Criminal charges proliferate against members of pro-Trump Capitol mob6 min read . Updated: 14 Jan 2021, 09:53 AM IST
- Some rioters’ lawyers approach prosecutors in bid to avoid charges as FBI warns other agencies that partisan grievances are expected to fuel further violence
Several members of the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week have reported their own involvement to law enforcement this week, officials said Wednesday, as prosecutors race to charge dozens of the most visible participants in the attack and continue to dig into what kind of planning went into it.
Lawyers for several of the rioters have called law enforcement to disclose information about their clients’ participation in the breach in an effort to avoid more serious criminal charges and potentially negotiate plea deals, law-enforcement officials said.
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In dozens of cases filed since the deadly riot, prosecutors have targeted some of the most visible participants whose efforts were broadcast widely on social media. They announced the arrest Wednesday of a Virginia man who was photographed on the scene wearing a sweatshirt bearing the words Camp Auschwitz. Among others arrested was a man from Idaho who was identified from photos showing him hanging by one hand from the Senate balcony.
The two men are charged with violent entry or disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, among other counts. The affidavit filed in support of the arrest of 56-year-old Robert Packer cites media reports that identified him as the man photographed in the sweatshirt referring to the Nazi concentration camp, and says an informant contacted law enforcement after recognizing him as a routine customer at a store in Newport News, Va. An attorney for Mr. Packer couldn’t be identified for comment.
Josiah Colt, whose relative identified him as the man pictured hanging from the balcony, said in a Facebook post that he was also the first person to sit in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s chair, though prosecutors noted in charging documents that he was photographed in a chair reserved for Vice President Mike Pence.
“I love America, I love the people," Mr. Colt told a local television station, according to the documents. “I got caught up in the moment." An attorney for Mr. Colt couldn’t be reached for comment.
Prosecutors also announced the arrests of two off-duty Rocky Mount, Va., police officers, Jacob Fracker and Thomas Robertson, who they said were photographed making an obscene gesture in front of a statue of Revolutionary War officer John Stark in the Capitol. Prosecutors said Mr. Robertson in a social-media post said: “CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business. The right IN ONE DAY took the f***** U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us." Mr. Fracker made remarks in a now-deleted Facebook post acknowledging he was the person photographed, prosecutors said. “Not like I did anything illegal," the post said. “y’all do what you feel you need to." Lawyers for the two men couldn’t immediately be identified.
The new cases come as Washington and cities across the country brace for the possibility of more armed protests and violence in the days before Joe Biden’s inauguration. Biden officials said Wednesday that the president-elect received a briefing from Federal Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Secret Service officials to learn more about the threat picture and what plans are being assembled to thwart potential attacks.
The FBI and National Counterterrorism Center on Wednesday circulated among law-enforcement agencies a bulletin warning that partisan grievances pose the greatest domestic terrorism threat in 2021, a law-enforcement official said. The bulletin also said last week’s Capitol breach could serve as a driver of future violence and could lead to more threats against elected officials by extremists who viewed the attack as an advancement of their ideological goals, the official said.
In a statement released through the White House on Wednesday, President Trump called for Americans to engage in “NO violence, NO lawbreaking and NO vandalism of any kind." The statement was also released to the president’s supporters via a text from the Trump campaign.
The acting U.S. attorney in Washington said Tuesday a group of senior national-security prosecutors were examining potential charges of seditious conspiracy against some of the people involved in planning and carrying out the Jan. 6 breach of the Capitol. Justice Department officials have stressed that the initial round of charges could later be supplanted with those carrying more serious penalties. A police officer and a rioter were killed in the rampage and three others died of medical emergencies.
Prosecutors initially pursued cases using evidence that was already public. Now investigators are also going through travel, financial and other records, including footage from body-worn cameras of officers who responded to the scene, to better understand what kind of coordination and planning some other participants who weren’t as visible on social media may have undertaken, officials said.
In one sign that investigators believe there was at least some planning by some members of the mob, including those that had military training, prosecutors disclosed in court documents that one of the rioters was found to have 11 Molotov cocktails and a weapons collection in his pickup truck that included: a handgun, a rifle, a shotgun, several large-capacity magazines, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a crossbow with bolts, several machetes, smoke devices and a stun gun.
“The amount of weapons suggests an intent to provide them to others, as no one person could reasonably use so many at once," prosecutors wrote in a memo urging a judge to detain the man, Lonnie Coffman, 70, who told investigators he is from Falkville, Ala., but had been living in his truck in Washington for at least a week. A lawyer for Mr. Coffman, who faces a 17-count indictment, couldn’t immediately be reached.
In court documents outlining charges against him, prosecutors appeared to link Mr. Coffman to a pair of pipe bombs outside the Republican and Democratic national committee offices not far from the Capitol around the time police agencies began responding to the breach of the building.
Mr. Coffman’s truck was parked on the same block as the Republican National Committee, the documents show, and he asked officers who arrested him whether they had located the explosives, though he later denied that he was referring to any bombs that he had knowledge of, and he explained that he was simply referring to his understanding based on the perimeter that had been established near his truck.
The explosive devices left at the offices were almost identical, both about a foot long, filled with powder and bits of metal and connected to kitchen timers, the officials said, suggesting the devices were intended to kill and maim if detonated. Law-enforcement agents are investigating whether their primary purpose was to distract and divert officers and agents who were rushing to the scene, the officials said.
The FBI released a series of grainy images, including of a sneaker and a man with a backpack, that they said are linked to the explosives but authorities were still working to identify a suspect, the officials said.
The aggressive law enforcement response to the attack, and the visible presence of thousands of heavily armed national guardsmen in the nation’s capital this week, appear to have deterred some supporters of violent action against a Biden presidency, including at rallies promoted on some sites for Sunday.
“I Would NOT go to these events," a poster going by the pseudonym “Tusco" said on Tuesday on the site thedonald.win, where some participants said they planned to storm the Capitol ahead of last Wednesday’s riots. “They do NOT have verified sponsors, and will likely be non-peaceful. It’s likely a trap to bait conservatives," the poster said.
“We need 3 brigades in DC to secure our inauguration," posted another who used the pseudonym “EyesintheHills" on the same site Monday. “That’s more soldiers in DC than we have in Afghanistan. Let that sink in," the person said.
Others, however, appeared undeterred. In a discussion about whether Trump supporters are prepared to use violence on Sunday, “Maga_Centurion" said: “I am. 1776 will commence. F--- the government. F--- the FBI. F--- Commies. F---the CCP. Kill anyone who infringes on your rights."
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.