Is a Disorganized Militia January 6 Conspiracy in the Offing?

I’m working on a very long post about everyone known to have occupied the Senate on January 6. As part of it, I’m trying to lay out how a bunch of seemingly unconnected people who were present in the Senate network together many of the disparate groups that took part in the insurrection.

For a variety of reasons, I want to look at one node of that network — Josiah Colt, Ronnie Sandlin, and Nate DeGrave — that may soon become a non-militia conspiracy that parallels the militia ones, but is based on a more disparate ideology.

This network first attracted attention when its Idaho member, Josiah Colt was photographed hanging from the balcony level of the Senate, as well as another one showing him sitting in the presiding officer’s chair.

His January 9 arrest affidavit says little about how the FBI IDed him, beyond an interview he gave to CBS, and it charged him just with trespassing; he was arrested on January 12. His February 3 indictment added obstruction and abetting, but never described him as part of a network that worked together to halt the vote count.

Nor did Ronnie Sandlin’s arrest affidavit, approved on January 20 but not executed until January 28. It made just a small mention of his presence in the Senate gallery, showing a picture but not the surveillance footage of his efforts to keep the doors to it open. But mostly it made him sound (and was treated by much of the press) like someone who entered the Capitol and on a lark smoked a joint in there.

Two days after Colt was indicted, Sandlin was indicted, by himself, for assault and obstruction in addition to trespassing. And while the indictment provided the initials of the officers Sandlin allegedly assaulted, it didn’t really describe the significance of those assaults.

The hints that Colt, Las Vegas-based Nate DeGrave, and Ronnie Sandlin (who’s life was in transit before he ended up in DC jail) were all working together began to show in DeGrave’s arrest affidavit which (we now know) was obtained after the FBI, in search of Sandlin, discovered he was at DeGrave’s house in Vegas.

On January 28, 2021, cell-site data for Sandlin’s phone received pursuant to a search warrant led investigators in the FBI Las Vegas division to locate and visually identify Sandlin’s vehicle parked outside the Las Vegas apartment complex where DeGrave was confirmed to reside. That same day, Sandlin was spotted leaving the apartment and taken into custody by the FBI. Based on the defendant’s actions on January 6, 2021, a complaint and arrest warrant for DeGrave were issued on January 28, 2021, and DeGrave was arrested at his residence.

There are a lot of details in DeGrave’s arrest affidavit in there about their joint planning to travel to DC, as well as their boasts that violence might be necessary.

Even still, nothing in that affidavit explains the significance of the confrontation captured in this picture (and not yet described as involving serious contact); DeGrave is allegedly the guy with his fists raised.

And even though DeGrave was indicted the same day and on roughly the same charges as Sandlin, they weren’t yet joined in the same conspiracy.

A February 9 search warrant affidavit for Colt’s Facebook account that has only recently been unsealed reveals that the government was obtaining his Facebook content, in part, to learn more about the joint efforts of the three of them.

Here, Sandlin mentions boogaloo; elsewhere, he mentioned 3%. A bond filing described him as a QAnon follower and at other times he mentions the Rubicon. There’s no clear ideology here as opposed to the mishmash Trump supporters ingested online.

In response to the search warrant, Facebook returned posts and conversations in which the defendant discussed “stop[ping] the steal” and displayed an adherence to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement. See CBS News, What Is the QAnon Conspiracy Theory? (Nov. 24, 2020), On December 10, 2020, he posted an image decrying the use of masks and facility closures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, accompanied by the hashtag “#WWG1WGA”—where we go one we go all—a QAnon refrain. See id. In response to some commenters’ criticism of this post, Sandlin wrote what would become his own rallying cry leading up to the riot on January 6: “tyranny always masquerades itself as safety and security. Freedom is paid for with blood, there is a reason why America was founded on the principles of give me liberty or give me death.” The government understands that Sandlin carried around a coin with the letter “Q” on it, apparently to demonstrate his proud affiliation with the QAnon movement.

We also now know that the FBI obtained this warrant, in part, in an attempt to reconstruct the Facebook content that Sandlin and DeGrave allegedly deleted.

A bond filing in DeGrave’s case was where I first started asking why these men weren’t being treated as a conspiracy in the same way the militias were. It described chats with in-depth planning for their trip.

