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COP? TERRORIST? BOTH?
As America polarizes, some police officers leap into the arms of “Q”
For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. Here’s an extract from the probable cause for the arrest of two of the participants in the storming of the Capitol on January 6th:
...Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker were photographed in the Capitol Building making an obscene statement [middle finger] in front of a statute of John Stark [American Revolutionary hero]...In social media posts, Defendant Robertson is quoted as saying, “CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business”...A now-deleted Facebook post by Defendant Fracker [says] “...Sorry I hate freedom...Not like I did anything illegal…y’all do what you feel you need to…”
Robertson and Fracker were charged with illegally entering a Federally-restricted building or grounds (18 U.S.C. 1752[a]) and being “violent and disorderly” on Capitol grounds (40 U.S.C. 5104[e]). Both are misdemeanors.
What’s unusual, or might have once been unusual, is that both are cops. Their employer, the Rocky Mount (Va.) Police Department, reportedly placed the duo (they’re out on bond) on “paid administrative leave.” In a joint statement, police and township leaders decried the assault on the Capitol and affirmed their opposition to “illegal or unethical behavior by anyone, including our officers and staff.”
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Alas, Sergeant Robertson and Officer Fracker aren’t the only cops whose behavior at the Capitol struck a sour note. Former Houston police officer Tam Pham – the eighteen-year veteran resigned under pressure a week after the storming – said that all he did was observe and “take pictures.” And while former officer Pham insists he regrets having been there, his chief, Art Acevedo, was hardly in a forgiving mood. After all, officer Pham didn’t just attend the pro-Trump rally: he “penetrated” the Capitol:
There is no excuse for criminal activity, especially from a police officer. I can’t tell you the anger I feel at the thought of a police officer and other police officers thinking they get to go storm the Capitol....
Tam also faces Federal misdemeanors.
According to the Washington Post, which kept tab on Federal prosecutions relating to the incursion, “at least thirteen” off-duty cops participated in the storming. Even more disturbing, “more than a dozen” Capitol cops are being investigated. “Several,” according to their acting chief, have been suspended. One posed with an insurgent for a “selfie”; another was pictured in a “MAGA” hat while leading rioters outside.
NPR estimated that “nearly 30 sworn police officers from a dozen departments” were at the rally. Actually, for some, being there – and only there – is their best defense. Consider, for example, Bexar County, Texas Sheriff's Lt. Roxanne Mathai, who called January 6th. “one of the best days” of her life. Now under both “criminal” and “administrative” investigation (her boss wishes she “not...ever return to work”) Lt. Mathai insists that she only went for the rally, and that social media photos depicting her on the Capitol’s steps were taken after those despicable rioters cleared out.
There’s no doubt that Canadian County (Okla.) Sheriff Chris West was at the rally. But that doesn’t mean he participated in the assault. No way. That was an “egregious” crime: “I rebuke all of that, every bit of it.” Still there’s little question but where his heart lies. Here’s the sheriff’s since-deleted Facebook post:
If they’re okay rigging an election and foreign help to steal the white house and control of WeThePeople, then I’m okay with using whatever means necessary to preserve America and save FREEDOM & LIBERTY. [caps his]
Likewise, Philadelphia police detective Jennifer Gugger. She reportedly followed up her attendance at the rally with a tweet accusing Vice-President Pence, who refused to anoint Trump as the victor, of being a “traitor and a cabal operative and pedophile.” And of “the deadly sin of greed.” And of selling his soul to the devil. That’s consistent with the Inquirer’s finding that detective Gugger used another name while endorsing Q-Anon online.
Peacefully (even loudly) calling for an election’s reversal is no crime. Forcibly breaching the Capitol’s walls is something else. While he insists that “I do not want to limit anyone’s ability to lawfully participate in First Amendment activities,” Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz placed two unnamed cops who were at the pro-Trump rally on “administrative leave” while he investigates whether they went further:
The large number of people who forced their way into the Capitol, connected to the earlier political rally, presented too much of an unknown about whether any of our employees had potentially violated federal law. That is why I had to act.
Same goes for the seven Philadelphia Transit Police cops who were supposedly at the rally. Did they breach “any area where a police line was established prohibiting entry”? Chief Thomas Nestel is “very concerned”:
It’s pretty clear that a riot occurred and that there was an attempt to overthrow our government and we want to make sure our members weren’t a part of that.
Well, maybe “overthrow” is an exaggeration. Still, even if all a cop did was attend the rally, examining their motives might be a wise move. But as for those who got truly weird: were they always Q-Anon material? Or did something drive them goofy?
Cops undoubtedly find these times challenging. Three days after a Wisconsin officer shot and crippled Jacob Blake, Mick McHale, the Florida cop who leads the National Assn. of Police Organizations, explained why the nation’s police unions had unanimously aligned with Trump:
The violence and bloodshed we are seeing in these and other cities isn’t happening by chance. It’s the direct result of refusing to allow law enforcement to protect our communities...The differences between Trump/Pence and Biden/Harris are crystal clear. Your choices are the most pro-law-enforcement president we have ever had or the most radical anti-police ticket in our history.
For NAPO, which twice endorsed the Obama/Biden ticket, that may seem a bit odd. But in a campaign speech delivered a few days after the death of George Floyd, Biden promised that as President he would promptly launch a “national police oversight commission” and outlaw the use of chokeholds. But Joe was mum about the sharp increase in gunplay and murder that beset America’s cities, and the risk this unfortunate state of affairs poses to cops and citizens each day. As Politico suggested, the influence of progressives may have led a traditional supporter of law enforcement to change his tune.
