Posts

In [Legal] Defense of the Nazi

The biggest known investigative fuck-up in the January 6 investigation thus far was when the FBI raided the home of Marilyn and Paul Hueper believing that Marilyn was a woman that the FBI suspects, based off surveillance video, may have been part of stealing Nancy Pelosi’s laptop. The Hueper’s claims about their actions on January 6 don’t seem to be entirely forthright, but Marilyn has made a solid case that the FBI mistook her for the woman in question.

I think the FBI did have probable cause for that search, but I also think the FBI did not use available tools — most notably the Google and GeoFence warrants they’ve used in many other cases — that should have been able to exclude Marilyn as the suspect.

I think it likely that DOJ has made an error, of another sort, with Nazi sympathizer Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, detaining him for four months based off a mistaken belief he played a more important role in January 6 violence than he did.

Hale-Cusanelli was arrested on January 15, three days after a co-worker of his, who was already an NCIS informant, alerted the FBI that Hale-Cusanelli took part in the riots and had, in the past, espoused fairly extreme white supremacist views. On January 14, the informant recorded Hale-Cusanelli describing giving hand signals to the mob and taking a flag that Hale-Cusanelli described as a “murder weapon” to destroy.

Hale-Cusanelli’s arrest warrant, which charged him with the misdemeanor trespassing charges everyone gets charged with along with a civil disorder charge, included no video from the day of the attack. When the government indicted him, they added obstruction charges and abetting.

When the FBI arrested Hale-Cusanelli, he admitted in an interview that he gave hand and voice signals — which could be no more than waving people forward — to encourage others to “advance” past cops. But the government’s primary basis to keep him jailed, when they first succeeded in doing so back in January, seems to have been that, once you cut him off from the military network he worked in as a Navy contractor, he was bound to turn to war.

Releasing Defendant from custody will only reinforce his belief that his cause is just. Given his impending debarment from Naval Weapons Station Earle, and his potential Administrative Separation from the U.S. Army Reserve, Defendant’s release will likely leave him with nowhere to go and nothing to do except pursue his fantasy of participating in a civil war. If nothing else, the events of January 6, 2021, have exposed the size and determination of right-wing fringe groups in the United States, and their willingness to place themselves and others in danger to further their political ideology. Releasing Defendant to rejoin their fold and plan their next attack poses a potentially catastrophic risk of danger to the community.

When they made a more substantive (and successful) argument he should remain detained, they focused on two things: his choice of a third party guardian was also an extremist who had helped him try to game reporting from the Navy on his extremism, and his extremism itself, including that he groomed to look like Hitler.

They also argued that Hale-Cusanelli poses a threat to the informant who IDed him.

Hale-Cusanelli is appealing his detention. But both he and his attorney, Jonathan Zucker, are getting fed up. Last week, Zucker submitted a motion asking to be replaced, but also claiming that he has received nothing in discovery about what Hale-Cusanelli did at the Capitol.

The parties were last before the court on May 12, 2021. At that time the defense expressed concern to the court regarding the paucity of discovery in this case. To date the prosecution has disclosed the defendant’s custodial interview, a surreptitiously recorded conversation between the defendant and a cooperating witness who was wearing a recording device provided by law enforcement, two portions of text messages between the defendant and two other civilians. The prosecution has provided nothing else, particularly no evidence regarding what defendant did on January 6 either outside or inside the Capitol. Nor any other evidence regarding the defendant’s activity in relation to the charged offenses. 1

1 Defendant advises that other defendants have disclosed to him that other defendants indicated they received discovery of recordings from inside the Capitol where defendant has been seen peacefully walking in the hallways.

Yesterday, the government responded. AUSA Kathryn Fifield claimed that most of what Zucker had said was not accurate.

The bulk of Defendant’s representations to the Court regarding discovery—both in terms of what they have received and government’s response to their requests—are not accurate. To date, the government has provided the most substantial portions of the government’s evidence. That includes the CHS recordings in which Defendant makes substantial admissions regarding his criminal conduct on January 6, Defendant’s custodial interview in which Defendant makes substantial admissions regarding his criminal conduct on January 6, and a partial extraction of Defendant’s cellular phone. The partial extraction includes the extraction report and the native files, including chats, videos, and photos. Defense counsel has confirmed with the undersigned that they have access to these materials on USAfx. Further, the government separately provided Capitol CCTV video capturing Defendant inside the Capitol building on January 6 and reports of interviews conducted by NCIS. Defense counsel confirmed receipt of these materials with prior government counsel. Thus, Defendant is already in possession of the evidence most relevant to detention proceedings and to Defendant’s conduct on January 6, and has been in receipt of these materials since before the last status hearing on May 12, 2021.

She described how, because of the technical issues that occur every time the government shares large volume electronic files with defense attorneys, Zucker still doesn’t have the full content of Hale-Cusanelli’s phone.

But the accompanying discovery summary in fact seems to confirm what Zucker has said: he has received no or next to no surveillance video of his client in the Capitol, and what he has gotten appears to pertain primarily to a different person he represents (Zucker also represents Jerod Wade Hughes and Thomas Webster, and did represent Dominic Pezzola for a period).

Video recording of custodial interview of Defendant Hale-Cusanelli produced via USAfx on February 22, 2021.

Bulk report of interviews conducted by NCIS produced via email on March 7, 2021.

Report of interview conducted by NCIS of Sergeant John Getz produced via email on March 8, 2021.

Partial extraction of Apple iPhone – includes Cellebrite Extraction Report (PDF 1209 pages) and native files most relevant to Defendant’s detention proceedings and conduct on January 6, 2021. Produced via USAfx on March 11, 2021.

Capitol Surveillance CCTV produced via USAfx in connection with another defendant represented by defense counsel on March 31, 2021. Upon information and belief, you confirmed receipt of this video with prior government counsel. Reproduced in the USAfx folder for this case on May 25, 2021. The Government has designated these files Highly Sensitive under the Protective Order issued in this case.

CHS video and audio recordings produced via USAfx on May 7, 2021. The Government has designated these files Sensitive under the Protective Order issued in this case. Cellebrite Extraction Report (PDF 63073 pgs): iPhone 6s (A1633), MSISDN 7328105132, ISMI 310120163205040. Produced via USAfx on May 7, 2021.

Full extraction of Defendant’s Apple iPhone produced on encrypted zip drive on or about April 28, 2021, on Blu Ray discs on or about April 28, 2021, and on defense counsel’s hard drive on or about May 25, 2021.

One of the main images in an earlier detention memo from inside the Capitol is indexed to Pezzola, so that may be the discovery in question.

This guy has absolutely loathsome views. But they are views protected by the First Amendment — and also views shared by a goodly percentage of the other January 6 defendants, many of them out on personal recognizance. The others who, like Hale-Cusanelli, were of particular concern to the government because they held clearance on January 6 also engaged in physical assault — and Freddie Klein was released even after that. As I noted, the government spent two months confirming details of active duty Marine, Major Christopher Warnagiris’ far more important conduct from the day before arresting him, and then let him out on personal recognizance.

While the government has provided evidence that he did intend to obstruct the vote count, nothing in his conduct from the day substantiates the civil disorder challenge. Yesterday, Fifield asked for two more months to find that evidence.

This seems like a mistake that the government is simply doubling down on. But if you haven’t found more compelling evidence after four months, what are the chances you will?

In Adding Matthew Greene to a Conspiracy with Dominic Pezzola, DOJ Formally Alleges the Proud Boys Committed a Crime of Terrorism

At a detention hearing for Charles Donohoe yesterday, Magistrate Judge Michael Harvey asked a long series of questions, including what a “normie” is, what Telegram is (it is stunning that a DC Magistrate doesn’t know that, but that’s a testament they won’t accept US legal process), and whether “Milkshake,” who had been described saying a lot of really damning things in an organizational channel, was part of the conspiracy. AUSA Jason McCullough said that DOJ is still assessing Milkshake’s — whose real name is Daniel Lyons Scott — criminal liability, but since he was filmed fighting with some cops, I’d be arranging legal representation if I were him.

Along the way, however, the questions led McCullough to provide several new details on the Proud Boy conspiracy. One question he didn’t answer is whether the government knows that Donohoe succeeding in “nuking” some texts describing organizational efforts, as he described wanting to do after Enrique Tarrio got arrested.

