Republican lawmakers have recently downplayed or outright denied the violence of the January 6 insurrection as a bipartisan agreement to investigate the siege is in limbo on Capitol Hill.
But the mounting pile of evidence in the nearly 450 Capitol riot criminal proceedings — including hundreds of hours of videos, seized weapons, text messages and social media posts — show just how violence-minded the attackers were, creating even more of a clear picture of Congress under siege than the live TV and social media footage broadcast on January 6 and in the President’s impeachment trial afterward.
Taken together, evidence from the alleged Capitol rioters have fleshed out both their hatred toward members of Congress and their interest in amassing firearms to show the forcefulness of support for former President Donald Trump and his lies about a stolen election.
There was the Vietnam veteran alleged to have 11 homemade bombs in his truck on Capitol Hill and a list of left-leaning “bad guys.” A handful of men who prosecutors say drove across the country with caches of weapons, looking for war and dreaming of scenes where they could shoot Trump’s opponents. And there were others who posted on Facebook about hunting down Democratic lawmakers.
On top of the discussions of violence, prosecutors have also carefully documented in many of the criminal cases how Trump supporters carried or picked up weapons in the Capitol, including a baseball bat, a spear, bear spray, mace, a hockey stick, stun guns and knives.
Few defendants were arrested the day of, making it difficult for investigators to determine quickly whether they carried concealed weapons, which is heavily regulated in DC. However, one man stopped by police fleeing the Capitol has been charged with carrying a loaded handgun and ammunition onto the Capitol grounds. He has pleaded not guilty.
Some of the Capitol riot defendants’ threats and actions on January 6 were so egregious, judges have decided to keep them in jail to ensure public safety.
Many of these cases have been slow-moving in court and so numerous, they’ve stayed largely out of the public conversation after the initial arrests and court hearings happen. Very few of the rioters have finalized guilty plea deals, as is expected for many, and criminal trials drawing attention to the minute-by-minute attacks on January 6 would happen months from now. Nearly all of the accused rioters have pleaded not guilty as of Wednesday.
The ensuing quiet period has allowed Republican lawmakers, including the Senate and House minority leaders, to oppose a bipartisan January 6 commission in part because of a perception that violence fueled by American politics has come from all sides. One member even declared the rioters were indistinguishable from tourists.
Yet the Justice Department under Presidents Trump and Joe Biden has repeatedly underscored that the danger from right-wing extremists is so significant that it has led to one of the largest law enforcement efforts in American history. That threat still persists, and the investigation continues.
Even on Wednesday, the FBI was making new arrests and seeking out more Capitol rioters caught on video beating police.
In a new case against a Western Pennsylvania woman and man who wore Trump-branded hats to the riot, investigators say the woman, Pauline Bauer, tried to force her way past police in the Capitol rotunda, telling the officers “Bring Nancy Pelosi out here now. We want to hang that f***ing bitch,” according to an FBI affidavit. She has not yet entered a plea.
Molotov cocktails and a trailer of weaponry
Two of the men arrested earliest in the Capitol riot investigation, Lonnie Coffman and Cleveland Meredith Jr., aren’t accused of going into the building. But they both had allegedly brought enough illegal weapons to Washington, DC, to potentially cause significant bloodshed. And both had put in writing names of political leaders, according to court documents.
Law enforcement found Meredith at a Holiday Inn on January 7, after a tipster told the FBI he was texting about wanting to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on TV. Because of car trouble, he had arrived in the city after the siege–but had managed to bring in his truck trailer 2,500 rounds of ammunition, an assault rifle and another gun emblazoned with an American flag, the Justice Department said in court documents. His texts had talked about “war time.”
Coffman, too, allegedly carried an arsenal to the capital city. He had parked his truck blocks from the Capitol building and left it to sit there for most of January 6. Inside the truck or on him, Coffman had a shotgun, a rifle, three pistols and 11 Mason jar bombs inside a cooler that, if detonated, could have acted like napalm.