Beginning on December 31, 2020, DeGrave, Sandlin, and Colt began a private group chat on Facebook to plan for the 6th. They discussed “shipping guns” to Sandlin’s residence in TN, where they would all meet before driving to D.C. Colt said he would try to fly with his “G43,” which the government understands to refer to a Glock .43 pistol. They filled up their Amazon shopping carts with weapons and paramilitary gear to take to the Capitol. For example, the defendant stated he was “looking at a 100w laser the thing that can instantly burn paper.” Sandlin responded: “Good god you want to burn these communists retinas?” The defendant replied: “I dont but would rather do that then have to shoot someone” and “would be totally possible though.” To minimize his prior statements, the defendant added, “all purely self defence might I add. but will be ready.” Sandlin stated he was bringing his “little pocket gun” and a knife. Later that evening, the defendant asked for Sandlin’s address and then wrote that he had “about 300 worth of stuff coming to you.” Sandlin appears to have reviewed the defendant’s list of Amazon purchases and then wrote: “Nate is really ready for battle hahaha.” Sandlin and Colt later posted pictures of their recent purchases, including a glock holster, gas masks, and a helmet. On January 3, 2021, the defendant posted a picture of various items of clothing with skulls on them, a helmet, and a face mask on Facebook, with the following caption: “Gearing up. Only a fraction of what I have. #fbappropriate #dc #jan6 #drdeath.” He also posted that he was “flying in with friends on the 6th. We’re ready to do what is necessary to save the country.”

The bond filing describes how the three of them armed themselves for their trip to DC on January 6.

DeGrave, Colt, and Sandlin ultimately brought the following weapons and other items with them in a rental car from Tennessee to the D.C. metropolitan area: one Glock 43 pistol, one pocket gun, two magazines of ammunition, bear mace, gas masks, a handheld taser/stun gun, military-style vests/body armor, two helmets, an expandable baton, walkie talkies, and several knives. Colt brought a gun to a rally in Washington, D.C. on January 5. While in the Capitol on January 6, Sandlin and Colt were armed with knives, and Colt had bear mace in his backpack. The defendant carried a walkie talkie, as did Colt.

Thus far, none of them have been charged with weapons possession nor even had their trespassing charges enhanced because they carried knives (though I bet whatever proof the government obtained that Colt brought a gun into DC and bear spray into the Capitol is being used to coerce Colt to flip in the same way it was with Jon Schaffer; note, too, there was a woman involved with them who thus far remains uncharged and unnamed who might be witness to these preparations).

Most importantly, the DeGrave filing described the significance of the two assaults he and Sandlin are accused of. The first served to create the opportunity to open what sounds like the East door of the Capitol (through which Joe Biggs and the Oath Keepers entered).

Surveillance footage from the entrance to the Capitol rotunda depicts a mob outside attempting to gain entry through a door. The door’s glass windows are damaged. Individuals already inside can be seen moving benches blocking the door to try to let the mob in, at which point three U.S. Capitol Police (“USCP”) officers move in to stand guard in front of the door. The defendant, Sandlin, and Colt are then seen entering the area, along with approximately twenty to thirty other individuals. The USCP officers are without backup.

Sandlin approaches the officers and appears to be yelling and pointing at them. Sandlin continues to yell, and DeGrave moves to his side. Immediately thereafter, the crowd, including DeGrave and Sandlin, begins pushing the officers and slowly forces the door behind the officers open, allowing the mob outside to begin streaming in. Rather than shy away, DeGrave continues to engage and records the ongoing attack on the officers. Sandlin can be seen attempting to rip the helmet off of one of the USCP officers, an apparent attempt to expose him and render him vulnerable as the mob surrounds him.

The second created the opportunity to get into the Senate.

DeGrave and Sandlin continue to engage with the crowd near the entrance, with at least one officer still trapped in the midst, until Colt taps the defendant on the shoulder and leads the two away and up nearby stairs. Around this time, Colt shouted something to the effect of “we have to get to the Senate” and “there’s no turning back now, boys, we’re here.”

They eventually made their way to the Senate. Additional surveillance video footage from the Capitol Senate Gallery provides a view of a hallway and several sets of doors, which lead to the upper balcony of the Senate Chamber, where shortly before the Senate and the Vice President had been convened for the Electoral College vote count certification. The beginning of the video clip shows several unidentified subjects in the hallway. A USCP officer (hereinafter “USCP1”) can be seen entering one of these sets of doors and is shortly joined by two other USCP officers (“USCP2” and “USCP3”). As part of their official duties, USCP1, USCP2, and USCP3 were clearing individuals out of rooms and securing the doors.