McCullough also revealed something that was not yet public: the government had rounded up another Proud Boy, Matthew Greene, and indicted him in what I call the Proud Boy “Front Door” conspiracy along with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe. In doing so, they did something more important for their larger case. First, they changed the purpose of the conspiracy from what it was originally charged to match all the other militia conspiracies (from busting through the first door to obstructing the vote count). Here’s what the militia conspiracies currently look like as a result:

It was probably fairly urgent for DOJ to do this (and Greene’s inclusion may have been just a convenient rationale). Here’s how the indictment changed from the original Indictment to the Superseding one (S1):

In general, the government is charging Pepe and now Greene with more than they originally charged Pepe with based on a theory that they abetted Pezzola’s alleged crimes. But the critical change is highlighted. Originally (marked in pink), just Pezzola was charged for breaking the window through which the initial breach of the Capitol happened. But in this indictment (marked in yellow), DOJ charges Pepe and Greene for abetting Pezzola in breaking that window.

The reason they did this is because 18 USC 1361 is the crime for which DOJ is arguing that all key Proud Boy defendants can be detained pre-trial, not just Pezzola, but also Joe Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zach Rehl, and Charles Donohoe. In detention hearings, the government has argued that it counts not just as a crime of violence that allows the government to argue that a defendant is eligible for detention, but also that, because it was done to coerce the conduct of government, it triggers a terrorism designation for detention purposes.

This is how the argument looks in detention memos:

As it did before, the United States moves for detention pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142(e)(3)(C), which provides a rebuttable presumption in favor of detention for an enumerated list of crimes, including Destruction of Property in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361. The United States also seeks detention pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(A), because Destruction of Property, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361, is a crime of violence. Moreover, when Destruction of Property is “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion,” it also qualifies as a federal crime of terrorism. See 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5)(B).

This was an issue in the Monday detention hearing before Judge Tim Kelly for Biggs and Nordean. After the hearing, he required the government to submit a picture of Pezzola breaking that window.

And it will likely become an issue when Joe Biggs, at least, appeals his detention, as he noticed he would do yesterday (it would be a still bigger issue in Nordean or Donohoe’s case).

In fact, the government has been making this argument for some time.

But it wasn’t until this supserseding indictment that the government formally aligned Pezzola’s actions — including spectacularly breaking that first window with a riot shield — with the rest of the Proud Boy indictments, in fact making them (as the government has already argued) the same conspiracy, a conspiracy involving terrorism.

Anatomy of a Potential January 6 Cooperation Agreement

I’ve written in passing about Jon Ryan Schaffer, the front man for the heavy metal band Iced Earth who was arrested for involvement with spraying bear spray during the January 6 insurrection, several times. In this post I noted that there must be something more to his case because Schaffer had been sitting, uncharged, in jail for months.

Jon Ryan Schaffer: The front man for the heavy metal band Iced Earth and an Oath Keeper lifetime member, Schaffer was arrested for spraying some police with bear spray. But two months after his arrest and detention, he has not been (publicly) indicted and only arrived in DC on March 17. The government has not publicly responded to his motion to dismiss his case on Speedy Trial grounds. All of which suggests there’s something more there that we can’t see.

Yesterday I included Schaffer among those likely to get cooperation agreements (rather than straight guilty pleas), then updated the post with yet another data point suggesting I was correct.

[A]t least some of the expected pleas may be cooperation agreements. For example, Ryan Samsel — who breached the west side of the Capitol in coordination with Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, knocking out a cop along the way — asked for a continuance to discuss a plea. One of the main Oath Keeper prosecutors, Ahmed Baset, asked for a continuance before indicting Oath Keeper associate Jon Schaffer, who was among the worst treated defendants and who agreed to the continuance in spite of remaining in pre-trial detention. Kash Kelly, currently charged with trespassing but also someone raised in discussions between Proud Boys affiliate James Sullivan and Rudy Giuliani, got a continuance to discuss a plea. Bryan Betancur, a Proud Boy who got jailed for a probation violation after he lied to his probation officer to attend the event, also got a continuance to discuss a plea to resolve his trespassing charges. The aforementioned Riley Williams, who was charged with obstructing the vote count and stealing a laptop from Nancy Pelosi, was filmed directing movement inside the Capitol, and has ties with Nick Fuentes, also got a continuance to discuss pleading before indictment. All five of these people likely have information that would be of use to prosecutors. All could limit their prison time (which would likely be significant for Samsel, who is accused of assault, played a key role in the insurrection, and has a criminal record) by cooperating with prosecutors. If any of these people sign plea deals — especially Samsel — it will likely provide new insight into how the conspiracy worked. Even with a plea deal, Samsel may still face a stiff sentence.

[snip]

Update: Meanwhile, Jon Schaffer just agreed to two more weeks in jail.

So the signs suggesting the government was pursuing a cooperation agreement in this case have been pretty clear.

But yesterday, DOJ made that even more clear by posting a filing to PACER — which was supposed to be sealed — making such negotiations explicit.

As stated in the Consent Motion to Continue, the government and counsel for the defendant have conferred and are continuing to communicate about this matter. This has entailed a series of debrief interviews with the defendant that began on March 2, 2021. Based on these debrief interviews, the parties are currently engaged in good-faith plea negotiations, including discussions about the possibility of entering into a cooperation plea agreement aimed at resolving the matter short of indictment. Among the contemplated plea terms upon acceptance of a plea are the defendant’s release pending sentencing.

[snip]

[T]he parties request that this filing be docketed under seal. Such an order is appropriate because the filing relates to sensitive information about the defendant’s cooperation with the government and ongoing plea negotiations that are not public. Accordingly, disclosure may reveal the existence, scope, and direction of the ongoing and confidential investigation. If alerted to this information, investigation targets against whom the defendant may be providing information about could be immediately prompted to flee from prosecution, destroy or conceal incriminating evidence, alter their operational tactics to avoid future detection, attempt to influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and otherwise take steps to undermine the investigation and avoid future prosecution. Accordingly, these facts present an extraordinary situation and a compelling governmental interest which justify sealing of this filing pertaining to this investigation that is being submitted at this time. [my emphasis]

You’ll recall that PACER was one of the targets of the Solar Winds hack, which raised concerns that sensitive documents detailing things like cooperation agreements and investigative targets might have been compromised. The Courts’ efforts to respond have bolloxed up PACER ever since, which has contributed to an unacceptable delay in postings of non-sensitive documents as the flood of January 6 filings hit.

One of the few things that DOJ has managed to post in timely fashion is this filing, which was supposed to be sealed.

This disclosure may make it harder to negotiate a cooperation agreement (or who knows? it might make it easier!). Certainly, it may present security concerns for Schaffer when he is released, whether or not he cops a plea, because he would get such a plea deal in exchange for testimony against a highly skilled armed militia, and they’ll assume he got a deal if he is released pre-trial.

Aside from the very real concerns about how this might affect the investigation into the Oath Keepers, however, the release of the filing is useful for the details it provides.

First, this cooperation deal, if it happens, will be the first of all 350+ defendants.

The government’s ongoing plea negotiations with this defendant are the first and most advanced plea negotiations involving any of the over 300 Capitol Riot defendants.

That would mean that others — like the cooperating witness with damning information on Dominic Pezzola and the un-indicted co-conspirator in the Proud Boys conspiracy — have not been charged at all (as descriptions of them in filings imply). It also suggests that for all the reporting about imminent deals, the cooperation agreements, at least, are two weeks or more away. Every other potential cooperation deal I named in this post follows the same pattern of filings that Schaffer’s does, but they have later deadlines for their continuance, though Ryan Samsel is the only other one who is in custody for January 6 (as opposed to other things), which adds urgency to any plea deal:

  • Bryan Betancur (in MD state custody): April 27
  • Ryan Samsel (in federal custody): May 7 (after being extended from April 1, moving to swap his attorney, then unmoving to do so, though currently he is represented by both)
  • Christopher Kelly (not in custody): May 10
  • Riley June Williams (not in custody): May 28
  • Kash Kelly (in Federal prison for gang-related drug crimes which he also cooperated on): indefinite

It looks like Samsel might have been the first plea deal, but an aborted swap of lawyers suggests he may have gotten cold feet. (Recall that Rick Gates did something similar before he flipped in the Mueller investigation; because of his criminal record, Samsel faces a stiffer prison sentence than Schaffer regardless of what happens).