Police may have found Biden’s apparent change of heart troubling. Sure, cops traditionally trend conservative. Even so, there might be empirically-sound reasons for their dissatisfaction. Here are some comparisons between 2019 and 2020:
- Chicago: 762 murders as of 12/27/20 (55% increase from 491 in 2019)
- Los Angeles: 343 murders as of 12/26/20 (33% increase from 257 in 2019)
- New York City: 447 murders as of 12/27/20 (41% increase from 317 in 2019)
As a recent L.A. Times headline breathlessly announced, 2020 had truly been “a year like no other.” Rapes and robberies went down. But murder increased dramatically, while shootings surged “nearly forty percent.” According to Chief Michel Moore, the mayhem was most pronounced in minority-majority areas:
Nearly all of the loss of life and shooting victims are centered in the Black and brown communities. The lack of jobs and supportive services, a sense of hopelessness, easy access to firearms and ineffective parts of the criminal justice system have created a perfect storm to undermine public safety gains built over the last decade.
Many predominantly minority communities – say, South Los Angeles – are chronically beset by violence. Recent years, though, had brought some relief. Alas, the mayhem’s apparently returned. Here’s the chief’s January 16 tweet:
Continued surge gun violence South LA first 2 weeks of the year. 59 shooting victims compared to 7 last year. Officers have made 105 arrests of individuals with firearms. 130 firearms taken from street. Gang intervention trying, but we need our community and elected officials.
Chief Moore was upstaged by one of his own. According to the LAPD Captain who runs the Compstat program, arrests and police stops during 2020 plunged by 25 percent. Calls for service, though, only receded five percent. In his opinion the increased gunplay was due to a diminished fear of being caught with a gun, an effect he attributed to the defanging of the agency’s stop-and-frisk program. That move, which Chief Moore took in October 2019, was prompted by complaints from citizens and civil libertarians that LAPD officers were using pretexts to justify stopping Black drivers and pedestrians. And in fact, some were.
But then came COVID. And in March, the killing of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police. And in May, the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis cop. And in June, the shooting death of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta cop. And in August, the crippling of Jacob Blake by an officer in Kenosha. Fallout from these and other tragic police-citizen encounters propelled moves to “defund” police and shift key functions to civilian teams. Burdened by anti-police sentiments and the pandemic, cities across the U.S. redirected sizeable chunks of their police budgets to other uses. LAPD sustained a $150 million cut, reducing its sworn force by 358 positions. Minneapolis, where the City Council voted to do away with police altogether, ultimately kept its cops but trimmed their budget by $8 million.
Bottom line: “hot spots” policing, which even some academics had come to favor, seems dead in the water. Proactive strategies often lead cops to areas predominantly populated by minorities. Blunders and misconduct, though, are no longer so easily overlooked. An easing of criminal sanctions, partly brought on by the pandemic, has been accompanied by a tougher approach to officer discipline. Illinois, for example, seems about to pass a broad package of criminal justice reforms, from eliminating cash bail to making it easier to decertify cops (click here for the bill’s text.) Police-friendly prosecutors are giving way to more socially attuned sorts. George Gascon, L.A. County’s new, progressive D.A. has directed that his assistants only ask that bail be imposed in cases of violent crime. He’s forbidden seeking enhanced sentences except in extreme cases, and promises to vigorously prosecute officers who use excessive force.
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That last message certainly didn’t get lost on the cops. During a recent coroner’s inquest into the June 2020 shooting death of an 18-year old by a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy, the hearing officer was met with silence by the officer who fired the fatal shots and, as well, by the two Sheriff’s detectives who investigated the encounter. All three took the Fifth.
Back to square one. In a recent piece about the storming of the Capitol, NPR asked “an officer in the Midwest” where police sympathies really lie. Here’s a brief extract from the cop’s response:
There is a siege mentality in police-land. It says the left is just going to keep pushing until we get rid of cops.
There’s a lot more, but the message seems crystal clear. Officers feel under the gun. While the overwhelming majority undoubtedly remain true to their calling, some have forged alliances with the Devil. Joe Biden might not be everyone’s cup of tea (if you must know, we voted for “Howie”), but hopefully he’ll find a way to steer all Americans – cops included – to a common high ground. It’s the least one could ask.
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RELATED ARTICLES AND REPORTS
Washington Post series on the Capitol attack
Memo to Joe Biden: Focus on Neighborhood Safety (The Crime Report, Dec. 7, 2020)
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Special sections: Assault on the Capitol Neighborhoods
Chaos in D.C. Don’t Divest – Invest! Fix Those Neighborhoods! White on Black
Is it Ever OK to Shoot Someone in the Back? (II) RIP Proactive Policing? A Recipe for Disaster
Turning Cops Into Liars Punishment Isn’t a Cop’s Job Driven to Fail Scapegoat (I) (II)
CHAOS IN D.C.
Rioters overrun the Capitol. Are police to blame?
For Police Issues by Julius (Jay) Wachtel. On January 6, 2121 hordes of protesters inflamed by President Trump’s defeat and exhorted by him and his son to convey their message to legislators stormed the U.S. Capitol, overwhelming police. While none visibly carried firearms, some had or got hold of pipes and other objects. Once inside, rioters fought with several officers, and Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick was repeatedly struck with a fire extinguisher, sustaining ultimately fatal injuries. (Click here for the video of a rioter spraying officers with a fire extinguisher.) A military veteran and avid supporter of the President, officer Sicknick had served with the Capitol force since 2008.
Most Capitol cops left their guns holstered. However, as intruders smashed through a window on the door that led from their corridor to the Speaker’s Lobby, a plainclothes officer on the other side drew his pistol. As Ashli Babbitt, 35 climbed through the opening the officer fired. She was quickly attended to but her wound proved fatal. Here’s an excerpt from a statement by Capitol police chief Steven Sund:
As protesters were forcing their way toward the House Chamber where Members of Congress were sheltering in place, a sworn USCP employee discharged their service weapon, striking an adult female. Medical assistance was rendered immediately, and the female was transported to the hospital where she later succumbed to her injuries.
