Anti-government militia group suspects and Army Reservist charged in U.S. Capitol riot
Alleged members of anti-government militia groups and a U.S. Army Reservist with alleged White supremacist beliefs are among the latest suspects charged in the U.S. Capitol attack as prosecutors probe rioters who used military-style tactics. Dozens of suspects are now facing federal and local charges in the January 6 assault that left five people dead.
A Colorado man affiliated with the radical militia group the "Three Percenters" was charged by Washington, D.C. federal prosecutors over the weekend with assaulting a federal officer, obstructing a federal proceeding and other counts related to the siege. Federal prosecutors also charged three other people in Ohio and Indiana who are allegedly linked to another anti-government militia group, the "Oath Keepers." The Indiana suspect was allegedly among a group that sprayed a U.S. Capitol police officer with bear spray.
Evidence against the suspects raises more questions about coordination among the mob that stormed the Capitol, a law enforcement official told investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge. Identification of rioters who used military-style tactics is a tier one priority for a task force of senior prosecutors in D.C. investigating possible sedition charges, Herridge reported.
The Three Percenters and the Oath Keepers are both part of an extremist movement that has grown since President Barack Obama took office in 2008, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The groups promote the idea that the government is plotting to take away the rights of U.S. citizens and must be resisted.
On Saturday, federal investigators charged an Ohio man and woman they say were a part of a group of about 8-10 people wearing paramilitary gear and Oath Keepers paraphernalia seen on a video storming into the Capitol. According to a federal criminal complaint, the group moved "in an organized and practiced fashion" and forced their way to the front of a crowd gathered around a door to the Capitol building.
38-year-old Jessica Watkins and 50-year-old Donovan Crowl of Champaign County, Ohio, are facing charges including unlawful entry to a restricted area, violent entry and disorderly conduct and obstruction of an official proceeding. A criminal complaint says Watkins identified herself on social media site Parler as "C.O. [commanding officer] of the Ohio State Regular Militia" — a dues-paying subset of the Oath Keepers.
On January 6, the complaint alleges Watkins posted a video on Parler with the caption: "Yeah. We stormed the Capitol today. Teargassed, the whole, 9. Pushed our way into the Rotunda. Made it into the Senate even. The news is lying (even Fox) about the Historical Events we created today."
Watkins also allegedly confirmed she led other Oath Keepers during the siege, posting another image on Parler of a man in paramilitary gear with an Oath Keepers patch on his arm. According to the complaint, the caption read: "One of my guys at the Stop the Steal Rally today. #stopthesteal #stormthecapitol #oathkeepers #ohiomilitia." In another criminal complaint, federal investigators identified the man in the photograph as Crowl, who they say is also affiliated with the Ohio State Regular Militia.
According to the complaints, both Watkins and Crowl later spoke to the media about their encounters with Capitol Police. In a January 13 interview with the Ohio Capital Journal, Watkins said her group didn't destroy anything and was respectful with the Capitol Hill police "until they attacked us. Then we stood our ground and drew the line." According to the complaint, the next day Crowl says he told the New Yorker his intentions were peaceful and "we protected the f****** Capitol Hill police."
Another Oath Keepers-linked suspect, Jon Ryan Schaffer of Columbus, Indiana, wore a blue hooded sweatshirt under a tactical vest with a baseball cap that read, "Oath Keepers Lifetime Member," according to a federal criminal complaint filed Saturday. He was seen in photos and surveillance video carrying bear spray and engaging in verbal altercations with Capitol Police officers inside the Capitol Building.
Schaffer, identified by tipsters who knew him as the frontman of an Indiana heavy metal band, has long-held, far-right extremist views, according to the complaint. In a 2017 interview, Schaffer identified himself as an "anarchist," called the federal government a "criminal enterprise" and claimed the 2016 presidential election was "rigged." During another interview at the November "Million MAGA March" in D.C., Schaffer said: "A group of thugs and criminals hijacked this country a long time ago. And now they're making their big move, and it's not gonna happen...People need to wake up and snap out of the Matrix, because they're going down. They made the move, they're messing with the wrong people here, trust me on that."
On Sunday, a man linked to the "Three Percenters" group was also charged. Based on his social media postings, law enforcement 24-year-old Robert Gieswein of Woodland Park, Colorado, runs a private paramilitary training group called the Woodland Wild Dogs. A federal complaint filed Sunday said Gieswein wore distinctive military gear during the riot — a camouflage shirt underneath a reinforced military-style vest with a "Woodland Wild Dogs" patch, an Army-style helmet marked with orange tape and patches, goggles and a black camo backpack. Gieswein allegedly sprayed an unidentified substance at federal officers outside the Capitol and encouraged other rioters as they broke a window to the building. Once he entered through the broken window, according to the complaint, he was seen inside carrying a baseball bat and a spray cannister will his cell phone affixed to his vest and facing outward.
Gieswein was pictured next to another suspect charged Sunday, Dominic Pezzola, who was seen wearing a "Proud Boys" shirt. According to a witness, Pezzola, who witnesses say is known as "Spaz," allegedly said the rioters would have killed people including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Mike Pence had they gotten the chance.
Among those charged Sunday was Timothy Louis Hale-Cusanelli of Colts Neck, New Jersey, a member of the U.S. Army Reserves and a contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle, where he maintains a "secret" security clearance and has access to a variety of munitions, according to a federal complaint. A confidential source working with an NCIS agent said Hale-Cusanelli admitted he was inside the Capitol during the riot, the complaint said, and showed the source videos of himself making harassing and derogatory statements to officers.
The source told the NCIS agent that Hale-Cusanelli is an avowed White supremacist and Nazi sympathizer who posts extreme political opinion videos on YouTube. On Jan. 14, the source recorded a conversation during which Hale-Cusanelli admitted to entering the Capitol and encouraging other members of the mob to "advance" using both voice and hand signals. He allegedly said that if they had more men, they could have taken the entire building.
Hale-Cusanelli also allegedly admitted to taking a flag and flagpole that he observed another rioter throw "like a javelin" at a Capitol Police officer, describing it as a "murder weapon" and saying he intended to destroy it. Hale-Cusanelli is charged with counts including violent entry and disorderly conduct and obstructing a law enforcement officer during a civil disorder.
Those charged in the riot last week included two off-duty Virginia police officers, one of whom, Jacob Fracker, is a corporal in the Virginia National Guard. The other, Thomas Robertson, apparently served at different times both the the National Guard and the U.S. Army Reserves, though the Army is still trying to determine his current status.
Catherine Herridge and Clare Hymes contributed to this report.
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