Schaffer’s filing explains why cooperation agreements will be weeks away, too: First, plea deals are being reviewed “at various levels of government.”

Plea terms have thus required extensive review and approval at various levels of government necessitating more time than usual to approve and negotiate.

Given that Biden doesn’t have a confirmed US Attorney in DC, this likely means that at least Acting Deputy Attorney General and former National Security Division head under Obama John Carlin is reviewing these deals, if not Merrick Garland himself. Lisa Monaco should be confirmed as Deputy Attorney General imminently, and she’s likely to be interested in all this, too. That is, the level of review this filing suggests this plea deal is getting also hints at the (unsurprisingly) high level involvement in the investigation as a whole.

Perhaps one of the most damaging disclosures by the release of this document is that Schaffer’s attorneys have admitted, non-publicly, things they’ve argued against publicly. In a filing asking for pre-trial release, Schaffer’s lawyers argued that merely possessing bear spray did not make Schaffer enough of a threat to require pre-trial detention.

The Government sought “detention based on [Mr. Schaffer] carrying a dangerous weapon inside a restricted ground.” Reporter’s Transcript of Detention Hearing, p. 7: 8- 10.2 Magistrate Judge Faruqui detained Mr. Schaffer “Upon the Motion of the Government attorney pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1).” (Doc. 12, p. 1)

Mr. Schaffer cannot be detained pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142 (f)(1)(E) because the Government’s allegation Mr. Schaffer simply possessed bear spray does not support a finding his case involved a dangerous weapon. The Government cannot establish a can of bear spray is dangerous weapon when it is simply possessed.

Schaffer’s arrest warrant affidavit described him to be “among” a group of “rioters who sprayed” USCP with bear spray, but didn’t say he personally had used the bear spray to assault the cops, nor did it charge him with doing so.

SCHAFFER was among the rioters who sprayed United States Capitol Police officers with “bear spray,” a form of capsaicin pepper spray sold by many outdoors retailers, as part of their efforts to push the officers back inside the Capitol and breach the Capitol Building themselves.

According to this filing, however, Schaffer’s lawyers conceded during a closed session that he could be charged, presumably including assault for spraying the bear spray, right away.

The parties agree that maintaining the current detention posture, as well as the government forestalling return of a grand jury indictment against the defendant1 , are necessary at this stage to facilitate good-faith plea negotiations.

1 As acknowledged by the defense during the sealed portion of the April 2, 2021 status hearing, the government is in a position to rapidly obtain an indictment against the defendant should plea negotiations fail.

But the filing also suggests that the grand jury may be posing another bottleneck to this process.

Additional time may also be necessary in the event plea conditions require completion of certain requirements before entering into a formal agreement before the court, such as the defendant testifying before the grand jury.

That is, if and when a plea deal is agreed, they still may require Schaffer to provide any testimony to the grand jury before they finalize the plea and release him.

As noted, the unintentional release of this filing may undermine that process from the start. But it least it provides some clarity on how this process is working for Schaffer and others.

Update: Baked Alaska (real name Anthime Gionet) is another person in whose case the government got a consent motion to delay further proceedings. I’m less confident this would involve a cooperation agreement — it may be a way to forestall questions about whether he is media.

Politico Claims It Embarrasses Joe Biden that Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Merits Little or No Jail Time

Last week, Politico reported as news that non-violent January 6 trespassers might get little to no jail time which — it further claimed — might embarrass the Biden Administration.

Many Capitol rioters unlikely to serve jail time

The cases could embarrass the Biden administration, which has portrayed the Jan. 6 siege as a dire threat to democracy.

I have tremendous respect for the reporters involved, Josh Gerstein and Kyle Cheney. Yet the fact that experienced DOJ beat reporters could claim, as news, that non-violent civil disobedience might get no jail time made me really rethink the reporting on January 6, including my own. It’s crazier still that reporters might claim — generally, or in this situation — that a Democratic President might be embarrassed by DOJ treating civil disobedience as a misdemeanor offense.

In fact, Gerstein and Cheney are reporting on a subset of all the January 6 defendants, fewer than 60 of the 230 who had been formally charged by the time they wrote this, which they nevertheless describe as “many” of them.

A POLITICO analysis of the Capitol riot-related cases shows that almost a quarter of the more than 230 defendants formally and publicly charged so far face only misdemeanors. Dozens of those arrested are awaiting formal charges, even as new cases are being unsealed nearly every day.

Then, four paragraphs later, Politico explains why (they say) this might embarrass the Biden Administration: because both Biden himself and Merrick Garland called the larger event — in which 1,000 people, including 200 for assault and 100 for roles in a militia conspiracy, many still at large, must now be suspects — as a heinous attack.

The prospect of dozens of Jan. 6 rioters cutting deals for minor sentences could be hard to explain for the Biden administration, which has characterized the Capitol Hill mob as a uniquely dangerous threat. Before assuming office, Biden said the rioters’ attempt to overturn the election results by force “borders on sedition”; Attorney General Merrick Garland has called the prosecutions his top early priority, describing the storming of Congress as “a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy, the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”

Nowhere in the article do they provide any evidence that the assault on the Capitol wasn’t a heinous attack.

They base their claim that Biden might be embarrassed on expectations that DOJ prosecutors set, without noting that the first charges were filed before Biden was inaugurated and long before Garland was confirmed.

Justice Department prosecutors sent expectations sky-high in early statements and court filings, describing elaborate plots to murder lawmakers — descriptions prosecutors have tempered as new details emerged.

Jacob “QAnon Shaman” Chansley was arrested on January 8 and indicted on January 11. Eric “Zip Tie Guy” Munchel was arrested on January 10 and indicted, with his mother, on February 12. Thomas Caldwell was arrested on January 19 and indicted along with Oath Keepers Jessica Watkins and Donovan Crowl on January 27. They (including Caldwell but not Watkins and Crowl) are the main defendants, of more than 350, about whom prosecutors can fairly be said to have tempered “sky-high” expectations. Their arrests and that expectation-setting happened under Jeffrey Rosen and Michael Sherwin, not under Biden and definitely not under Merrick Garland (under whom DOJ referred Sherwin to OPR for investigation after he did some expectation-setting on 60 Minutes). Even still, for all four (as well as other edge cases about whom the press set high expectations, like Riley June Williams), the investigation remains ongoing and there are reasons, including ties to the militia conspiracies, to believe there was some basis for the original suspicions about these people.

Likewise, the decision to arrest first and investigate later, a decision that led to the flood of arrests before prosecutors really knew who had done the most egregious things during the attack, also occurred under the prior Administration.

Indeed, under Garland (though not necessarily because of Garland or the departure of Sherwin), DOJ seems to have focused more of their ongoing misdemeanor arrests on suspects who might have video footage of interest to prosecutors or defense attorneys, with far more of a focus in recent weeks on arresting assault and militia suspects. And one of the reasons for the delays described in the story is that after Garland came in, DOJ asked for 60 days to catch up on discovery. We may yet learn that he and his subordinates decided to change the “arrest first, investigate later” approach adopted before he came in.

Sure, the press has claimed that the government has backed off some of its claims in the militia conspiracies. They did so, for example, when prosecutors backed off certain claims solely for the purpose of an Ethan Nordean detention hearing that, filings submitted weeks later suggested, may have been an effort to protect a pending conspiracy indictment and, probably, a cooperating witness. They’ve done so with the Oath Keepers, even though recent developments suggest even Jessica Watkins’ lawyer may now understand her role in what appears to be a larger conspiracy coordinated in Signal leadership chats is more damning than Watkins originally claimed. If anything, the Oath Keeper and Proud Boy conspiracies may be more sophisticated tactically than originally claimed, and that’s before any explanation about things like who paid for vans of Proud Boys to travel from FL and what happened at twin events in DC and Florida in December, in which conspirators (and key Trump figures) played central roles. That’s also while the person who laid a pipe bomb the night before the the attack remains at large.

To further back its claim that Biden might be embarrassed, Politico implies that all the plea deals expected in weeks ahead will be misdemeanor pleas without jail time, which will be “awkward” for DOJ to defend.

Prosecutors have signaled that plea offers for some defendants will be coming within days and have readily acknowledged that some of the cases are less complicated to resolve than others.