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Ms. Babbitt was reportedly unarmed. Her husband and family said that she was a patriot and a U.S. Air Force veteran. Her social media account displayed fervent support for the President and endorsed far-right positions on a host of issues.
Three other protesters died from unspecified “medical emergencies” suffered during the siege (one reportedly fell to his death while climbing.) More than fifty officers sustained non-fatal injuries, a few considered serious.
None of the intruders openly flaunted firearms and most let members of the media carry on with their work. No reporters were apparently hurt, although at least a couple were observably pushed around. Yet as one pores through the profusion of news accounts about the melee (this clip is from the L.A. Times print edition) the unmistakable tenor is that the intruder’s aggressive behavior gave Capitol staff and legislators abundant reason to fear physical harm. Here’s an outtake from “Inside the assault on the Capitol: Evacuating the Senate” by the Washington Post’s Paul Kane:
It was 2:15 p.m. Wednesday and the U.S. Capitol was under assault, the most brazen attack on Congress since terrorists hijacked an airplane and attempted to slam it into the building more than 19 years ago. On Wednesday, a pro-Trump mob crashed into the building in a historic first that sent Washington into lockdown and prompted the type of evacuation that congressional security officials have been planning since 9/11 but had never had to execute.
How did the rioters get in? Check out Google Earth’s satellite image of the Capitol. It’s a vast place with a cornucopia of entry points. Controlling access would require miles of fencing (think “border wall”) and an immense, continuous police presence. Until D.C. police showed up, Capitol police were vastly outnumbered and officers guarding the exterior were quickly overrun. That, of course, is exactly what the rioters had counted on.
Let’s personalize this. You’re a Capitol cop. Say that a dozen flag-waving but visibly unarmed anarchists approach a bashed-in entryway. In a few moments they’ll be in a supposedly “secure” area, rubbing shoulders with legislators. Do you shoot them? Legally, can you?
Probably not. According to the Code of Federal Regulations (10 CFR 1047.7) Federal officers can only use lethal force to protect themselves or others from “imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm” or when trying to keep someone who poses such threats from fleeing. Here, for example, is the FBI’s plain-language rule:
FBI special agents may use deadly force only when necessary — when the agent has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the agent or another person. If feasible, a verbal warning to submit to the authority of the special agent is given prior to the use of deadly force.
Federal law (18 USC Sec. 1752) makes it a misdemeanor to illegally enter or engage in disruption in a restricted Federal zone, such as the Capitol and its grounds. Violations become felonies when someone carries a dangerous weapon or firearm or their acts cause “significant bodily injury.” Simply trying to arrest an unarmed someone – even for a felony – is by itself insufficient for using lethal force. That requires a threat of “death or serious bodily harm.”
Visuals-rich pieces in the New York Times (click here, here and here) aptly depict what took place. Rioters easily pushed through and circumvented a depleted Capital police force that remained outside. And here a bit of explanation is called for. Capitol cops’ core function – their raison d’etre – is to protect legislators, staff and authorized visitors. Realizing what was up, most scrambled inside to do just that. This was not the time to tie up critical resources by making petty arrests.
Natch, the rabble took advantage. Storming the building, they climbed walls, broke windows and gained mass entry by breaking through exterior doors to the Rotunda. Videos posted by NBC News show what happened inside. As a few officers use pepper spray and such to slow the horde down, their colleagues frantically shepherd legislators and staff into the Senate and House chambers and pile furniture against the doors to block access. One photo depicts plainclothes officers pointing their sidearms at a protester who is peering into one of the galleries where legislators had hunkered down. Another portrays officers outside a chamber as they watch over several arrestees.
Five persons lost their lives: Officer Brian Sicknick, Ms. Ashli Babbitt, and three intruders who died from unspecified “medical emergencies” during the siege (one supposedly fell to his death while climbing.) D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee reported that “valiant fighting” left fifty-six officers injured. Several were seriously hurt, including one who was “snatched into a crowd” then beaten and tased.
In its initial wave of prosecutions, the Department of Justice accused fourteen rioters of committing Federal crimes. Nine face charges of misdemeanor illegal entry. Among these is Arkansas man Richard Barnett, the smug fellow who was photographed with his feet on a desk in the office of the Speaker of the House. Allegations against the other five are more serious, including alleged threats, assault, possession of loaded handguns, and, for one defendant, possession of explosives.
D.C. police officers arrived in force during the melee to help clear intruders from the interior. Again, taking persons into custody can tie up multiple cops, so not everyone could be arrested. In the end, D.C. police made sixty-eight arrests. Federal agencies are now poring through photos and videos to identify additional interlopers who are deemed worthy of being charged. Those who broke windows and doors and carried away artifacts are first in line. (Click here for a New York Times list of “notable arrests” as of January 10.)
So far, the most serious unprosecuted offenses relate to the deaths of officer Sicknick and Ms. Babbitt. Officer Sicknick’s assailants are yet to be named. Ms. Babbitt, an intruder, was killed by a Capitol police officer, who has been placed on leave. His status is in the air. Did her actions and demeanor pose a reasonable fear that she might hurt someone? We’ll update both cases as developments occur.
