U.S. arrests more than a dozen in Capitol riots, among the most made public in a single day
By Spencer S. Hsu and Rachel Weiner,
More than a dozen arrests in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot were announced or unsealed Wednesday, revealing charges against alleged supporters of extremist right-wing groups including the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Boogaloo Bois, and individuals accused of attacking the property of news media.
The arrests ranked among the most made public in a single day and came as an alleged Oath Keepers member reached an unexpected plea deal with prosecutors in the largest conspiracy case brought against those accused of obstructing Congress as it met to confirm the 2020 election results.
Mark Grods, 54, of Mobile, Ala., became the second from the anti-government group publicly to flip in the 16-defendant conspiracy case and cooperate with prosecutors in the latest sign of movement in the investigation.
In court Wednesday, he admitted to two federal counts of conspiracy and aiding and abetting the obstruction of an official proceeding.
The surge of at least 13 new or unsealed arrests came as the FBI and Justice Department highlighted developments in the criminal probe nearing six months after the event, and the House voted to create a select committee to investigate the Capitol breach.
Those swept up in recent days reflected a cross-section of defendants whose motives allegedly varied, although several allegedly sought out affiliations with extremist groups anticipating violence, the government said. Newly unsealed charges included trespassing and violent police assaults, and the defendants included George Tenney III, of Anderson, S.C., accused of being the first to open the east Capitol Rotunda doors from the inside, allowing the mob to enter.
“You’re not gonna stop us,” Tenney told an employee of the House sergeant-at-arms who struggled to pull the door closed, the FBI alleged.
Tenney, administrator of a Facebook page called PowerHouse Patriot, talked as early as Dec. 12 of joining “patriot revolution groups” or militias, before posting on in late December, “I heard over 500k armed militia patriots will be in DC by the (Jan.) 4th,” according to charging papers.
“It’s starting to look like we may siege the capital building and Congress if the electoral votes don’t go right. … We are forming plans for every scenario,” charging papers also alleged Tenney posted.
Separately charged were Gabriel Brown and Zvonimir Jurlina, both of Long Island, accused of destroying media equipment, and Steven Thurlow, an Army veteran from suburban Detroit, who allegedly posted images of himself in the Capitol and wearing a “Boogaloo” patch on social media.
“Ahh nothing like a new pair of 511’s and a fresh set of level IV SAPI’s in the plate carrier to go ‘peacefully protest’ with,” Thurlow allegedly posted on Facebook next to a photo of himself wearing body armor, camoflage and a gas mask with a knife and AR-15 rifle next to a Christmas tree, prosecutors said. Patches that Thurlow wore related to the 101st Airborne Division, in which he served from 1988 to 1991, and “Boogaloo,” a term taken up by fringe groups referring to a racially or ethnically motivated civil war, prosecutors said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced last week that the total number of arrests had reached 500, including 100 people who have been charged with assaulting police and the first defendant charged with assaulting a member of the news media.
Information about attorneys for nearly all the newly arrested defendants was not immediately available.
Christopher DeLaughter, a defense lawyer for Michael Perkins, 37, of greater Tampa, accused of beating a police officer with a flagpole, said in an email after Perkins appeared in court Wednesday that his client should not remain jailed pending trial, saying he was not such a risk of flight or threat to the public that he could not be conditionally released.
Also in court Wednesday, prosecutors asked to jail a previously charged defendant, now-fired Rocky Mount, Va., police officer Thomas Robertson, saying that since being charged with a co-worker for trespassing at the Capitol, he has acquired 34 guns he stored at a local gun dealership despite a court order that he should not to possess firearms while on pretrial release, and that he was found with a partially assembled pipe bomb in a box labeled “Booby Trap.”
“The picture of Senators cowering on the floor with genuine fear on their faces is the most American thing I have seen in my life,” prosecutors said Robertson wrote on Facebook days after the riot, adding, “ … The only voice these people will now listen to is VIOLENCE.”
Robertson’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Federal investigators have brought multiple conspiracy cases against defendants tied to Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Three Percenters. In charging papers against Thurlow, an FBI agent attested that several Boogaloo members also were present in the riot.
The Proud Boys — designated by Canada as a terrorist organization — have rallied behind Trump since forming in 2016 and establishing a history of violence with far-left groups in street demonstrations. The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters are a loose coalition of groups that recruit police and law enforcement members to oppose what some see as a tyrannical federal government, gaining notoriety as self-declared providers of security at conservative events.
In charging papers filed Monday and unsealed Wednesday, prosecutors said Grods’s plea was related to an ongoing grand jury probe into 16 alleged Oath Keepers leaders, members and affiliates in Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and other states who are charged with planning as early as Nov. 3, Election Day, to interfere with the certification of the presidential election.
Grods admitted that he was part of an invitation-only encrypted Signal chat called “DC OP: Jan 6 21” used by Oath Keepers regional leaders and members, prosecutors said, including Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes — usually identified as “Person One” in court papers but whom prosecutors initially named — who has not been charged.
Other participants included charged co-defendants Jessica Watkins, 38, an Ohio militia leader, and Kelly Meggs, 52, of Florida, who the government says marched in helmets and tactical gear up the east steps of the Capitol before forcing entry about 2:40 p.m.
Grods was charged separately, but prosecutors requested that his case be sealed initially to ensure his “safety while cooperating and testifying before the grand jury” in the larger case.
Prosecutors in a plea deal agreed to request lowering Grods estimated 51- to 63-month recommended prison sentencing range in exchange for his substantial cooperation. He admitted to several allegations prosecutors have made against the wider group, including taking firearms to Washington, providing them “to another individual to store in a Virginia hotel,” and racing to the Capitol in two golf carts, according to plea papers.
Grods stayed with others at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, paying for a room reserved in another person’s name, the government said. He entered the Capitol building minutes after others in his group assaulted police in the Rotunda, the government said he admitted, before joining up with an Oath Keepers group outside about 4 p.m.
The plea came one week after one of the 16 co-defendants, Graydon Young, 55, of Englewood, Fla., also pleaded guilty to similar charges in a cooperation deal.
Both Young and Grods said co-conspirators believed they were obstructing Congress’s election certification through the intimidation and coercion of government personnel.
At least 20 alleged Oath Keepers or associates have been charged, including the first to plead guilty, Jon Ryan Schaffer, an Indiana rock musician.
The others have pleaded not guilty.
Also arrested were self-described Proud Boys members Ricky Willden, 39, of Oakhurst, Calif., and Timothy O’Malley, of Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Willden was charged in an eight-count indictment with assaulting police and with other acts of violence, including spraying officers guarding an east door of the Capitol with an unknown substance minutes before the door was breached. O’Malley was charged with misdemeanor trespassing and disorderly conduct after recording himself in the Capitol wearing a red batting helmet with a “Trump is my president” sticker and saying, in sum, “We took the Capitol. We’re moving on to other floors now. Whoo. Our house,” prosecutors said.
Prosecutors have also been targeting those who allegedly attacked members of the media or damaged their equipment. Brown and Jurlina, two live-streamers, were arrested and separately accused of joining others in destroying tens of thousands of dollars worth of media equipment during the riot.
News organizations were forced to abandon staging areas outside the building because of attacks by rioters, prosecutors said, leading to the vandalism. Separately in recent days, a man from Illinois was charged with assaulting a cameraman, and a Pennsylvania woman was accused of encouraging and broadcasting an attack on a photographer working for the New York Times.