“I think we can work out a non-trial disposition in this case,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Cole told Judge Dabney Friedrich last week in the case of Kevin Loftus, who was charged with unlawful presence and disrupting official business at the Capitol, among other offenses that have become the boilerplate set lodged against anyone who walked into the building that day without authorization.

The Justice Department will soon be in the awkward position of having to defend such deals, even as trials and lengthy sentences for those facing more serious charges could be a year or more away. [my emphasis]

Politico makes this claim even though at least some of the expected pleas may be cooperation agreements. For example, Ryan Samsel — who breached the west side of the Capitol in coordination with Proud Boys Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, knocking out a cop along the way — asked for a continuance to discuss a plea. One of the main Oath Keeper prosecutors, Ahmed Baset, asked for a continuance before indicting Oath Keeper associate Jon Schaffer, who was among the worst treated defendants and who agreed to the continuance in spite of remaining in pre-trial detention. Kash Kelly, currently charged with trespassing but also someone raised in discussions between Proud Boys affiliate James Sullivan and Rudy Giuliani, got a continuance to discuss a plea. Bryan Betancur, a Proud Boy who got jailed for a probation violation after he lied to his probation officer to attend the event, also got a continuance to discuss a plea to resolve his trespassing charges. The aforementioned Riley Williams, who was charged with obstructing the vote count and stealing a laptop from Nancy Pelosi, was filmed directing movement inside the Capitol, and has ties with Nick Fuentes, also got a continuance to discuss pleading before indictment. All five of these people likely have information that would be of use to prosecutors. All could limit their prison time (which would likely be significant for Samsel, who is accused of assault, played a key role in the insurrection, and has a criminal record) by cooperating with prosecutors. If any of these people sign plea deals — especially Samsel — it will likely provide new insight into how the conspiracy worked. Even with a plea deal, Samsel may still face a stiff sentence.

In other places, Politico conflates the discussions about the fate of misdemeanor defendants with discussions about detention (which prosecutors have only requested with a few accused trespassers), discussions about discovery, and Speedy Trial, all different things, many more urgent issues for misdemeanor defendants not included among those the story is purportedly about.

After I went on a rant about this story on Twitter, Gerstein defended the story by saying that people (none of whom were quoted in the story) seem to be surprised.

I agree with Gerstein that people have certain expectations. But that was clear before the end end of January. The record laid out here shows that such expectations did not come from Garland or Biden. Even Sherwin, with his totally inappropriate 60 Minutes interview, also explained from the start that DOJ was arresting the low hanging fruit at first while further investigating more serious suspects.

The fault, instead, lies with journalists, myself and these Politico journalists included, for not consistently and repeatedly explaining the various different roles people played on January 6, including that there were a number — though currently a shrinking fraction of the total set of defendants — who neither pre-meditated any effort to stop the vote count nor assaulted cops. I have tried to engage in this nuance (I included a list of such posts below), but given the sheer amount of court filings, much of the focus is currently on the militia conspiracies, suggesting a gravity that the MAGA tourists don’t merit. But in this article, rather than simply laying out the full range of defendants, describing how the MAGA Tourists played a key role in the success of the more serious conspirators (explicitly so for the Proud Boys, who talked about getting “normies” to do stuff they otherwise wouldn’t have done), describing how violence spread among participants and often as not among people who aren’t militia members, this Politico piece further distorts the record, not least by using this subset of “MAGA Tourists” — calling them “many” even though they represent just a quarter of defendants who have been formally charged — to stand in for the larger investigation, while minimizing the import of those charged with obstruction (likening that role to a CodePink interruption of a congressional hearing) because, evidence shows, they premeditated an attempt to undermine the election outcome.

So even while the piece describes how both judges and prosecutors understand that the mob as a whole posed a grave threat while some individual defendants did no more than provide cover for the more dangerous defendants (and many of the DC judges presiding over these cases have made such comments), Politico claims that there’s some embarrassment to this, including some kind of political risk for Biden.

Judges are also attempting to reckon with separating the individual actions of rioters from the collective threat of the mob, which they have noted helped inspire and provide cover for violent assaults, property destruction and increased the overall terror and danger of the assorted crimes committed.

That reckoning is coming sooner rather than later, lawyers say, putting prosecutors in the position of wrist-slapping many participants in the riot despite framing the crimes as part of an insurrection that presented a grave threat to American democracy.

If the MAGA tourists provided cover and helped overwhelm cops, thereby serving a useful role in the plans of those who had a more nefarious and organized purpose, then that’s the story that should be told, not some kind of both-sides political spin, particularly one that pits Biden’s claims about the seriousness of this on the footing as Trump’s outright lies about it. In spite of the overwhelming number of defendants, the record shows, DOJ is still assessing each one on the merits, which is what should happen. Declaring that politically embarrassing is an abdication of fair reporting on the legal system.

I believe DOJ has gotten it wrong, in both directions, in some cases. In addition to those listed above, I think DOJ has gone too harshly on some people who have openly supported far right, even Nazi views. But I also think DOJ has only considered whether militia members were members of premeditated conspiracies, focusing less on localized activist networks that have been implicated in violent (often anti-mask) pro-Trump actions in the past, taken on leadership roles at the riot, and engaged in ongoing communications about plans to shut down the vote, just like militias did. I think DOJ hasn’t come to grips with the organizational import of QAnon even while arguing that individual adherents of the cult must be jailed because they are delusional. And until DOJ decides how it will treat Trump’s actions and those of some close associates — something they likely cannot do without more investigation and cooperation deals from key participants — parts of this investigation will remain unsettled.

There are definitely things DOJ has reason to be embarrassed about: Gerstein has written more than any journalist about the unforgivable delays in moving defendants around the country and getting them arraigned. This piece also focuses on one of the handful of misdemeanor defendants who has been detained since being charged. While I understand the complexity of an investigation in which so much of the evidence — both exculpatory and inculpatory — remains in the hands of participants, defendants have a right to complain about the delay, especially those in detention. Defendants — particularly those in detention — are entitled to a Speedy Trial, even if DOJ moved too quickly to arrest them. While many of these things were exacerbated by COVID, they also largely arise from a decision to arrest first on those trespassing charges, and investigate later (which also has led to more defendants being charged with obstruction after the fact).

But none of those things have to do with Biden or Garland’s views about the investigation, or even the prosecutors who made decisions that created some of these problems in the first place (in part, probably, to avoid their own embarrassment at missing all warning signs, in part because they hadn’t investigated these threats aggressively enough and so had to make mass arrests to mitigate any immediate follow-on threats).

In short, this piece is an (uncharacteristic) mess, shoehorning complexity into a simplistic claim of political conflict, one inventing embarrassment out of thin air for Biden. If Politico has evidence that this wasn’t an unprecedented disruption to Congress, one that could have had a far worse outcome, including a threat to our democracy, or that this right wing violence is less of a threat than FBI says it is, by all means they should present that. At the same time, they can reveal the identity of the pipe bomber and the role (if any) that person played in the plot, without which no one can claim to actually know how serious this was.

Until then, they and all experienced DOJ beat reporters would be far better off by simply laying out a description of the different kinds of defendants we’re seeing, the different roles they played in disrupting the vote count and assaulting or undermining law enforcement, and explaining how those defendants are the same or different from defendants that have gone before them, on a spectrum of severity that stretches from CodePink to ISIS terrorists.

If people are going to be surprised when the subset of participants in January 6 who engaged in non-violent civil disobedience are treated as misdemeanor offenders, it’s not Joe Biden’s fault. It is a failure of journalism, my own included, for not making that more clear starting in January and reiterating it since then.

Update: Meanwhile, Jon Schaffer just agreed to two more weeks in jail.

Update: Corrected Munchel’s arrest date, which was January 10.

Update: Christopher Kelly (no relation to Kash) is another person with a consent continuance to discuss what would almost certainly be a cooperation agreement. He drove to and from the insurrection with some Proud Boys.


Posts attempting to contextualize the investigation

Here are some past attempts I’ve made at explaining how the parts of the January 6 investigation fit together:

DOJ Arresting Their Way to Clarity on Joe Biggs’ Two Breaches of the Capitol

The Proud Boys Leadership conspiracy indictment describes that Joe Biggs breached the Capitol twice.

He entered first on the west side through a door opened after Dominic Pezzola broke through an adjacent window with a riot shield.