Was the mob “storming” foreseen? Pointing to “violent clashes, stabbings and acts of destruction” that happened during a similar rally in December, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was very critical of the response, had warned of impending violence for weeks. And while the New York Times discovered no “broadly organized plan to take action,” its reporting suggested that something big might happen. “Storm the Capitol” had come up online 100,000 times during the preceding month. Far-right forums bulged with posts “threatening violence” over the fraud that supposedly cost their hero the election, and user comments were replete with goodies such as “pack a crowbar” and “does anyone know if the windows on the second floor are reinforced?” Here’s what a former Secretary of Homeland Security recently said:
You didn’t need intelligence. You just needed to read the newspaper...They were advertising, ‘Let’s go wild. Bring your guns.’ You don’t need to have an FBI investigation. You just need to be able to be able to read.
On the other hand, Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), whose committee funds the Capitol police, denied there was any advance intelligence of a “storming.” Ditto Capitol police chief Steven Sund, who is resigning over the debacle along with the Masters-at-Arms of both Houses. Chief Sund called the episode completely unanticipated and “unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.”:
Maintaining public safety in an open environment – specifically for First Amendment activities – has long been a challenge. The USCP had a robust plan established to address anticipated First Amendment activities. But make no mistake – these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior.
Unfortunately, the President’s stirring of the pot helped make the “unanticipated” inevitable. On December 19 he tweeted “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th. Be there, will be wild!” His final call to duty (with a Twitter link, no less) came on Tuesday, January 5th:
I will be speaking at the SAVE AMERICA RALLY tomorrow on the Ellipse at 11AM Eastern. Arrive early — doors open at 7AM Eastern. BIG CROWDS! pic.twitter.com/k4blXESc0c
That evening thousands gathered at a pre-rally event south of the White House to hear “speaker after angry speaker” denounce the stolen election and identify the “Democrats and weak Republicans, Communists and Satanists” who deserved blame. There were sizeable delegations from far-right groups including the “Oath Keepers,” the “Proud Boys” and “Q-Anon,” which promote conspiracy theories and point to Biden’s election as evidence that America is being subverted from within. And while tactical gear wasn’t the common mode of dress, some in the audience carried pepper spray and clubs and wore helmets and flak jackets.
They returned in force early the next morning to hear their main man. According to NBC News, park authorities originally permitted the event for ten-thousand, but the President’s exhortations had likely driven up attendance, and the crowd wound up about three times that size. And they got what they came for. Here’s an excerpt from Eric Trump’s warm-up remarks:
Have some backbone. Show some fight. Learn from Donald Trump. And we need to march on the Capitol today. And we need to stand up for this country. And we need to stand up for what’s right.
Here’s an outtake from his father’s closing words:
...nobody until I came along had any idea how corrupt our elections were...but I said something is wrong here, something is really wrong, can't have happened and we fight, we fight like hell, and if you don't fight like hell you're not going to have a country anymore...So we are going to--we are going to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue...and we are going to the Capitol, and we are going to try and give--the Democrats are hopeless, they are never voting for anything, not even one vote but we are going to try--give our Republicans, the weak ones because the strong ones don't need any of our help, we're try--going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country. So let's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue.
And thousands did (natch, sans the Donald). While most either kept on walking or paused to demonstrate – legally – on the Capitol’s vast greenspace, a rabid contingent several-hundred strong split off. Inciting each other through word and deed, they high-tailed it for the building. And ran smack-dab into officers whose leadership hadn’t prepared them for the storm. Or the potentially threatening nature of the “stormers.” While there is no proof at present that their activities were coordinated, the mob bristled with members of far-right groups. It also included personalities such as Nick Fuentes, a star of the far-right Internet media, and Q-Anon booster Jake Angeli, the fellow in a fur coat and horns.
As media accounts make clear, enforcement-wise things quickly turned desperate, and D.C. police and other law enforcement agencies were summoned. But the delay in battening down the hatches enabled the violent breach of an American treasure, leading to vandalism, injuries and deaths. A cascade of blame has followed. Given all the warnings, why did police fail to prepare for the seemingly inevitable? Here’s what former Senate sergeant-at-arms Frank Larkin thinks:
The police should have defined a hard line and there should have been consequences for crossing it. The fight should have been outside. Not inside. To have that confrontation at the door, that was a losing formula.
Ditto the head of the Capitol police union, which called on the chief and his top commanders to promptly resign: “This lack of planning led to the greatest breach of the U.S. Capitol since the War of 1812” (that’s when the Brits set the Capitol on fire.)
Still, former Capitol cop Jose Cervino, who planned security for protests and events, wasn’t sure that the President’s anticipated comments left a realistic strategy available:
No one expected the president to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s all go down to the Capitol and show them who’s boss.’ That is a completely different thing that no one’s ever planned or prepared for. How could you?
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And once the impossible happened, officers couldn’t turn to the one measure that would bring the episode to an end:
We have the members and we have the leadership secured. Is it correct to start shooting people? I can’t imagine that I would be happier today if we found out we kept the crowd out, but wound up shooting 40 people.
There was another concern. Feds and D.C. police are still smarting from heated criticism about their enthusiastic crackdown on June racial protests near the White House. Their purpose, it’s said, was in part to keep hostile crowds away from the fence-encased, supremely distanced and heavily guarded residence of the President. Six months later, officials in charge of Capitol security worried that hardening the “people’s house” would lead to similar complaints.
Of course, the Capitol is no White House. It’s a wholly different venue, supposedly welcoming to all sides of the spectrum. There are even visitor galleries! But in our current, deeply polarized atmosphere, some politicians (and their lawyers) seem determined to encourage their followers to exercise their worst qualities. Regretfully, deaths and injuries happened. Yet as short-staffed as they were, police were able to keep legislators and staff from harm. Yet some of what happened off-site raises alarm. We’ve heard about the pipe bombs that were found and disarmed near the Republican and Democratic party offices. Now consider these episodes:
- A 70-year old Alabama grandfather showed up in a pickup stuffed-full with “an M4 assault rifle, loaded magazines, three handguns and 11 Mason jars filled with homemade napalm [i.e. Molotov cocktails.]” He carried a pistol in his pockets.
