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Capitol rioter compares attacks on her to treatment of ‘Jews in Germany’

Jenna Ryan spoke to NBC News five days before she reported to a federal prison in Texas.

Jenna Ryan, a Texas realtor who has sought to parlay her role in the Capitol riot into a career as a right-wing media personality, posted a tweet in March last year that quickly went viral. 

“Sorry, I have blonde hair, white skin, a great job, a great future, and I’m not going to jail,” she wrote. 

Ryan’s braggadocio apparently backfired. She was later sentenced to 60 days in prison by a judge who noted that she had become one of the faces of Jan. 6.

Jenna Ryan spoke to NBC News five days before she reported to prison for entering the Capitol on Jan. 6.NBC News

Ryan, 51, reported to prison Dec. 21. In an interview with NBC News five days earlier, she expressed regret for entering the Capitol but still portrayed herself as a victim. She went so far as to assert that the backlash she has received is akin to the experience of “the Jews in Germany.”

“They’re making fun of my skin color. They’re calling me an ‘insurrection Barbie,’” she said.

“They have no idea who I am as a person, what my beliefs are, what I’ve been through, who I am," she added. "They see me as a one-dimensional caricature. They don’t see me as a human.” 

"And so, that is the epitome of a scapegoat. Just like they did that to the Jews in Germany. Those were scapegoats. And I believe that people who are Caucasian are being turned into evil in front of the media.”

Pressed whether she was comparing the situation to the Holocaust, Ryan said she was reluctant to say more. 

“You know what’s so sad?” she responded. “That I’m afraid to answer your question because I will be attacked for saying that.”

She said other people have made the same comparison and that she “definitely” feels she is being persecuted.

The vast majority of Capitol defendants have kept low profiles after being swept up in the wave of arrests following Jan. 6. Ryan has charted a different path. 

A heavy social media user even before the Capitol riot, she has used her newfound notoriety to grow her followers and gain more of a foothold in the right-wing media ecosystem that backs former President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud.

“I think it was clear based on her postings on social media that she was quite interested in using this events on January 6 to further her personal and business goals,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, who has closely tracked the Capitol riot cases. 

But Ryan’s push for fame has cost her. Her 60-day sentence is among the most severe for Capitol defendants who were not accused of engaging in violence or vandalism. 

“She’s gotten a lot more attention in the media, I think, both because she wanted it, and I think there’s others that kind of want to push it, too,” Hughes said. “And so the question becomes, after the 60 days, does she take basically a rock star status in the movement?”

Ryan’s travails before and after Jan. 6 have been well-documented. 

She previously said that she flew by private jet to Washington for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally after receiving an invitation via Facebook from a “very cute guy.”

After attending the rally, she returned to her hotel room but then headed toward the Capitol after seeing footage of the chaos on television, according to federal prosecutors and her own account.

Ryan, who already had a large social media following, recorded herself saying she was “going to war” and ready to “storm the Capitol,” prosecutors noted at her sentencing.

Jenna Ryan, center, looking at her phone while entering the Capitol on Jan. 6.U.S. Attorney's Office

She ultimately spent only two minutes inside the building, prosecutors said. Even as the chaos was unfolding around her, she took the opportunity to promote her business, prosecutors said in their sentencing memo. 

“You guys, will you believe this?” Ryan said on Facebook Live while inside the Capitol, according to the sentencing memo. “I am not messing around. When I come to sell your house, this is what I will do. I will f---ing sell your house.”

On the Capitol steps, she declared that she was “tired of paying taxes” to “crooks,” prosecutors said in the memo. But she has not consistently paid her taxes over the years, according to the memo, and at the time owed $35,000 in back taxes. (She settled her debt in April.)

Ryan pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol.

She was facing up to six months in prison, but prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper for the District of Columbia to sentence her to 60 days. Ryan’s lawyer requested that she receive probation.

Cooper sided with the government. 

“For better or worse, you’ve become one of the faces of January 6,” he said.

“People will want to know how she was sentenced, and the sentence should tell them we take it seriously,” the judge added.

Ryan believes part of the reason she was not put on probation is the tweet in which she referenced her hair and skin and said she wasn't going to jail. She now says she was not suggesting her skin color was the reason she would not go to jail but was responding to previous posts that mentioned her race. “It wasn’t the best way to handle it," she said. "I understand that now.”

Ryan has since launched a podcast and a blog. On her website, she describes herself as an author and activist and asks for donations to cover legal fees. Her blog features only a handful of posts that range from promoting Covid-19 vaccine misinformation to conspiracies around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.  

Before she reported to Federal Prison Camp Bryan, a minimum security prison in central Texas, Ryan did not shy away from talking about what she expected her life to be like behind bars. 

In a video posted to TikTok in early December, she said she was looking forward to being able to “work out a lot and do a lot of yoga” and hoped to lose 30 pounds. 

“If I do that, then it will be worth going to prison for 60 days,” Ryan added. 

In her recent interview, she said that she would vote for Trump again and that she sees herself as a patriotic person who has been vilified for entering the Capitol for two minutes. 

“Everyone has done something wrong in their life, and you just say you’re sorry and you move along,” Ryan said.

“I don’t feel like a horrible person,” she said later. “I feel like a proud American who made a mistake but did what I thought was right at the moment.”