At 2:14 p.m., BIGGS entered the Capitol building through a door on the northwest side. The door was opened after a Proud Boys member, Dominic Pezzola, charged elsewhere, used a riot shield at 2:13 p.m. to break window allowed rioters to enter the building and force open an adjacent door from the inside. BIGGS and Proud Boys members Gilbert Garcia, William Pepe, and Joshua Pruitt, each of whom are charged elsewhere, entered the same door within two minutes of its opening. At 2:19 p.m., a member of the Boots on the Ground channel posted, “We just stormed the capitol.”

Then, Biggs left the building, walked around it, took a selfie from the east side, then forced his way in the east side and headed from there to the Senate.

BIGGS subsequently exited the Capitol, and BIGGS and several Proud Boys posed for a picture at the top of the steps on the east side of the Capitol.

Thirty minutes after first entering the Capitol on the west side, BIGGS and two other members of the Proud boys, among others, forcibly re-entered the Capitol through the Columbus Doors on the east side of the Capitol, pushing past at least one law enforcement officer and entering the Capitol directly in front of a group of individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers. [my emphasis]

Understanding Biggs’ actions — including whether they were coordinated with the Oath Keepers who entered at virtually the same time as him (including fellow Floridian Kelly Meggs, who had just “organized an alliance” with the Proud Boys in December) — is crucial to understanding the insurrection as a whole.

That’s particularly true given that Biggs re-entered the Capitol and headed to the Senate, where Mike Pence had only recently been evacuated. That’s also true given how Biggs’ actions coincide so neatly with those of the Oath Keepers.

At the moment Pezzola breaks the Capitol window with a shield, Person Ten contacts Joshua James (from Alabama but seemingly affiliated with the Florida Oath Keepers). At the moment Biggs enters the Capitol, someone on the Oath Keepers’ Signal channel informed the list that “The[y] have taken ground at the capital [sic]. We need to regroup any members who are not on mission.” This is a quicker response than the Proud Boys Boots on the Ground channel itself had to the initial breach.

And that’s what happened. Both the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys regrouped and opened a new front on the assault on the Capitol.

Rhodes called Kelly Meggs. Person Ten called James. Then Rhodes had overlapping phone calls with Person Ten and Meggs. Around that time, The Stack started making their way to an entry of the Capitol on the other side of the building from where they were. And James and Minuta hopped in some golf carts and rushed to the Capitol (I’m not sure from where). During the period when The Stack, commanded by Kelly Meggs, was making their way to the Capitol and Biggs was walking around rather than through it, Roberto Minuta arrived and started harassing the cops guarding the door through which Biggs and The Stack would shortly enter, perhaps ensuring that the cops remained at their post rather than reinforcing the east side.

I had speculated here that Proud Boys in the initial breach — most notably former Army Captain Gabriel Garcia — were live streaming with the intent of providing tactical information to people located remotely who were performing a command and control function.

If you were following Garcia’s livestreams in real time — even from a remote location — you would have visibility on what was going on inside almost immediately after the first group of the Proud Boys breached the Capitol.

In a later livestream, Garcia narrated what happened in the minutes after the Proud Boys had breached the Capitol.

GARCIA states, “We just went ahead and stormed the Capitol. It’s about to get ugly.” Around him, a large crowd chants, “Our house!”

Then, as a standoff with some cops ensued, Garcia filmed himself describing, tactically, what was happening, and also making suggestions to escalate violence that were heeded by those around him.

At minute 1:34, a man tries to run through the line of USCP officers. The officers respond with force, which prompts GARCIA to shout, “You fucking traitors! You fucking traitors! Fuck you!” As the USCP officers try to maintain positive control of the man that just rushed the police line, GARCIA yells, “grab him!” seemingly instructing the individuals around him to retrieve the man from USCP officers. GARCIA is holding a large American flag, which he drops into the skirmish in an apparent attempt to assist the individuals who are struggling with the USCP officers.

USCP officers maintain control of the line, holding out their arms to keep the crowd from advancing. At least one USCP officer deploys an asp. GARCIA turns the camera on himself and offers tactical observations regarding the standoff. [my emphasis]

Garcia’s livestream was such that you would obtain crowd size estimates from it, as well as specific names of officers on the front line, as well as instructions to “keep ’em coming,” seemingly asking for more bodies for this confrontation.

At minute 3:26, GARCIA, who is still in extremely close proximity to the USCP officer line again yells, “Fucking traitors!” He then joins the crowd chanting “Our house!” At minute 3:38, GARCIA states, “You ain’t stopping a million of us.” He then turns the camera to the crowd behind him and says, “Keep ‘em coming. Keep ‘em coming. Storm this shit.” GARCIA chants with the crowd, “USA!”

Soon after, GARCIA stops chanting and begins speaking off camera with someone near him. At minute 4:28, GARCIA says, “do you want water?” Though unclear, GARCIA seems to be asking the person with whom he is speaking. GARCIA is so close to an officer that, as the camera shifts, the only images captured are those of the officer’s chest and badge. [my emphasis]

Remarkably, Garcia filmed himself successfully ordering the rioters to hold the line — which they do — and then filmed them charging the police.

GARCIA yells, “Back up! Hold the line!” Shortly thereafter, the crowd begins advancing, breaching the USCP officer line. GARCIA says, “Stop pushing.” The last moments captured in the video are of the crowd rushing the USCP officers.

A filing arguing for detention for Ethan Nordean confirms that Proud Boys located offsite were monitoring the livestream and providing instructions.

When the Defendant, his co-Defendants, and the Proud Boys under the Defendant’s command did, in fact, storm the Capitol grounds, messages on Telegram immediately reflected the event. PERSON-2 announced, “Storming the capital building right now!!” and then “Get there.” [Un-indicted co-conspirator-1] immediately followed by posting the message, “Storming the capital building right now!!” four consecutive times.6 These messages reflect that the men involved in the planning understood that the plan included storming the Capitol grounds. This shared understanding of the plan is further reflected in co-Defendant Biggs’ real-time descriptions that “we’ve just taken the Capitol” and “we just stormed the fucking Capitol.”

6 UCC-1 and PERSON-2 are not believed to have been present on the Capitol grounds, but rather indicated that they were monitoring events remotely using livestreams and other methods.*

So at least on the Proud Boys side, there was this kind of command and control.

And the government has been arresting their way to some clarity on this point.

Sometime before March 1, the government got access to both the leadership Telegram channel the Proud Boys used to coordinate the insurrection and the “Boots on the Ground” channel, meaning they’ve got monikers for around 35 active Proud Boy participants in the insurrection who have not yet been arrested. In the weeks since the Biggs and Nordean conspiracy indictment disclosed that the government had these chats, the government has arrested several people with ties to one or another of these men (though without saying whether they identified them from the Boots on the Ground channel or whether they arrested them at this time for investigative reasons).

Two of these men just happen to be two of Joe Biggs’ co-travelers the day of the insurrection, Paul Rae and Arthur Jackman, both also from Florida. The complaints for both are very similar, possibly written by the same FBI agent. Both complaints go through the greatest hits of the Proud Boy actions that day, listing all the conspiracies already charged. While the affidavits include the testimony of acquaintances of both men (in Jackman’s case, obtained after a January 19 interview with Jackman himself, meaning that testimony couldn’t be the lead via which they IDed him), the affidavits also focus on their entries with Joe Biggs, with Rae entering the west Capitol door right next to Biggs.

And Jackman walking up steps with his hand on Biggs’ shoulder.

Each affidavit includes the photo obtained from warrants served on Biggs showing the selfie mentioned in the Leader indictment (bolded above).

In Rae’s affidavit, they’ve redacted out all but his face and Biggs’.

They use the same approach in Jackman’s affidavit, redacting the others (including Rae, who had already been arrested).

If I were one of the two other guys in this picture, I’d be arranging legal representation right now.

The affidavits show both men entering the Capitol on the east side, along with Biggs. As he did on the west side, Rae walked in beside Biggs (you can see Jackman just ahead of Rae in this picture).

And as he did elsewhere in the Capitol, Jackman walked with his hand on Biggs’ shoulder.

Jackman’s affidavit shows him in the Senate (where we know Biggs also went).

The government arrested Rae on March 24. They arrested Jackman on March 30. Again, I’d be pretty nervous if I were one of the other two guys.