Approximately 27 seconds into the video clip, Sandlin enters the view of the security camera. Shortly thereafter, USCP2 and USCP3 move toward the second set of doors to start to usher people out, while USCP1 finishes locking the first set of doors. Sandlin can be seen walking next to USCP1 as he approaches the second set of doors, and while USCP2 is attempting to close the second set of doors. Sandlin cuts in front of USCP1 and attempts to wrestle the door away from USCP2. DeGrave then joins Sandlin in a shoving match with the USCP officers in an attempt to keep the door open. Following this assault on USCP officers, DeGrave bragged that he punched an officer “three or four times.” As the three USCP officers make their way away from the crowd, DeGrave, Sandlin, and several others are observed on the video footage acting in an aggressive manner towards the officers. DeGrave puts up his fists as if to begin boxing one of the retreating USCP officers. As the USCP officer steps away, DeGrave can be seen banging his chest.

Shortly thereafter, the defendant, Sandlin, and Colt entered the now open doors and reached the upper balcony of the Senate Chamber, which members and staff of Congress and the Vice President had already evacuated. Colt handed the GoPro, which he had been carrying and using to record the riot, to DeGrave, as he prepared to jump down to the floor of the Senate Chamber. After Colt jumped down, DeGrave was one of several individuals yelling at Colt to take documents and laptops.

In other words, these three guys, with closer ties to QAnon than to the military, played a key role in a pincer effect that created a second or third front inside the Capitol and succeeded in occupying the Senate floor.

As I said, when I read the DeGrave filing, I began to wonder why these guys aren’t being treated with the same seriousness as the militia groups, as a well-armed conspiracy.

The government was considering such a step earlier this month. In a bond filing in Ronnie Sandlin’s case, the government claimed (back on April 5) they anticipated superseding Sandlin (and, the implication is, DeGrave and Colt’s) indictments soon.

With respect to why the defendant was not charged in the same indictment as Mr. DeGrave, the other individual who traveled to D.C. with the defendant and was present with him inside the Capitol: Mr. Colt, the third individual who traveled with them, was indicted on February 3, 2021—the same day the defendant and Mr. DeGrave had their initial appearances in Las Vegas. The indictment timeline for these individuals thus varied. The government was and is still investigating them for conspiracy and anticipates superseding in this matter in the near future.

These men allegedly put in extensive planning to prepare for their assault on the Capitol. They explicitly planned for violence, and DeGrave and Sandlin are both accused of violence. The government further alleges (but has not yet charged) Sandlin and DeGrave with attempting to obstruct the investigation afterwards. For months, the government has seemingly focused on the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers to the detriment of a focus on the more organic networks formed online or in in-person protests. That may be about to change.

I expect there will be further stories told about the Senate incursion, as I alluded to here. And I expect those stories will show how all these networks worked together to pull off a tremendous success on January 6.

43 replies
  1. JVO says:

    It’s like they were all part of the same criminal enterprise to “stop the steal.” Solely to tweak @bmaz – is the DOJ actually considering a RICO charge against any of them? I doubt it.

        • schroja says:

          True. It only took me three or four readings to understand this use of “network,” so in my view the sentence is poorly constructed but grammatically correct. Some more commas or other punctuation might have helped.

        • Rayne says:

          If this thread is going to devolve into a critique of grammar resulting in a DDoS of the conversation, the pedantry will disappear.

        • ThoughtMail says:

          Heh. Potato, potahto. I would use network in gerundial form: networking. Can serve as both a verb and a noun. So there.

          What I REALLY abhor is overuse of adjectives and adverbs. It appears that Rayne does, too.

          [Did I not warn about the grammar policing? This bullshit doesn’t address the topic of the post and it causes community members on mobile devices to scroll-scroll to get to content on topic. Let this go. Next grammar-related comment hits the trash. /~Rayne]

  2. Tom says:

    The picture of Josiah Colt lying in bed looks like a posed gag photo. Who goes to sleep holding a gun in their hand? If it wasn’t loaded, then what was the point of having it in the first place, unless it’s meant to act as some sort of security blanket. Also, what’s supposed to be poking up under the bed sheet?

