The chain of command for a National Guardsman who pleaded guilty to being a part of the mob that ransacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 is closing ranks and begging the Army to allow him to continue serving.
Pfc. Abram Markofski is set to be sentenced Friday. He faces up to six months in prison and has already agreed to pay a $500 fine for his role in the riot, which did an estimated $1.4 million in damage to the Capitol.
The mob, which Markofski has admitted to joining, stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the peaceful transition of power, one of the most perilous moments for democracy in the history of the country that the soldier had sworn an oath to defend.
As part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors are seeking a two-week prison sentence, according to court records.
A spokesperson with the Wisconsin Guard would not say whether the state is considering giving Markofski the boot, or if he was deployed to Washington, D.C., as a part of the state's mission to secure the Capitol following Jan. 6. Markofski's lawyer did not respond to requests for comment ahead of this article's publication.
Markofski serves in Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, a National Guard unit based in River Falls, Wisconsin. He also attended Special Forces Selection in October, a course to weed out which soldiers qualify to attempt a career in the Green Berets, but failed the physical fitness test and was swiftly sent home, according to a spokesperson for the special warfare center and school.
Multiple Army leaders penned character statements for Guard officials and the Department of Justice, saying Markofski was caught up in the moment and that he should be able to continue his military career. Five soldiers who wrote character references supporting Markofski -- including one officer, four noncommissioned officers, and one junior ranked soldier who served as Markofski's team leader -- all either did not respond to Military.com's request for comment or said that they were told they were forbidden from communicating with the press.
"I am fully aware of the severity of PFC Markofski's actions. I understand that he must be held accountable for his actions," 2nd Lt. Joel Stevenson, Markofski's platoon leader, said in a letter. "My most humble request is that you allow him to continue service. In my professional opinion as one of his mentors, and as a witness of PFC Markofski's moral character, I truly believe that he is an asset to the United States Army."
Federal prosecutors say Markofski and a friend traveled more than 800 miles to Washington, D.C., from Madison, Wisconsin, to attend a rally held by then-President Donald Trump, who urged his supporters to march on the Capitol as the election he lost was being certified, saying they should "never concede" and that if they "don't fight like hell," they "aren't going to have a country anymore."
Markofski admitted to being in the building for at least 40 minutes, after a swarm of thousands of Trump supporters assaulted police officers and managed to get inside of the heart of the U.S. government.
Some of his fellow Guardsmen say that the days when he traveled to D.C. and participated in the violent mob do not represent Markofski's character.
"I believe that his actions on January 6th were due to a bad decision without ill or malicious intent," Sgt. 1st Class Tristan Babl, Markofski's platoon sergeant, said in a memo. "In discussions with him, he has taken responsibility for his actions and to the best of my knowledge, been honest and truthful about the event. I do not have any concerns with PFC Markofski's continued service in my platoon. If given the opportunity to continue his career, I have no doubt that he would continue to be an invaluable asset to his unit and the [Wisconsin Army National Guard]."
His team leader, Spc. Kenneth Stowe, said Markofski's secret security clearance is under review and that the events of Jan. 6 were a "lapse of judgment on his part" that should not affect the rest of his career.
The Guard has been slow to take action against members accused of participating in the violence at the Capitol as their legal cases have progressed. There's nothing requiring that the Guard wait for the conclusion of those cases, and service members often are forced out quickly for nonviolent infractions, such as smoking marijunana. Another Guardsman, Cpl. Jacob Fracker, a Virginia Guard infantryman, is in a non-drilling status but hasn't been removed from the service component.
"The events of Jan. 6 were a great way for the military to come to understand the real world effects of the disinformation and targeting of our community," Kristofer Goldsmith, an Army veteran and CEO of Sparverius, an intelligence firm that researches online extremism and disinformation campaigns, said in an interview. "What the military considers a problem vs. permissible is fundamentally wrong. If you're an insurrectionist, you deserve to be brought to justice. If you smoke a joint, it is at the end of a career -- insurrection is exponentially worse."
Many of those involved in the Capitol attack held the false belief that the election was stolen from Trump, despite there being no evidence of that being the case. Extremism in the military has been a top focus of Pentagon officials this year. However, there is virtually no data showing how entrenched extremist beliefs are in the ranks.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.