Washington — A Jan. 6 defendant who wasin Washington, D.C., with weapons and ammunition in his van had threatened to blow up the vehicle at a government facility the day before, federal prosecutors alleged in a new court filing.
Taylor Taranto, a 37-year-old from Washington state, was taken into custody in Obama's Kalorama neighborhood on June 29 after Secret Service agents spotted him several blocks from the residence. He was wanted on an arrest warrant related to his alleged actions on Jan. 6 and faces four misdemeanor charges related to the riot. He has been kept behind bars since his arrest, and prosecutors have indicated they could bring additional charges.
In back-to-back hearings on Wednesday and Thursday, Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui grappled with the government's request to keep Taranto detained until trial, saying case law prevented him from considering factors beyond whether he poses a flight risk when deciding whether to release him.
On Thursday, Faruqui said he was delaying ruling on prosecutors' request because pretrial officials in Washington state must get a plan in place for his pretrial release and custodianship if the judge rules to release him. Another hearing is set for next Wednesday, July 12.
Before Wednesday's hearing, the government revealed new details about its investigation into Taranto in a memo asking a judge to keep him behind bars pending trial.
According to prosecutors, Taranto was streaming live on his public YouTube channel on June 28 when he said was headed with a detonator to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, an agency within the Commerce Department headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
"He made several statements indicating that he intended to blow up his vehicle at NIST, including a statement that he had a detonator, that he was on a 'one way mission,' and that the vehicle was self-driving so he would not have to be anywhere near it when it 'went off,'" prosecutors alleged, noting there is a nuclear reactor on the agency's 579-acre campus.
Those statements prompted the FBI to begin searching for Taranto, according to the filing. The bureau had already been "monitoring [his] online activities" due to his presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
The next day, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., issued a warrant for his arrest on the Jan. 6-related charges. Soon after, Taranto began streaming again from his van, saying he was driving on a road in the Obamas' neighborhood, according to prosecutors. He eventually stopped and got out of the van, continuing to stream.
"While walking, he made several concerning statements regarding the residences in the area, saying that he was looking for 'entrance points,' that he had 'control' of the block and 'had them surrounded' and that he was going to find a way to the 'tunnels underneath their houses,'" prosecutors alleged.
Secret Service agents tried to take him into custody, eventually arresting him after a short pursuit on foot. An FBI bomb squad and K9 unit from the Metropolitan Police Department were called to the scene, and the dog detected gunpowder in Taranto's van. Investigators discovered "hundreds of rounds of nine-millimeter ammunition and two firearms inside," prosecutors said, as well as a machete. No explosives were found in the vehicle.
Prosecutors said Taranto appeared to have moved across the country two months ago and had been living in his van. He had been a regular fixture outside the D.C. jail where many Jan. 6 defendants are being held before he was banned from the area by other protesters, the filing said. He has been vocal online about his presence at the Capitol in the two and a half years since the riot, according to prosecutors.
The filing also accuses Taranto of threatening members of Congress, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.
In the same video in which he allegedly threatened to blow up the NIST headquarters, Taranto "made ominous comments referencing Speaker McCarthy, saying, 'Coming at you McCarthy. Can't stop what's coming. Nothing can stop what's coming,'" prosecutors said. Taranto's wife allegedly told investigators that his move to Washington two months ago was motivated by McCarthy's offer to make more Jan. 6 security footage public.
In another alarming allegation, prosecutors said Taranto and his associates entered an elementary school in Takoma Park, Maryland, outside Washington on June 18. Taranto streamed their procession through the building: "[The video] depicted Taranto and his associates walking around the school, entering the gymnasium, and using a projector to display a film related to January 6."
"[H]e stated that he specifically chose the elementary school due to its proximity to Congressman Raskin's home and that he is targeting Raskin because 'he's one of the guys that hates January 6 people, or more like Trump supporters, and it's kind of like sending a shockwave through him because I did nothing wrong,'" prosecutors quoted Taranto as saying.
The government said Taranto's actions justified keeping him detained as he faces charges.
"Given the depth of his anti-government beliefs, and his broadcasted threats against political figures and government property, it is difficult to imagine that he will be capable of compliance with conditions to secure community safety and ensure his appearance before this Court," prosecutors wrote.
Taranto has yet to enter a plea in the matter and his public defender contested the government's initial request to keep him detained last week, offering custody alternatives that included stays with family.
Taranto's court appearances
Faruqui, the magistrate judge overseeing the case, indicated Thursday he is still not certain how he will rule on prosecutors' request to keep Taranto locked up. There is a potential risk of flight, he said, but he had to decide whether it was serious enough to detain Taranto.
"I'm just really concerned right now about flight risk," the judge said, adding later he was exploring "a couple options" for Taranto to be released into the custody of a third party until trial.
Justice Department attorneys told the court they intend to seek additional felony charges as soon as possible, which could change the calculus behind keeping Taranto detained.
Taranto's defense attorney, Katie Guevara, raised concerns about Taranto's treatment in jail, telling the court he has not received proper mental health medication. Taranto has been treated for PTSD after serving in Iraq.
"I am responsible," the judge in the case told Taranto. "I have failed." The judge said any mental health condition Taranto has must be treated while behind bars.
In court on Wednesday, prosecutors reiterated much of their filing, telling Faruqui that the investigation into Taranto has been ongoing since the Capitol attack. One government attorney said Taranto had "made some increasingly erratic statements" in recent weeks that compelled investigators to actively monitor his social media. The investigation, the prosecutor said, "is very much still active," while conceding that the government has only brought four misdemeanor charges against him.
Taranto, the Justice Department alleged in court, "takes great issue with the legitimacy of the U.S. government," which put him at risk of not complying with court orders and presenting a greater risk to the community.
Taranto's attorney on Wednesday said her client's speech is protected activity.
"What we are talking about here is protected activity under the Constitution," Guevara said. "What we have is a lot of talk. A lot of hyperbole … a lot of incendiary language to get attention."
"Mr. Taranto has remained in plain sight," she said of her client's weekslong stay in D.C., adding that he previously attended a Jan. 6-related sentencing without issue or attention from law enforcement. The Justice Department's attempts to now classify him as a risk, Taranto's attorney said, were "disingenuous."
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