  3. Michael Pappas says:

    I think the comparative absence of guns yet the massive amounts of bear spray is key evidence of a conspiracy. The planners knew that going in firing bullets would be terrible tactics, both operationally and for public sentiment. They needed to breach the capital without killing dozens of cops. Hence the massive amount of bear spray. The few with guns weren’t part of the inner conspiracy. No one brings bear spray to a Trump rally, especially in Washington DC. It was a concerted and thought out tactical decision. Focus on who bought and distributed the bear spay. Those are your key conspirators.

    • pasha says:

      that simple, concise argument should convince a jury. has bear spray been used in previous riots? if so, by whom?

      a quick search revealed no other uses

      • greengiant says:

        Proud boys and their supporters bring bear spray along with their other weapons to protests. The armed right winger killed on a Portland street had a can of bear spray in his hand.
        I think batons have caused the most damage. TBI with just one swing.
        Some places have prosecuted the shots fired from vehicles. At least one not so much.

  4. J R in WV says:

    The Glock 43 is a model number, there is no .43 caliber pistol.

    The Glock 43 is a smaller 9mmx19 pistol with a single stack magazine to keep the handle smaller for concealed carry purposes. This 9×19 mm ammo is the standard sized round for many pistols.

    • Raven Eye says:

      I didn’t find it particularly pleasant to shoot. If you relaxed your grip too much, it might fail to eject. Just sayin’.

      • scribe says:

        Relaxed grip => fail to cycle/eject. That’s the nature of the beast. Newton’s laws and all that.

    • subtropolis says:

      Yup, not a .43. But what’s a “pocket gun”? I thought it odd that the bond filing simply quotes from the FB group chat — what Sandlin had referred to it as — rather than specifying what make and model of weapon it was. It makes it seem as though the government is asserting a list of weapons brought that day based solely upon what the defendants had claimed beforehand that they’d be bringing.

      Perhaps there was a fourth person with them who has described to authorities the various weapons they’d brought, but I’d expect that the bond filing would make that clear. At minimum, to provide some explanation for the claim.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      It’s principal attraction seems to be its ease of concealed carry, for people who won’t fire it much, or as a back-up, because it uses the standard 9mm ammunition fired by larger weapons. The base model is a short-range “sub-compact,” with a 3.25″ barrel. Costs about the same as the larger Model 17, much used by local leos – about $500-600. Lethal hand candy.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        The Model 43 is actually slightly longer. For comparison, its barrel length/overall length is 3.4″/6.25″, Glock’s Model 17 is 4.5″/7.3″, the Sig Sauer P226 is 4.4″/7.7″, and the standard army issued Beretta M9 is 4.9″/8.5″. The Model 43 weighs roughly half as much as those larger weapons, about 1 lb.

  5. Savage Librarian says:

    Patterned Pattered Paradox

    The reciprocal inhibition
    to deter future sedition
    may count on attrition,
    through thorough exposition.

    Do 3 percentor guys query
    about enterprise theory?
    Did storm venter ties hear the
    control center spies clearly?

    Depose the pros,
    Depose the cons,
    Track MO’s,
    and QAnons.

    They’re not shy,
    They leave their mark,
    When they bid goodbye
    they’ll join that arc

    of 45 and the Big Lie.
    Their deeds are stark,
    and their minds’ eye
    rolls back, like shark.

    Do-si-do and boogaloo,
    Sticks and Stone assaulted blue,
    Accelerate and lookie-loo,
    Justice has a point of view.

  6. Rbba Ahearn says:

    Thank you. I am impressed at the level of detail of this emptywheel investigation. Everybody involved in any way needs to be held to account for their un-American traitorous acts.

  7. CD54 says:

    Sounds like MAGAl-Qaeda.

    Wasn’t al-Qaeda designed to be local, unrelated, fungible cells working toward the common goal?

    Didn’t FBI/DOJ go extreme/overboard with new unquestioned powers specifically because of the distributed nature of the Muslim threat within the country?