- A Georgia man and fervent Trump booster texted a profusion of inflammatory, threatening comments, i.e., that he was taking a “s-ton” of 5.56 mm ammunition and was “thinking about heading over to Pelosi C—’s speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV.” FBI agents tracked him to a hotel. They seized an assault rifle, a pistol, ammunition and drugs.
Effectively “securing” the Capitol against a repeat intrusion – and the air is thick with warnings about Inauguration Day – might require measures that would in effect remove a national treasure from the public sphere. (Fencing is being installed as we write.) That may not be what we want, but unless our dueling tribes come together as the Americans they ostensibly are, and exercise some common sense in how they go about their business and communicate with their supporters, it’s what we’re surely going to get.
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UPDATES - ALL ASSAULT ON THE CAPITOL POSTS
1/14/22 D.C. authorities filed Federal “seditious conspiracy” charges against Elmer Stewart Rhodes III, who founded and leads the “Oath Keepers,” and member Edward Vallejo. Neither was previously arrested over the Capitol assault. Nine other Oath Keepers who were already facing prosecution were also named. Authorities claim that the accused had organized a forceful takeover of the Capitol so as to prevent the Presidential transition, and to that end brought guns, other weapons and tactical gear. Seditious conspiracy carries a maximum penalty of twenty years imprisonment.
1/12/22 In recent years, persons driven by “a mix of ideologies and personal grievances” have been involved in a series of domestic terrorism incidents, including mass shootings at a shopping center in El Paso and a house of worship in Pittsburgh, and in the Capitol attack. This elevated threat has led DOJ to create a “Domestic Terrorism Unit” staffed with lawyers who will specialize in such cases.
1/10/22 Two of the better-known Capitol intruders are getting a very personal comeuppance. In the Associated Press, a deeply unflattering portrait of Ashley Babbitt, whom a Capitol police lieutenant shot dead during the assault, begins with her agitated, expletive-laced reaction to the revelation of an extramarital affair. And in the Los Angeles Times, an account about Olympic gold-medal swimmer Klete Keller sets out his mental health struggles and failures in family life in merciless fashion.
1/8/22 Capitol police officer Briana Kirkland, 29, recently returned to work after recovering from injuries suffered during the Capitol attack. A five-year veteran, she alleges that Donald Trump’s “words and conduct” caused the violence, and is suing him for $75,000. Another lawsuit for physical injuries was filed by Marcus J. Moore. A Capitol police officer for a decade, he alleges that Trump’s words “inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted” the mob. These actions follow an earlier lawsuit filed by seven officers who claim that Trump purposely provoked and incited the attack.
1/6/22 In extensive remarks delivered on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the assault on the Capitol, Attorney General Merrick Garland paid tribute to the five police officers who lost their lives because of the episode. Addressing the nation’s polarized political climate, he criticized obstructions “that make it harder for millions of eligible voters to vote and to elect representatives of their own choosing,” and singled out “unfounded claims of material vote fraud in the 2020 election...which have corroded people’s faith in the legitimacy of our elections.”
In separate remarks, the Capitol’s new police chief, Thomas Manger, pressed for expanding the force beyond its present 2,000 officers. He conceded there had been information lapses and said they were being addressed by hiring specialists and centralizing intelligence. According to a recent report, the department has formed “civil disturbance” platoons and improved communication with other agencies.
1/5/22 In the New York Times, a lengthy article examines the residual traumatic effects of the Capitol assault on its police force. Many officers suffered long-term physical injuries, and more than a few have been deeply affected psychologically as well. Equally troubling, decision-makers had been informed about the likelihood and potential severity of the assault, yet the call for protective measures went unheeded.
1/3/22 District of Columbia authorities report that “approximately 640” defendants were charged with illegal entry in the Capitol assault. Of these, “more than 225” were accused of assaulting officers or employees, and “over 75” of using a weapon or causing serious injury. “At least 275” were charged with obstructing Congress, and “approximately 40” with conspiracy. So far “approximately 145” have pled guilty to misdemeanors and twenty to felonies. About seventy have been sentenced. Thirty-one got jail terms, eighteen home detention, and the rest received probation. Six others face serious prison terms.
12/18/21 “Your honor. I’m really really ashamed of what I did.” Alas, Robert Palmer’s tearful comments didn’t help. On December 17 Federal Judge Tanya Chutkan sentenced the 54-year old Floridian to the stiffest prison term to date: 63 months for aggressively attacking police with a fire extinguisher and other objects during the Capitol assault. DOJ case tracker
12/15/21 In the first such action taken by a Government agency, the District of Columbia is suing the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, and dozens of named members for planning, instigating and helping to carry out the January 6th. assault. Damages include “costs to dispatch hundreds of MPD officers to defend the Capitol and its surroundings against the Defendants’ attack, including transportation, coordination, and overtime...costs for emergency and other medical treatment for injured MPD officers; and costs for paid leave for MPD officers who could not work as a result of their injuries” (p. 79).
11/13/21 Former Trump advisor and White House official Stephen K. Bannon, who predicted on January 5th. that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” was indicted for refusing to testify before a Congressional panel investigating the storming of the Capitol. Meanwhile, January 6th.’s “most heavily armed man,” Alabama septuagenarian Lonnie Coffman, pled guilty to Federal charges of bringing eleven molotov cocktails and five loaded guns in his truck to Capitol Hill. Improvised explosives were also found in his home.
