. I’m the president of the Patriot Boys in North Texas and have over 200 guys … since I’m retired from the military this is what I do mainly,” he said on social media as the political storm raged following the election.

When Denney announced a trip to D.C. for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally, donations poured in, allowing him and others to travel to the Capitol ahead of time for meetings with other extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, court records said.

And when he finally made it to the Capitol on the afternoon of Jan. 6, Denney used “knuckle-gloved fists, his feet, a pole, metal bike racks and a cylindrical tube to assault and interfere with law enforcement,” prosecutors said. Dressed in body armor and battle gear, Denney was one of the first rioters to reach barricades in front of the Capitol, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Denney deployed pepper spray at the besieged officers, assaulted them with a pole and tried to disarm them. With a baton or stick in hand, Denney then joined a group of rioters pushing their way through a line of police officers. Shortly afterward, he swung a fist at an officer who’d been dragged down the Capitol steps into the crowd and beaten.

Kearney wrote that Denney was prepared for trouble. He said Denney “gathered protective gear and weapons, recruited comrades in arms, and arrived in Washington, D.C., eager for violence.”

“Denney was in the thick of that violence, working his way to the front of the mob to personally and forcefully contribute to it,” Kearney wrote.

Attempts to reach Denney’s family members were unsuccessful.

His defense attorney, William L. Shipley Jr., wrote in a sentencing filing that Denney merely took reasonable precautions to defend himself against counter protesters he expected in D.C. that day.

Shipley said Denney did not “physically strike or injure” anyone and did not use a weapon. He said Denney grabbed a police baton, tried to “snatch” pepper spray from an officer and threw a hollow tube he found on the ground.

Origins

Denney, a single father with two teenagers, grew up in a family with a proud law enforcement tradition. His father, Robert Denney, is a retired Dallas police officer who gave 26 years to the department and served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Military service and service to the community through law enforcement are matters that run in Mr. Denney’s family,” Shipley wrote in a sentencing brief.

Kearney, the prosecutor, wrote that Denny’s service as a military police officer made his actions at the Capitol particularly egregious because he should have known the damage an armed mob could do to greatly outnumbered police officers.

Denney worked briefly for the city of Mansfield’s law enforcement center before enlisting in the Army. His four-year stint in a military police unit included a combat tour in Iraq. While there, he was seriously injured in a “high-speed Humvee accident,” according to an affidavit he filed in the case. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that resulted in a full disability rating.

He’s been unemployed since his military discharge in 2007 and lived mainly off monthly government disability checks while undergoing “continual treatment” by Veterans Affairs, court records show. Denney experienced bouts of anger and “major depression” in the years that followed, according to court records.

Despite those struggles and two divorces, his life was largely uneventful until Trump began complaining without evidence that, if he didn’t win re-election, it would be because of election fraud by Democrats.

“I watched during the summer of 2020 as violence and lawlessness descended on cities across the country, including cities in Texas,” Denney wrote in an affidavit. “I watched as violence broke out at political events during months leading up to the 2020 Presidential election.”

Denney and a “few friends” attended Texas campaign events that fall as an “informal security group,” he said. Among the photos the group posted online was one showing Patriot Boys members posing with a smiling Ted Cruz.

His militia identified as Three Percenters, he said. Adherents of that extremist militia movement hold the belief that “a small force with a just cause can overthrow a government if armed and prepared,” prosecutors said. The term, also referred to as “III%ers” or “threepers,” is based on the myth that only 3% of American colonists fought against the British during the American Revolution.

The Patriot Boys’ stated mission was to support conservative candidates for public office in Texas. Denney began recruiting and fundraising, mostly on social media. That led to invitations to meet with the Proud Boys, the violent right-wing extremist group that played a prominent role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Denney says in court filings that he doesn’t know for certain that the people he communicated with shortly before Jan. 6 were actually Proud Boys members. But the prosecutor said that Denney told his supporters in Facebook messages that his Patriot Boys were “allied” with the Proud Boys.

Shipley argued in court filings that the Patriot Boys were not a paramilitary or extremist organization but rather part of a long tradition in Texas of civilian militias dating back to the Alamo.

Preparations

Denney described his motivations on Facebook in early December 2020.

“For me, it was really only a matter of time before I dusted off my boots,” he wrote. “I’ve hunted the most evil men the world has ever seen and they didn’t scare me. I loved it. The time is coming to choose a side.”

He said online that his militia’s preparations consisted of “martial arts training, weapons training and field training.”

Kearney, the prosecutor, said Denney was “prepared for” and even “excited” by the prospect of violence on Jan. 6.

On Facebook in December 2020, Denney spoke of plans to meet numerous others in an “intel chatroom” to organize, coordinate and link up with other militias. A few days before the insurrection, he told one person, “I’m so pumped brother. I can’t wait to be in the middle of it on the front line on the 6th,” according to prosecutors.

Two days before the Capitol riot, he predicted a civil war and even World War III.

Denney said online that he was looking for people “like us that can go and will actually fight.” He said his militia was meeting with “thousands of other fighters.” He raised money for hotel rooms and equipment like helmets and “stab proof” vests.

Denney appeared at the Capitol on Jan. 6 “clad in full battle attire,” including a helmet, knuckled gloves and an apparent ballistic vest, prosecutors said. He and another rioter at one point grabbed a large tube and launched it toward a police line defending the Capitol. And he joined a mob that attempted to break through a police line guarding a tunnel into the building.

In total, he rampaged for more than an hour and a half, across several different areas of the Capitol, the government said.

More than a month after the attack, he met with the FBI and lied about his involvement, prosecutors said. He ranted in a TikTok video in August 2021 about the FBI being traitors and called for a military coup to install Trump back in the White House.

The government said in a sentencing memo Denney never expressed remorse and continued to “promote a violent overthrow of the presidential administration.”

Denney and his Patriot Boys traveled to Texas border communities to provide property owners with armed “voluntary assistance” such as repairs to fences damaged by drug and immigrant smugglers, court records show.

The Texas Department of Public Safety’s director recently said in a letter that one of his officers showed “great initiative working through intermediaries” to arrange for Denney to surrender.

He did so and was arrested in December near the border, in Del Rio. The officer then handed Denney over to the FBI. He’s been in federal custody since.

©2022 The Dallas Morning News. Visit dallasnews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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