The 70-year-old Vietnam veteran had been living out of his truck in DC for a week, prosecutors say, and had handwritten notes with names of elected officials and a federal judge he noted to be a “bad guy.”
Both Coffman and Meredith have pleaded not guilty and are in jail awaiting trials, though Coffman is seeking to be released.
Cross-country road trip with weapons
A trio of Trump supporters allegedly drove cross-country with weapons in the car to make it to the Capitol riot to support Trump and disrupt Congress, according to court records in the case of Nevada personal trainer Nathaniel DeGrave.
DeGrave and two of his friends, Josiah Colt and Ronald Sandlin, are charged with taking part in the riot and making it into the Senate chamber.
Prosecutors accused DeGrave of pledging to bring bulletproof clothing and asking on Facebook in December for a teacher who could teach him to shoot and to develop survival skills. The trio, once in Tennessee to meet Sandlin, had packed their car with a Glock pistol, a pocket gun, knives, bear mace, ammunition, gas masks, a stun gun, and a baton, court records say.
On the road trip, Sandlin filmed DeGrave and Colt talking in a TGI Fridays, where DeGrave said, “If s**t goes down, if [then-Vice President Mike] Pence does what we think he is going to do, then we’re here to defend this city; defend any city in this country,” according to court filings.
The amount of planning and discussion of the men before the riot showed they “expected not only to encounter violence on January 6 but to perpetrate it,” federal judge Paul Friedman wrote this month.
Photos of Colt hanging from the Senate balcony went viral after the insurrection, and he was arrested within days. Colt isn’t in jail, and faces four charges in a separate case from DeGrave’s and from Sandlin’s.
Sandlin faces 11 charges and is in jail, including because of an allegation that he assaulted police in the Capitol. DeGrave is also in jail, and also charged with the assault. All three men have pleaded not guilty.
Garrett Miller, a Texas man, was concerned about a civil war before he came to Washington, DC, for the Trump rally. But on and after January 6 he tweeted “assassinate” a Congresswoman and wrote on Facebook about hanging a Black police officer, according to court documents.
“Some crazy s–t going to happen this week.” Miller posted online before the riot. “Dollar might collapse . . . civil war could start . . . not sure what to do in DC.”
On January 6, Miller responded to a tweet from Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with “Assassinate AOC.”
In the days after the attack, Garret Miller became obsessed with seeking “justice” against the Capitol Police officer involved in the fatal shooting of Ashli Babbitt, whom a police officer shot as the crowd attempted to break through a door inside the Capitol. According to court filings, Miller identified and circulated pictures of a police officer that he believed to be responsible for the shooting.
“He’s a prize to be taken,” Miller allegedly said of the officer. Prosecutors said Miller threatened to “hug his neck with a nice rope” on live television, according to posts he made on Instagram and in Facebook chats that are described in court filings.
Investigators said that when they searched Miller’s home in Texas, they found two ropes, several firearms, ammunition, body armor, and a crossbow.
He’s charged with 12 criminal counts, including assaulting or resisting police and making threats, and awaits trial in jail. He has pleaded not guilty.
‘One shot, one kill’
Michael Lopatic posted on Facebook the day after the 2020 election a photo of two birds he shot on a hunting trip. “I named them Joe and Kamala,” he wrote, according to prosecutors’ court filings.
Two days later Lopatic posted two more birds, naming them Schumer and Nancy, after the next top Democrats in US government. Another two the next week, Lopatic’s game he deemed to be Nadler and “shifty Shift,” after two more high-profile Democratic congressmen, Reps. Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff.
“Dem birds where going down,” Lopatic wrote. “One shot, one kill.”
As the riot at the Capitol unfolded, Lopatic is accused of taking part in one of the most brutal assaults on law enforcement.
Video footage the Justice Department has used in proceedings shows Lopatic grabbing an officer by the neck, and repeatedly punching the officer in the head, during a scene where five men dragged police down the Capitol steps then beat them with flagpoles and other objects.
Lopatic then allegedly traversed into the mob and stole a second officer’s body camera, which he later admitted to disposing of on his way home to Pennsylvania.