11/12/21 Capitol intruder Scott Fairlamb, a New Jersey bar bouncer, got the stiffest-yet sentence, 41 months, for “pushing” and “punching” a police officer as he strong-armed his way over a scaffold and into the building. Fairlamb, 44, a trained MMA fighter, had two prior convictions for assault.
11/1/21 Federal offices located in D.C. have been besieged by bomb threats since the Capitol intrusion, with seventy recorded so far this year. Suspicious packages are also commonplace. Evacuations and road closures are so frequent as to seem the new normal. All government functions are affected. A “health official” reported that his workplace “has been under assault all year. The building feels like a fortress.”
10/29/21 “Let me make my view clear: The rioters were not mere protesters.” That’s how D.C.’s Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell expressed her irritation about the minor legal consequences that befell most of the rioters who were arrested for storming the Capitol. Her comments were sparked by the example of yet another defendant whom prosecutors let plead guilty to misdemeanor “parading.”
10/16/21 One day after the Capitol assault, veteran Capitol police officer Michael Riley messaged a rioter who had posted video and text about his role: “im a capitol police officer who agrees with your political stance. Take down the part about being in the building they are currently investigating and everyone who was in the building is going to charged. Just looking out!” Riley later advised the rioter to get off social media. On Oct. 14 Officer Riley was indicted on two counts of obstructing justice, a felony.
10/12/21 In a letter to Congress, a former top-ranking officer of the Capitol police accused the agency’s leaders of withholding information from subordinates and from Congress that online chats between radicals indicated they had maps of the Capitol complex and were preparing for an armed confrontation with legislators. A prior Congressional inquiry concluded that Capitol police had been alerted to the possibility of an armed assault two weeks in advance but thought it “remote and improbable.”
10/2/21 An “anonymous hacker” released an online membership list for the Oath Keepers that includes “several New York law enforcement officers and public officials - including at least two active members of the NYPD.” When approached by journalists, three of the named “public officials” reportedly confirmed that they were past members. But the two NYPD officers - one is a Sergeant - refused to comment.
9/19/21 Deterred by warnings that they were being “set up” for arrest, few demonstrators showed up at the September 18th. “Justice for J6” rally at the Capitol, held to protest authorities’ treatment of the January 6th. rioters. Those who came encountered re-installed fencing and a large police presence. Stung by arrests and prosecutions, most far-right groups including the “Proud Boys” declined to participate in the D.C. event. Protests in other areas were also few and muted.
9/12/21 Capitol police announced that the January 6th. intrusion led to 38 internal investigations for alleged misconduct. None of the 26 officers identified were deemed by prosecutors to have committed a crime. But the agency “sustained” internal charges and recommended discipline against six: “Three for conduct unbecoming, one for failure to comply with directives, one for improper remarks, [and] one for improper dissemination of information.” Action involving a seventh officer is pending.
9/9/21 More than two-hundred Capitol rioters were charged with “obstruction of an official proceeding,” a serious felony punishable by up to twenty years imprisonment (18 USC 1512[c]). But some judges are questioning whether their behavior substantially differed from other rioters who were charged with misdemeanors, such as entering a restricted area or being disorderly (18 USC 1752). Bottom line: is the felony charge unconstitutionally vague?
9/4/21 QAnon’s “Shaman,” Jacob Anthony Chansley, the horned, fur-wrapped devil who has been in custody on multiple charges since his January 9th. arrest for the Capitol breach, pled guilty to “Obstruction of an Official Proceeding.” He reportedly faces three years imprisonment.
9/3/21 Charging that the arrests on January 6th. were politically motivated, “Look Ahead America,” a group founded by former Trumpist Matt Braynard, is planning a September 18th. protest at the Capitol. Police are gearing up, and there are signs the fence may be reinstalled. Whether other groups might show up is unknown, but the Proud Boys have supposedly declined, calling it a setup to justify more arrests.
8/24/21 Capitol police cleared the police lieutenant who shot and killed Ms. Ashli Babbitt as she tried to climb into an area that officers had secured to allow legislators to flee. According to the agency, “The actions of the officer in this case potentially saved members and staff from serious injury and possible death from a large crowd of rioters.” DOJ lawyers ruled in April that the lieutenant’s actions had been justified and that he would not be charged.
8/15/21 D.C. officer Jeffrey Smith’s survivors filed a wrongful death lawsuit against two persons whom private researchers identified as his attackers. According to the plaintiffs, officer Smith suffered a severe blow that caused a traumatic brain injury, left him constantly weepy and unable to sleep, and led him to commit suicide.
8/7/21 A 44-year old New Jersey gym owner, Scott Fairlamb, and a 22-year old Seattle man, Devlyn D. Thompson, are the first to plead guilty to assaulting officers during the Capitol breach. Fairlamb admitted he “shoved and punched” an officer, while Thompson said he struck an officer with a collapsible baton. Both were placed in custody and face prison time. (Click here and here for the official case details.)
8/4/21 Four law enforcement officers who defended the Capitol on January 6 have committed suicide. Three: Gunther Hashida (EOW: 7/29), Kyle DeFreytag (EOW: 7/10) and Jeffrey Smith (EOW: 1/15) were D.C police officers; one, Howard Liebengood (EOW: 1/9) was with the Capitol police. Officer Smith’s widow recounted her husband’s troubled text message during the assault: “London has fallen”, and his painful convalescence from injuries suffered when struck by a rioter with a metal pole.