Because if the government can show that this second breach by Biggs was coordinated with the Oath Keepers, with The Stack led by the guy who arranged an alliance in December, Kelly Meggs, it will make these five separate conspiracies mighty cozy (in any case, the government is already starting to refer to the multiple Proud Boys conspiracies as one).

There’s at least one other action on which both militias may have coordinated: aborted efforts to launch a second wave after 4PM, something that Rudy Giuliani seems to have had insight into.

But for now, the government seems pretty focused on arresting their way to clarity about why Joe Biggs breached the Capitol, then walked outside and around it, and then breached it again.


* I had suggested in this post that UCC-1 might be Nicholas Ochs. But that’s not possible, because the government knows he was onsite. Moreover, the government is now treating defendants in one of the Proud Boys conspiracy indictments (most notably Dominic Pezzola) as co-conspirators with those charged in other conspiracy indictments (including Nordean), so Ochs would be an indicted co-conspirator. Another — far more intriguing possibility — is that it is James Sullivan (who might have a leadership role in Utah’s Proud Boys), who was in contact with Rudy Giuliani about the insurrection, and who inexplicably hasn’t been arrested. Certainly, Rudy seems to have had the information available on those chats in real time.

Were Proud Boys Using Livestream for Command and Control … and Other Operational Questions

Mapping out both the four charged conspiracy indictments against the Proud Boys as well as some — not all — of those with links to the groups who have not been included in the conspiracy indictments, has raised specific questions for me about how the Proud Boys operated that day and how they’re being prosecuted.

Were the Proud Boys using livestreams for command and control?

I’ve had this question more generally: whether someone offsite from the Capitol was providing Command and Control guidance for the assault on the Capitol. But the new “Leadership conspiracy” indictment against Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs mentions that Gabriel Garcia — along with Joshua Pruitt — were among those who charged on the Capitol in the first wave, along with Dominic Pezzola.

That, by itself, makes me wonder if DOJ is going to expand that “Front Door” conspiracy to include Garcia and Pruitt.

But the content of Garcia’s charging document raises more questions for me.

Garcia is a former Army Captain, so one of the higher ranking former veterans among the Proud Boy defendants. He may have been IDed by what we now know was a request that Facebook provide the IDs associated with all the livestream video uploaded during the insurrection from inside the Capitol (indeed, it was Garcia’s complaint that first led me to suspect the FBI had used one).

Based on information provided by Facebook, Facebook User ID (“UID”) 100000183142825 has a Facebook account under the name “GABRIEL GARCIA.” GARCIA uploaded to his Facebook account at least two “Facebook live” videos taken inside of the Capitol building on January 6, 2021. Additionally, GARCIA uploaded at least one video before entering the Capitol building.

[snip]

In the video, GARCIA is walking east on Constitution Avenue towards the Capitol building with a large group of people. 2

Approximately 20 minutes later, at 19:19:08 UTC, or 02:19pm, GARCIA uploaded to Facebook a video filmed from inside the Capitol building:

If you were following Garcia’s livestreams in real time — even from a remote location — you would have visibility on what was going on inside almost immediately after the first group of the Proud Boys breached the Capitol.

In a later livestream, Garcia narrated what happened in the minutes after the Proud Boys had breached the Capitol.

GARCIA states, “We just went ahead and stormed the Capitol. It’s about to get ugly.” Around him, a large crowd chants, “Our house!”

Then, as a standoff with some cops ensued, Garcia filmed himself describing, tactically, what was happening, and also making suggestions to escalate violence that were heeded by those around him.

At minute 1:34, a man tries to run through the line of USCP officers. The officers respond with force, which prompts GARCIA to shout, “You fucking traitors! You fucking traitors! Fuck you!” As the USCP officers try to maintain positive control of the man that just rushed the police line, GARCIA yells, “grab him!” seemingly instructing the individuals around him to retrieve the man from USCP officers. GARCIA is holding a large American flag, which he drops into the skirmish in an apparent attempt to assist the individuals who are struggling with the USCP officers.

USCP officers maintain control of the line, holding out their arms to keep the crowd from advancing. At least one USCP officer deploys an asp. GARCIA turns the camera on himself and offers tactical observations regarding the standoff. [my emphasis]

Garcia’s livestream was such that you would obtain crowd size estimates from it, as well as specific names of officers on the front line, as well as instructions to “keep ’em coming,” seemingly asking for more bodies for this confrontation.

At minute 3:26, GARCIA, who is still in extremely close proximity to the USCP officer line again yells, “Fucking traitors!” He then joins the crowd chanting “Our house!” At minute 3:38, GARCIA states, “You ain’t stopping a million of us.” He then turns the camera to the crowd behind him and says, “Keep ‘em coming. Keep ‘em coming. Storm this shit.” GARCIA chants with the crowd, “USA!”

Soon after, GARCIA stops chanting and begins speaking off camera with someone near him. At minute 4:28, GARCIA says, “do you want water?” Though unclear, GARCIA seems to be asking the person with whom he is speaking. GARCIA is so close to an officer that, as the camera shifts, the only images captured are those of the officer’s chest and badge. [my emphasis]

Remarkably, Garcia filmed himself successfully ordering the rioters to hold the line — which they do — and then filmed them charging the police.

GARCIA yells, “Back up! Hold the line!” Shortly thereafter, the crowd begins advancing, breaching the USCP officer line. GARCIA says, “Stop pushing.” The last moments captured in the video are of the crowd rushing the USCP officers.

In the arrest affidavit for the Kansas City Proud Boys, a footnote describes how Nicholas Ochs and Nicholas DeCarlo were similarly filming what was going on as the Kansas City Proud Boys successfully thwarted police efforts to shut down access to the tunnels.

Proud Boys Nicholas Ochs and Nicholas DeCarlo can be seen in the background recording the unlawful conduct with their phones and other devices.

While their arrest documents don’t show the two livestreaming on Facebook (and Ochs would later complain about the connectivity inside the Capitol), if they were livestreaming somewhere, it would mean live video of tactically important moments from the siege would have been available to someone outside the Capitol or even someone watching more remotely, from a hotel room or even Florida.

Certainly, Garcia’s stream would be operationally useful if someone were providing command and control remotely. Was someone?

Does DOJ now have a list of all the teams from the Telegram channels?

The latest detention motions for Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs (as well as the Leadership Conspiracy indictment) describe the process of divvying up the Proud Boys in attendance into teams, which process involves an unindicted co-conspirator who presumably is cooperating.

January 4, 8:20 PM, unindicted co-conspirator: “We had originally planned on breaking the guys into teams. Let’s start divying them up and getting baofeng channels picked out.”

January 5, 9:30 to 9:32 AM, Biggs: “What are the teams. I keep hearing team [sic] are picked already.” A few minutes later, [Biggs] stated “Who are we going to be with. I have guys with me in other chats saying teams are being put together.”

January 5, 9:17 to 9:20 PM, Biggs: “We just had a meeting woth [sic] a lot of guys. Info should be coming out” … “I was able to rally everyone here together who came where I said” … “We have a plan. I’m with [Nordean]. [my emphasis]

The replication of these Telegram chats, from two different channels, stops at 10AM on January 6 (they presumably continued after that time, but we know that Nordean’s phone was turned off during the day).

That suggests DOJ is likely to know what the various teams were and who led them. There were 60 people on the participants’ Telegram channel from that day, which means they may have a lot more teams to indict.

Who paid for the vans from Florida to DC?

The detention memo for Christopher Worrell, a Proud Boy who sprayed law enforcement with pepper spray, reveals that he and his girlfriend traveled to DC on vans paid for by someone else and stayed in hotels also paid for by someone else.

According to Worrell’s live-in girlfriend, who was interviewed by law enforcement on March 12, 2021, she and Worrell traveled to Washington D.C. in the days leading up to January 6, 2021, with other Proud Boys in vans paid for by another individual. Their hotel rooms were also paid for by another individual.

Particularly given that these vans were from Florida — where Tarrio, Biggs, and the key figures from the Oath Keepers all hung out (and hung out with Roger Stone) — the person that paid for these things may be on the hook for any conspiracy ultimately charged as a whole.

What kind of cooperation will DOJ get from the Front Door co-conspirators?

As of right now, just Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe are charged in what I call the “Front Door” conspiracy — the group of people who first breached the Capitol on the west side of the building. As noted above, DOJ itself identified Garcia and Pruitt to have some tie to this group (which makes me wonder if an expanded conspiracy obtained Friday will be released before I’m done with this post!).