    • Leoghann says:

      The term “al qaeda” translates into English as “the base.” It was the intent of OBL to provide revolutionary Islamic fundamentalist groups with a virtual base, via telephone and internet, that could help them to coordinate training, propaganda, and weapons procurement, as well as serving as a means of directing newly-radicalized people to the assorted groups where they could serve the common cause. In this case, Trump, with his constant false claims about the election, provided the common cause. Various social media platforms had been providing virtual meeting places for them for five years, culminating in the rise of Parler after the election. Although some of these radicalized Trumpsters had found places with chapters of Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, etc., many by nature were so disorganized in their thought process that they couldn’t really settle on one group to support. Others were/are so batshit crazy that no chapter would have them–there are allusions in several emails and comment threads to avoiding such-and-such person because they were a loose cannon (irony!). The only factors that don’t apply in this case are common religion and weaponry.

      • CD54 says:

        I think Trumpism is pretty close to a religion for most of them.

        Fortunately the FBI is very experienced at infiltrating groups like these — even groups which aren’t so whackadoodle.

    • Savage Librarian says:

      CD54 and Leoghann, to add to your points and to bring in a Russia connection too:

      “New indictments shed light on alleged terror cell in Rome, GA” – 4/26/21, Chris Joyner
      “Joanna Mendelson, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said the new indictments show the Base’s long reach…”

      ‘ “As this case further develops it sheds a very bright light of how this group that had a substantial presence in the virtual spaces engaged in real-world action, bringing individuals from the far corners of our country together,” she said.’
      “Along with the animal cruelty charges, Helterbrand, Kaderli and Lane face charges of conspiracy to commit arson, home invasion and murder, and violations to the state’s anti-gang laws.”
      “Researchers describe the Base as an “accelerationist” group that tries to leverage violent and disruptive attacks to bring about the destruction of American society. Mendelson said the cell that allegedly met in Rome was a case study in how quickly such cells can develop plans to “wreak havoc on our nation.”
      “The Base was founded in 2018 as a far-right, paramilitary organization that sought the creation of a white ethno-state. An investigation by the Guardian newspaper in 2020 revealed the organization’s leader to be Rinaldo Nazzaro, an American expatriate living in St. Petersburg, Russia.”


    You may want to add Robert Sean GRILLO, not necessarily to conspiracy, but he is also charged with confronting police on the inside of the Columbus Doors and forcing them open. On page 9 of his affidavit, a surveillance camera still picture shows an orange sweatshirt, perhaps worn by Sandlin, is visible.

  9. John Knoerr says:

    Great post! Thank you for all this work. In the seventh paragraph you wrote “Ronnie Sandlin (who’s life…”. I believe you meant “Ronnie Sandlin (whose life…”.

  10. Tom R. says:

    The Khater/Tanios indictment alleges that Tanios brought the chemical spray and handed it to Khater, who used it to assault Sicknick and others. Both guys are charged with 18 USC 371 (conspiracy). Also, in accordance with 18 USC 2 (aiding and abetting) (A&A) they are both equally on the hook for the crimes that were committed. In this case the conspirators discussed the crime, and there was some division of labor, so I classify it as a marginally “interesting” conspiracy.

    Note that 18 USC 2 is not a crime unto itself; it is merely a /connector/, connecting the abettor to the perpetrator. It applies in all cases, whether or not the indictment explicitly mentions it.

    I skimmed the cases against all 382 defendants listed on the DoJ web site; 90 of them are explicitly charged with A&A. Also there are three defendants (including Khater/Tanios) who are charged with conspiracy without also being explicitly charged with A&A.

    It is remarkable that all 90 of the A&A defendants have zero-length connections; that is, they are charged with aiding and abetting crimes that they also committed with their own hands. So these A&A charges are not very interesting. Similarly the Khater/Tanios connection is almost zero length; they were standing shoulder-to-shoulder and cooperating in real time. Also, the Colt/DeGrave/Sandlin conspiracy would be almost zero length; they each committed the crimes they conspired about. The conspiracy charge is nowhere near the most serious charge they could face.

    Things would get very much more interesting if charges were brought based on a connection that was more distant in space and time, involving somebody who solicited the commission of multiple crimes but was too sneaky and dastardly to get his own hands dirty.

    Presumably some highly “interesting” charges are in the offing, but we have seen no examples yet. It’s not entirely clear how this will play out. Incitement charges are problematic. At one extreme, you have the Chicago 7 case, which IMHO should never have been brought, and was tossed out on appeal. At the other extreme, there are cases where brutal assaults and sedition were intended and systematically planned. I reckon the DoJ is looking at a yawning chasm between what they know and what they can prove. Let the flipping begin.

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