7/28/21 Thomas Webster, a former Marine and retired NYPD officer (he once helped guard the city’s mayor) is being prosecuted for assaulting a police officer on the grounds and “trying to gouge out his eye.” An old friend noticed that Webster was embittered by the Presidential campaign. He became “quite animated, quite hyped about the current state of affairs and liberal bias.” According to prosecutors, Webster had body armor and a handgun, which he left in his motel room. Federal case details
7/27/21 Four Capitol officers testified as House Democrats opened their probe of the January 6th. assault. They recounted “near-death” experiences in graphic detail. One said that rioters tried “to gouge out his eye”; another that he “was beaten unconscious” and Tasered. According to a police sergeant, multiple rioters announced that “Trump sent us.” Republicans have boycotted the inquiry.
7/21/21 Mark Sami Ibrahim, 33, a military veteran and rookie DEA agent, was charged with unlawfully entering the Capitol grounds while armed, then lying about it when questioned. Ibrahim, a fervent right-winger, carried a “Liberty or Death” flag, had his DEA-issued pistol, and wore his badge on his belt. He had already given DEA notice that he would soon resign. For the complaint with pictures, click here.
7/20/21 The first felony sentence in the Capitol assault was handed out to Paul Hodgkins, 38. A resident of Tampa, his claim to fame was carrying a Trump 2020 flag onto the Senate floor. Hodgkins pled guilty to obstructing a legislative gathering and soulfully apologized. He got eight months.
7/1/21 The House created a thirteen-member select committee to “investigate the facts, circumstances and causes” of the Capitol riot and issue a report with “findings, conclusions, and recommendations for corrective measures.” It will be controlled by Democrats. Click here for the document.
6/26/21 Washington D.C. police officer Michael Fanone remains on leave, recuperating from a heart attack and brain injuries sustained from being beaten and Tasered by the mob that stormed the Capitol. He recently asked House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, apparently unsuccessfully, to denounce the storming, which reportedly injured “nearly 140 officers” and led to seven deaths. McCarthy has opposed forming an independent commission to examine the assault, so House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she will form a House committee for that purpose.
6/25/21 According to the Department of Justice, more than five-hundred persons have been arrested thus far for participating in the Capitol attack, including one-hundred for assaulting an officer. For a detailed list of Federal defendants, including names and charges, click here.
6/16/21 In a major policy address, A.G. Merrick Garland identified “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists, and militia violent extremists” as America’s major domestic terrorism threats. Their access to social media, encrypted communications and firearms poses significant challenges. But DOJ’s enforcement focus will remain on violence, not ideology. “In America, espousing a hateful ideology is not unlawful. We do not investigate individuals for their First Amendment-protected activities.”
6/12/21 Karol Chwiesiuk, a twenty-nine year old Chicago cop proudly shared a photo of himself wearing a CPD hoodie inside the Capitol office of an Oregon senator. According to a Federal indictment, Chwiesiuk broke in during the assault, then bragged about it to his buds. His texts cautioned, “don’t snitch.”
6/11/21 Six Southern California men and a Texas resident were indicted on Federal conspiracy and other charges for entering restricted areas of the Capitol and encouraging others. Three claimed on social media posts to be members of the Three Percenters. Two others, Alan Hostetter, a former police chief in La Habra, Calif. who became a yoga instructor, and Russell Taylor founded the “American Phoenix” project, which claims the recent Presidential election was stolen and promotes conspiracy theories.
5/29/21 A Democratic-led move to create a “January 6” commission of inquiry on the Capitol riot passed the House but failed by six votes to gather a filibuster-proof sixty votes in the Senate. Only six Republican senators voted “yea”; five of them had also supported impeaching ex-President Trump. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) called a special commission “extraneous” because DOJ and congressional committees are already looking into the siege.
4/26/21 Should all Capitol defendants be treated alike? Slapping down a lower court’s blanket denial of bail, an appeals panel distinguished between two types of accused: “In our view, those who actually assaulted police officers and broke through windows, doors, and barricades, and those who aided, conspired with, planned, or coordinated such actions, are in a different category of dangerousness than those who cheered on the violence or entered the Capitol after others cleared the way.” NY Times
4/20/21 According to DOJ, more than 400 residents of forty-five states have been arrested in connection with the breach on the Capitol. Of these, more than 350 face charges of trespass, and more than one-hundred are being prosecuted for assaulting Federal officers. Thirty-five face weapons charges. Click here for a list of defendants, with links to each case.
4/4/21 A mentally ill man “slipped” his car through a Capitol gate and rammed it into a barrier, striking two Capitol police officers. Noah Green, 25 stepped out with a knife and one of the officers shot him dead. But the officer’s partner, William “Billy” Evans, an 18-year veteran, succumbed from his injuries. While legislators are anxious to bring down the unsightly security fencing installed after the assault and once again allow citizens to approach the Capitol’s exterior, this tragedy has caused a reassessment.
3/16/21 Federal agents arrested two men, one from West Virginia, the other from Pennsylvania, for spraying a toxic substance into the face of three officers during the intrusion. One of their victims was Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick, who later succumbed to unspecified injuries. DOJ release
3/4/21 Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, testified that he was “stunned” that the Defense Department refused to immediately authorize sending in troops to help besieged Capitol police. Gen. Walker said he had received a “frantic” call from former Capitol police chief Steven Sund advising that his officers had been overrun, but that more than three hours would pass before superiors authorized his request to mobilize the Guard.
Capitol police reported that members of a militia, possibly the “Three Percenters,” had planned a repeat assault on the Capitol for March 4. That’s reportedly the day when adherents of QAnon apparently believe that former President Trump, whom they admire, will return to power.
3/3/21 In the New York Times, the powerful, first-person account of a Black Capitol police officer who exchanged words with rioters - and endured their slurs - as he fought with them inside the building.