But DOJ has not included Robert Gieswein or Ryan Samsel, who were also part of this initial assault. Neither is described as a Proud Boy in their charging documents, but both were with the Proud Boys before the operation. Both men are also on the hook for fairly serious assault charges (a cop that Samsel pushed over got a concussion and Gieswein brought a bat he used). Samsel has not been indicted and the joint request for a continuance (filed way back on February 17) explaining why explicitly states the two sides are seeking a “resolution,” (that is, a plea deal).

The government and counsel for the defendant have conferred, and are continuing to communicate in an effort to resolve this matter.

As to Gieswein, he has been indicted. But his docket has none of the proceedings that cases moving towards trial would have, such as a motion for a protective order (though given the delays on PACER postings that doesn’t definitely mean anything). And well after his magistrate docket in Colorado was closed, he submitted several sealed filings to it.

If I were someone that the government had dead to rights with not just brutal assault, but assault that was tactically important to the success of the entire operation, particularly if I had a criminal record that would add to prison time at sentencing (as Samsel does), I would sure want to help prosecutors assign some responsibility for those assaults to those who guided my actions on that day. Thus far, assault is not included in any of the conspiracy indictments (it is individually charged against Pezzola and a threatened assault was charged against William Chrestman), but if it were, it would raise the stakes of them significantly.

I’m also interested in the case of Chris Kelly. He’s not a Proud Boy. But in advance of his trip, he made it public that he was traveling to DC from NY with some members of the Proud Boys.

I’ll be with ex NYPD and some proud boys. This will be the most historic event of my life.

Kelly also made it clear the NYPD officer was his brother.

The Kelly Facebook Account also shows on January 2, 2021 KELLY messaged another user and stated, “Me and [NAME] plus a couple of others are headed down the 5th and staying 2 nights. Ill be frequency 462.662 on a ham radio if cell service goes down.” Public records databases also revealed Christopher M Kelly has a brother (“S1”) of New City, New York with the same first name used in the above statement. New York City Police Department records confirm S1 is a retired police officer. Based on this statement, and the statement above about traveling with “ex NYPD and some proud boys” your affiant believes that this comment indicated that KELLY planned to travel to Washington, D.C. with S1.

We still don’t know who a cooperating witness against Pezzola and Pepe is, who described to the FBI, almost immediately, a conversation promising that the Proud Boys would have killed Mike Pence had they found him that day. Pezzola had suspected that it was the guy who first recruited him into the Proud Boys and further speculated the conversation reported by the witness occurred on the trip home (which would help to explain how Pepe, also from NY, got included in conspiracy charges with Pezzola). That is, Pezzola believed that the cooperating witness must have been in a car with him from DC to NY.

But the government revealed that they are not prosecuting this cooperating witness.

The defendant speculates that W-1 is a “cooperating witness” with deeper ties to the Proud Boys than the defendant. The defense is incorrect. W-1 has not been charged with a crime in connection with the events of January 6, 2021, and the government is unaware of any affiliation between W-1 and the Proud Boys or any indication that W-1 knew the defendant prior to January 5, 2021.

Kelly can’t be that witness. He had already been charged at the time. But unless I missed his arrest, Kelly’s brother might be. And if his brother were cooperating (which would require honest testimony about what brother Chris had done), then it would raise the chances that Chris Kelly would be too. And why not? If I had traveled to DC with the people who initiated the entire insurrection, I’d want to make damned clear that I wasn’t part of that. Like Samsel, Kelly has not been indicted (publicly) yet.

For some time, the government had been saying they weren’t prepared to make plea deals yet. The inclusion of Co-Conspirator 1 in the Leadership indictment strongly suggests that’s done. And if Samsel and the government were discussing a plea over a month ago, you can be sure he has already proffered testimony to the government.

So the government likely has some cooperators in the “Front Door” conspiracy. The question is only, how much?

The State of the Five Now-Intersecting January 6 Militia Conspiracies

Paragraph 64 of a new conspiracy indictment including Proud Boys Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs, and the newly arrested Proud Boys Zachary Rehl and Charles Donohoe includes a seemingly gratuitous reference to the Oath Keepers. The paragraph describes how Biggs, after having entered the Capitol once already from the northwest side, then moved to the opposite side of the building and forced his way in on the east side. He did so right in front of a group of Oath Keepers.

Thirty minutes after first entering the Capitol on the west side, BIGGS and two other members of the Proud boys, among others, forcibly re-entered the Capitol through the Columbus Doors on the east side of the Capitol, pushing past at least one law enforcement officer and entering the Capitol directly in front of a group of individuals affiliated with the Oath Keepers.

This would have been around 2:44 PM. The Oath Keeper “stack” went in the east side of the Capitol at around 2:40.

That reference, along with the common use of the Zello application, brings two parallel conspiracies laid out over a month ago closer together, arguably intersecting. As of right now, DOJ has charged 25 people in five different conspiracy indictments, four of which share precisely the same goal: to stop, delay, and hinder Congress’s certification of the Electoral College vote, with many similar means and methods. Three conspiracy indictments also share roughly the same goal of obstructing law enforcement. Those indictments are:

Here’s what a simplified version of the five different conspiracies looks like:

This is not the end of it: there are three Oath Keepers not included in that conspiracy, and a random bunch of Proud Boys who might eventually be included, as well as anyone else who coordinated this effort [wink]. But these conspiracy indictments will remain separate only for prosecutorial ease. They are, for all intents and purposes, now-intersecting conspiracies.

Update: Last night, NYT’s visual team released new videos showing that the Oath Keepers Stack was involved in forcing entry into the East entrance of the Capitol. These videos depict what happened moments after Biggs reentered the Capitol, as described above.

Update: To see how the other pieces of any coordinated action fit, I will list the other Oath Keepers and Proud Boys that have played a part in this operation.

Oath Keepers

Stewart Rhodes: The Oath Keeper President. He is not charged, but implicated in the existing Oath Keepers indictment and the Minuta complaint.

Roberto Minuta: Minuta was arrested on March 8. An SDNY Magistrate judge released him on bail (he almost put up silver bars for his security, but ended up coming up with the money itself), ignoring the government request he stay the order. Minuta’s arrest affidavit–which was written 12 days before James’ but executed roughly the same day–focuses primarily on Minuta’s harassment of cops. It doesn’t mention, as James’ affidavit does, Minuta’s role in providing security, including for Roger Stone. Minuta also deleted his Facebook account on January 13, for which he was charged with obstruction.

Joshua James: James was arrested on March 9 and held without bail (in part because of a past arrest associated with claiming to be a military police officer in 2011). His arrest affidavit makes it clear he was a close contact with Minuta as well as Kelly Meggs. The affidavit repeatedly describes James offering security to VIPs we know to include Roger Stone. According to public reporting, James received payment for his “security” services on January 6, which Stone was publicly fundraising for in advance (then denied spending).

Jon Ryan Schaffer: The front man for the heavy metal band Iced Earth and an Oath Keeper lifetime member, Schaffer was arrested for spraying some police with bear spray. But two months after his arrest and detention, he has not been (publicly) indicted and only arrived in DC on March 17. The government has not publicly responded to his motion to dismiss his case on Speedy Trial grounds. All of which suggests there’s something more there that we can’t see.

Person Four: The James affidavit refers to Minuta as “Person Five.” It uses that number, it says, because “Persons Two [Caldwell’s spouse], Three [the NC-based Oath Keeper who might serve as a Quick Reaction Force], and Four are not included in this affidavit, but are already-numbered individuals associated with United States v. Thomas Caldwell, et al, Case No. 21-cr-28 (APM). To maintain consistent nomenclature, the referenced individual here will be defined as ‘Person Five.'” I haven’t been able to find the reference to Person Four (though it might be Watkins’ partner, references to whom are inconsistent).

Three more Stack participants and four others who operated with Minuta and James on January 6: This image, from James’ complaint, identifies three other Stack members (the second, third, and last yellow arrow) and four others who interacted with James and Minuta during the day on January 6.

Proud Boys

Enrique Tarrio: Tarrio is the head of the Proud Boys, but got arrested as he entered DC on January 4 on charges relating to vandalizing a Black church in December, onto which possession charges were added. He is referred to in all the Proud Boy conspiracies, repeatedly in the Leader one (because they scrambled to figure out what to do after his arrest). While it’s unlikely he was on the Telegram channels used to organize the insurrection, he was in touch with members via other, thus far unidentified channels.

