Conspiracy theorists, CEOs and grandmothers: inside the capitol mob9 min read . Updated: 12 Jan 2021, 09:42 AM IST
- Large numbers of mainstream Americans blended with hard-core extremists in the riot
An Oklahoma grandmother. The CEO of a Chicago-area marketing firm. A Florida man convicted of attempted murder. A leader of the group of far-right street brawlers known as the Proud Boys. An Iraq war veteran who works at a Seattle-area packaging plant. A newly sworn-in West Virginia lawmaker.
Hailing from across the country and comprising a variety of backgrounds, many who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol Wednesday had one thing in common: an unfounded certainty that President Trump had won re-election. In the days since the attack—resulting in five deaths, including a police officer who was killed and a rioter shot by police—a clearer picture of the angry mob has begun to emerge.
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Some had expressed their anger openly on social media. Some had been in trouble before, with backgrounds including arrests, financial problems and affiliations with extremist groups, according to public records and online posts. Some led unassuming lives, with dumbfounded family members saying they had no idea how their loved ones got swept up in the chaos inside the Capitol.
By Friday night, more than 40 people had been charged in D.C.’s superior court and at least 13 had been charged in federal court with gun crimes, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, assaulting an officer and other charges, according to authorities.
Much remains unknown about the rampage, including all that happened inside the Capitol walls once the protesters breached the exterior and how much of the attack was planned in advance.
But through arrest records, online accounts and interviews with family members, a portrait is coming into focus of a collective whose rage had been simmering for months, sometimes years, and last week reached a boil.
Among the shouting protesters rushing into the Capitol, Mark Leffingwell came face to face with U.S. Capitol Officer Daniel Amendola and began punching him repeatedly in the helmet and chest, according to a court filing. Mr. Leffingwell, a 51-year-old military veteran from Washington state, struggled with Officer Amendola and other police before they were finally able to control him and place him under arrest.
Some of the rioters had long been steeped in political grievances.
Weeks before, retired firefighter Richard Barnett from Gravette, Ark., said in a video posted on Facebook that he believed the country was beyond Democrats versus Republicans and in a battle between “freedom and good versus evil."
“The silent majority has been silent long enough, and we’re standing up," he said while holding a long gun. “We have to take this snake off at the head."
He was photographed with his feet on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
“I did not steal it…I put a quarter on her desk even though she ain’t f---ing worth it. And I left a note on her desk that says, ‘Nancy, Bigo was here, you Bitch,’" Mr. Barnett, who calls himself Bigo, told a news outlet, describing how he took an envelope from Mrs. Pelosi’s office during the riot.
Mr. Barnett’s comments are laid out in a police affidavit. He is currently being held in a detention center in Washington County, according to booking records, on charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and theft of public money, property, or records. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
Bradley Rukstales and Michael Curzio were among six people arrested as part of a large crowd observed inside the Capitol kicking chairs and throwing an unknown substance at police officers, according to a warrant.
Mr. Rukstales, chief executive of a small Chicago-area marketing technology firm, later issued a statement on Twitter that he “followed hundreds of others through an open set of doors to the Capitol building to see what was taking place inside."
“It was the single worst personal decision of my life," the statement said. “I have no excuse for my actions and I wish I could take them back." He couldn’t be reached for comment.
Mr. Rukstales’s company, Cogensia, suspended him after his arrest Wednesday and then fired him Friday, as the company became the target of ire, and some called on social media for a boycott of the business. The company said it “condemns what occurred at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, and we intend to continue to embrace the values of integrity, diversity and transparency in our business operations, and expect all employees to embrace those values as well."
Mr. Curzio, 35 years old, is from Summerfield, Fla., a small unincorporated community north of Orlando. According to Florida records, Mr. Curzio was released from prison in February 2019 after being sentenced for attempted first-degree murder six years earlier. Local news accounts of the incident said Mr. Curzio shot his ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend during a dispute. According to a news report at the time, Mr. Curzio told police he had made a mistake.
Melissa Restifo, a close friend, said Mr. Curzio “was not a monster, far from it."
“He wanted to stand up for our rights as citizens of this great country," said Ms. Restifo in text messages to The Wall Street Journal, noting her friend had always been a staunch supporter of President Trump.
In a video posted on Facebook and aired by WFTV 9 ABC before it was removed, Mr. Curzio discussed traveling to the Jan. 6 rally. “If anything happens, we get f---ed up, arrested or killed. Just know, man, I love y’all, and I did what I believed in," he said.
Ms. Restifo said she felt uneasy about Mr. Curzio attending the rally and worried something bad would happen.
“I believe that he and everyone else regrets how the situation unfolded. How could you not?" she said.
Mr. Curzio, who couldn’t be reached for comment, is in the process of getting a lawyer, Ms. Restifo said.
There is no indication that Mr. Rukstales and Mr. Curzio knew one another before they were placed in handcuffs and arrested together inside the Capitol.