3/2/21 Lynda Williams, president of NOBLE (Nat’l Org. of Black Law Enf. Execs.) told The Crime Report that White racism has been embedded in police work since the very start. That, she and present and former Black cops said, can make it impossible for Black officers to progress unless they keep quiet and go along. It’s even worse for Black female cops, who are vastly underrepresented in the ranks. Click here for the 2006 FBI report on White extremists in policing.
2/24/21 Three former officials in charge of Capitol security testified that none of the intelligence they received informed them that an invasion was planned. According to former Capitol police chief Steven Sund, “We properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence. What we got was a military-style, coordinated assault on my officers and a violent takeover of the Capitol building.”
2/16/21 Chris West, Oklahoma’s 2019 “Sheriff of the Year” proudly acknowledges he flaunted a Trump flag during the march on the Capitol. “I went as a citizen, as Chris West, the individual” he announced at a news conference on his return. But he insists he didn’t breach the walls. His actions have split the citizens he serves. “Several thousand” have petitioned for his removal, but even more insist that he stay.
2/13/21 Described by one officer as “scarier than two tours as a soldier in Iraq,” the assault on the Capitol severely tested the mental health of its police. “Several” officers reportedly contemplated suicide in subsequent days, and one turned in their weapon. Mental health has now become a priority. But a move to classify the two officer suicides that took place as “line of duty” deaths lacks official support.
2/3/21 Two Capitol police officers who were present during the assault have committed suicide. On January 9 Capitol police officer Howard Liebengood, 51, who had been on the job fifteen years, killed himself while off duty. He is the son of a former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms. On January 15 officer Jeffrey Smith, 35, a 12-year veteran, killed himself while on his way to work. Officer Smith had been injured during the attack. Assault on the Capitol special topic
1/27/21 According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI’s focus has shifted from the near-term to the long. Beyond documenting and prosecuting individuals who intruded into the Capitol, large teams of agents are poring over evidence, including social media, to craft conspiracy cases alleging that organized extremist groups planned the assault well in advance.
1/26/21 Yogananda Pittman, the Capitol’s acting police chief, told a House committee that preventing an incursion into the Capitol would have foreclosed having an “open campus” that allowed protesting. She testified that the agency knew “that militia groups and white supremacists organizations would descend on Washington, D.C.” and that “there was a strong potential for violence” and apologized for a failure to adequately prepare. Two days before the attack the then-police chief had asked his board to declare an emergency and immediately bring in the National Guard but was turned down. In his testimony, the Guard’s commanding general said that the Pentagon had taken away his original authority to order in troops, leading to an hour-long delay to send them in once the assault took place.
1/25/21 Participation of off-duty cops in the storming is reportedly leading police managers across the U.S. to reassess and implement measures, such as FBI screenings, to keep applicants with extremist leanings from being hired, and to help usher out those presently in the ranks. But such changes face liberty and legal obstacles, and officer unions will certainly become involved.
1/24/21 As many as eight-hundred protesters may have breached the Capitol. That has led hard-pressed authorities to ponder not charging those who simply committed misdemeanor unlawful entry, but whose behavior did not involve violence, threats or destruction.Some officials, though, fear this would send the wrong message. Prosecutors are most interested on identifying planners of the storming so they canbe charged with felony “seditious conspiracy.”
1/23/21 Ms. Ashli Babbitt was shot dead by a Capitol police lieutenant who had taken up a “strategic choke point” to allow legislators to flee. His official account, as related by a third party, emphasized the chaos and violence. Radio traffic was replete with accounts of force, requests for backup, and, he thought, a mention of shots being fired. He couldn’t tell whether Ms. Babbitt and her companions were armed. He didn’t know that officers were in the hallway she occupied, nor that a tactical team was coming.
1/21/21 Joe Biden must have read our essay. In his inaugural address, the 46th. President intoned Americans to “join forces, stop the shouting, and lower the temperature”:
Let us listen to one another...We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal. We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts. If we show a little tolerance and humility. If we’re willing to stand in the other person’s shoes just for a moment....”
1/14/21 “Dozens” of individuals on an official FBI terrorism watch list (TSDB, Terrorist Screening Database, with “hundreds of thousands” of entries) reportedly attended pro-Trump rallies in D.C. on the day of the attack. Most were white supremacists. FBI agents had supposedly visited many in advance to discourage them from attending.
1/13/21 Acting A.G. Jeffrey Rosen, who took over after A.G. Barr’s resignation in December, stated that DOJ is aware that protests are planned for the Inauguration. He pledged that DOJ would support the exercise of Constitutional rights but “will have no tolerance whatsoever for any attempts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power [or] for any attempts to forcefully occupy government buildings.”
One day before the assault on the Capitol a leaked FBI memo warned about online exchanges between extremists who were preparing for “war,” designating places to meet and form groups, and circulating plans of the facility’s tunnels. But the memo’s author was also concerned about encroaching on free speech. A earlier FBI memo warns that members of the Boogaloo movement plan to hold rallies across the U.S. and stage armed marches on State Capitols on Inauguration Day, January 20.
1/12/21 A Federal “sedition and conspiracy task force” with anti-terrorism and intelligence components has taken over the Capitol investigation. So far 170 suspects have been identified and seventy have been charged. In addition to illegal entry their crimes include theft and damage, possessing weapons, stealing security information, assaulting officers and felony murder. One accused, Lonnie L. Coffman, had a wide assortment of loaded firearms as well as “a crossbow, several machetes, a stun gun and [incendiary] devices.” Another, Aaron Mostofsky (he wore fur pelts) grabbed a Capitol police shield and a vest. He had posted a video claiming that Trump was cheated out of ten million votes.
1/11/21 Three days after helping defend the institution he served for fifteen years, Capitol police officer Howard Liebengood, son of a former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms, apparently took his own life. He was off-duty (see 2/3/21 update.)