A defining feature of the Capitol riot was the blending of hard-core extremists with large numbers of mainstream Americans, said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks U.S. extremist movements.
“In Charlottesville," he said, referring to the deadly 2017 rally in Virginia, “there was a hardened group of white supremacists that converged from all over the country." But at the Capitol, “you had hard-core white supremacists who came from all over the country…and in addition you had ordinary people, thousands and thousands."
Right-wing extremists amplified their violent rhetoric online in the days before the storming of the Capitol, according to Brian Levin, a former New York City police officer who now directs the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. The extremists communicated via social networks like Parler and 4chan, both popular with far-right groups.
The Proud Boys, a far-right, men-only group of what it calls “Western chauvinists," were among those in attendance. “We are everywhere," read a Jan. 6 post on a Proud Boys channel on the messaging app Telegram. “Things will get difficult soon but don’t lose heart. We are growing and our unity will terrify the evil elites running this nation."
Several men who marched with the Proud Boys donned orange hats, helping disguise their connection to the group, according to Will Sommer, a journalist with the Daily Beast who saw them.
The Journal earlier reported that men in orange hats and military-style vests were among the first to push through a security barricade, spurring the first siege of the nation’s Capitol by U.S. citizens.
As recently as last month’s violent unrest following a “Stop the Steal" rally in Washington, members of the group openly wore their signature yellow-and-black bandannas and patches. More recently, they had been discussing on social media the need to be more incognito.
Enrique Tarrio, the 36-year-old head of the Proud Boys, denied afterward that the orange-hatted men belonged to them. Personally banned from Washington, D.C., because of an arrest on charges including possession of high-capacity firearm magazines days before the protests, Mr. Tarrio said he had ordered his members not to go to the Capitol. That said, he added, “I’m not going to denounce it at all."
Nick Ochs, the leader of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, filmed himself inside the Capitol and later tweeted a photo of himself and another man, cigarettes dangling from their mouths. “Hello from the Capital lol," Mr. Ochs captioned his post. That evidence was used by federal authorities to arrest him Thursday upon arriving at the Honolulu airport.
Mr. Ochs had earlier posted a note to followers on a social-media account saying he was coming to D.C. to support Mr. Trump and to “deliver the heinous, ugly truth to a heinous, ugly city," according to SITE Intelligence Group. Last year he unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for a seat in Hawaii’s House of Representatives.
Facebook said it banned Mr. Ochs in September after learning he was a member of the Proud Boys, which it designates as a hate group.
In 2016 he appeared on the television show “Divorce Court" in an online clip titled “Bon Voyage to this Marriage." But he and his partner appear to still be together; photos posted on her Facebook page include recent baby photos.
Mr. Tarrio said Mr. Ochs was filming video to post on Telegram. “He’s the voice of reason in the organization," Mr. Tarrio said. Mr. Ochs couldn’t be reached for comment.
The cloud of violence that followed the mob inside the Capitol that day extended to nearby streets, where arrests included one man whom police found with multiple firearms and 11 Molotov cocktails.
Many of those arrested so far inside the Capitol don’t appear to have extensive criminal histories.
Marsha Murphy of Hinton, Okla., is a grandmother who runs an ammunition supply company, Ameri-I-CAN Ammo Enterprises. Ms. Murphy’s motto, according to the company’s website, is “Life is what you make it. I chose to make it fun." She was charged with unlawful entry and curfew violation, according to local media reports.
She couldn’t be reached for comment. Her daughter, Crystal Garcia, told a Tucson, Ariz., television station she was outraged at her mother, saying she had told her about going to the rally in Washington and promised to then stay in the hotel room.
“My youngest son asked what was going on with his nana," Ms. Garcia said. “I had to explain to him in a way that a 7-year-old can understand that she now has to go to a big person’s timeout because she didn’t listen to a police officer."
The unrest also drew politicians, lawyers and other professionals. Some businesses, as well as several fire and police departments, are now investigating whether their own employees were involved.
A GOP state lawmaker from West Virginia, Derrick Evans, resigned Saturday after being arrested and charged with illegally entering the Capitol and disorderly conduct during the riot. Mr. Evans apologized for his actions.
Others also expressed regret over the events soon afterward.
Mr. Leffingwell, the veteran from Seattle, was charged with knowingly entering a restricted area, assaulting a federal law-enforcement officer and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. Before police read him his rights, he “spontaneously apologized for striking the officer," a probable-cause statement said.
Mr. Leffingwell, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq, works at a packaging plant, according to Jane Leffingwell, his 80-year-old mother. She said he has a wife and two sons.
“He’s a busy man with his young family," she told the Journal. She said she doesn’t recall her son ever joining a political group or know if he is a Trump supporter.
“He’s always voted and been interested in current events," she said. “I did not know he was going to Washington."
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.