Joshua Pruitt: Pruitt was arrested for a curfew violation on the night of the insurrection. He told the FBI he hadn’t engaged in any unlawful activity and was just trying to deescalate the situation. But he was indicted on his own weeks later for obstructing the vote count and interfering with cops, and abetting the destruction of property, along with trespassing. The Nordean conspiracy indictment notes that he went in the West entrance shortly after Dominic Pezzola breached it (suggesting the government may now know he was part of a cell with Pezzola). Pruitt is being prosecuted by the same prosecutor as on most Proud Boy cases, Christopher Berridge, and before the same judge, Timothy Kelly.

Gabriel Garcia: Garcia, a former Army Captain, appears to have originally been identified by the Facebook order showing who livestreamed from the Capitol. It’s possible his livestreams were intended to serve as live reporting for those coordinating outside (he catches the names of cops, the size of the crowd, and instructs, “keep ’em coming.” He incites a big push through a line of cops. Later, he calls for “Nancy” to “come out and play” and calls to “Free Enrique” [Tarrio]. He was charged by complaint on January 16 and by indictment on February 16 with obstruction and resisting cops during civil disorder. The Nordean conspiracy indictment notes he went in the West entrance shortly after Pezzola breached it.

Christopher Worrell: The government originally charged Worrell, a committed Proud Boy who traveled to DC in vans of Proud Boys paid for by someone else and wore comms equipment, with trespass crimes on March 10. Among his criminal background, he pretended to be a cop to intimidate a woman. He lied in his first interview with the FBI, hiding that he sprayed pepper spray on some police who were the last line of defense on the West side of the Capitol. According to a witness who knows him, he also directed other likely Proud Boys. After first being released, he was subsequently detained and is awaiting indictment on what the government suggests are likely to be assault charges.

Robert Gieswein: Ethan Nordean spoke to Giswein shortly before he and Pezzola launched the attack on the Capitol suggesting that Gieswein, who had known ties to the 3% movement, was coordinating with the Proud Boys that day. Over the course of breaking into the Capitol, he allegedly assaulted 3 cops with a bat or pepper spray, and broke a window to break in. He was first charged on January 16, indicted on January 27. His docket shows none of the normal proceedings, such as a protective order, but his magistrate’s docket shows two sealed documents placed there in recent weeks.

Ryan Samsel: There’s no indication I know of that ties Samsel to the Proud Boys. But he marched with them and initiated the assault on the West side of the Capitol with Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe. He was charged with assault and obstruction on January 29 and arrested on February 3. In his case, he allegedly did so by assaulting a cop at the first line of barriers, knocking her out. He and the government are in talks for a guilty plea.

Ryan Bennett: Bennett was IDed off his own Facebook livestreaming, while wearing a Proud Boys hat, of the event, including his direct witness to the shooting of Ashli Bennett, with his voice yelling “Break it down!” in the background. He was arrested on January 26 and charged in a still-sealed March 17 indictment over which James Boasberg will preside.

Bryan Betancur: Betancur was busted by his Maryland Probation Officer, to whom he had lied about distributing Bibles to get permission to go to DC. He wore a Proud Boys shirt to the insurrection and is a known white supremacist who espouses violence. He was charged with misdemeanor trespass charges. His defense attorney is already discussing a guilty plea.

Daniel Goodwyn: Goodwyn’s online identity is closely associated with the Proud Boys. He was identified via an interview he did with Baked Alaska during the insurrection and texts sent to an associate; he was arrested on January 29. He was originally charged with trespass, with obstruction added in his indictment on February 24. Charles Berridge was originally the prosecutor on this case but has been replaced on it.

Christopher Kelly: Kelly revealed on Facebook before he headed to DC that he would be going with, “ex NYPD and some proud boys.” While inside, he bragged that they had “stopped the hearing, they are all headed to the basement.” He was originally charged with trespass and obstruction on January 20; he has yet to be (publicly) indicted yet. He has the same defense attorney, Edward McMahon, as Nicholas Ochs.

Around 40 other people who used the Proud Boys “Boots on the Ground” Telegram channel: As I noted here, the government must have at least monikers for — and likely email and/or device identifiers — for around 40 people who used the organizing channel set up less than a day before the operation. It will be interesting to see if they attempt to track all of them down.

Rolling Updates:

Marc Bru, a Proud Boy with ties to Nordean, was charged on March 9.

Paul Rae, a Proud Boy from Florida who trailed Biggs both times he entered the Capitol.

Arthur Jackman: a Proud Boy from Florida who trailed Biggs both times he entered the Capitol, including into the Senate.

 

GoToInsurrection and Other Astounding Oath Keeper Social Media Habits

DOJ has now charged the following Oath Keeper associates:

Between all the charges, prosecutors have laid out a breathtaking scope of social media use by the militia:

  • A leadership list on Signal they appear to have obtained from either Watkins and/or Kelly Meggs
  • Open channels on Zello, possibly separate ones for each large event
  • Telephony chats and texts, including during January 6
  • MeWe accounts
  • Way too much blabbing on Facebook, followed by a foolish belief they could delete such content
  • Parler for further blabbing
  • Stripe for payment processing (possibly for dues)
  • GoToMeeting for operational planning

Plus, most of the people arrested thus far had their cell phones on, pinging cell towers, while they were in the Capitol (thus far, two of the accused did not enter the Capitol).

It’s the GoToMeeting revelation, in Harrelson’s affidavit, that gets me:

Pursuant to legal process, the government obtained records from Go To Meeting showing that a user named “gator 6” was the organizer for a meeting titled “dc planning call” on January 3, 2021. The user “gator 6” accessed the meeting from a mobile device using the same IP address ending in 158 [as Harrelson used to access Apple servers], and the user listed themselves as living in Titusville, Florida. Between September 30, 2020, and January 3, 2021, the user with the same IP address ending in 158 attended or organized approximately 30 meetings on Go To Meeting affiliated with the Oath Keepers, using the names “gator 6,” “hotel 26,” or kenneth harrelson.”

GoToMeeting is basically spyware for your computer, because it has to access so many features of your computer to work. As a default it collects a great deal of data on participants, and can be set to collect more. It is end-to-end encrypted, but with legal process FBI might be able to get a great deal of information from GTM, if the Oath Keepers kept it.

Between these twelve people, then, DOJ has served legal process on enough databases to create a veritable dossier on the Oath Keepers. While some of these comms (such as the Zello comms) are ephemeral, Facebook and GoToMeeting and Stripe are data vacuums.

With a database like this, the government can be choosy about which Oath Keepers they arrest. Reportedly, DOJ says they may add 6 more people to their collection of Oath Keeper defendants.

Indeed, it’s not really clear why they’ve charged the last three — Minuta, James, and Harrelson — before charging the last several members of the Stack that entered the Capitol together.

Harrelson was not part of the Stack, but the affidavit justifying his arrest shows him — and another guy — in communication as the Stack came up the Capitol steps, with Harrelson interacting with Graydon Young inside the Capitol. But his organizing efforts in Florida would put him in close touch with the Meggses (Kelly leads the Florida chapter) and James (who lives in Alabama but seems to be tied to the Florida chapter), along with Young (who lives in Titusville).

These Florida Oath Keepers were providing “security” for Roger Stone well before the January insurrection, including an event in Florida. (MoJo had a summary of who provided security when yesterday.)

As for Minuta, in addition to serving as Stone’s security on January 5 and 6, he also was abusive to cops before entering the Capitol and on his way out, when he promised the Second Amendment option came next. Like Young, Minuta is also accused of deleting Facebook, probably just as unsuccessfully.

In James’ case, DOJ seems particularly interested in the communications he had with Minuta, called Person Five in the affidavit even though he was already arrested by the time it was approved.

While James stood with the other Oath Keepers, at least one of them (who will be referred to below as “Person Five”)2 aggressively berated and taunted U.S. Capitol police officers responsible for protecting the Capitol and the representatives inside.

[snip]

Records indicate that phone number XXX-XXX-4304 (associated with James) exchanged a number of phone calls throughout November and December 2020 with a person who will be referred to herein as Person Five.

On November 13 and 14, 2020, for example, phone number XXX-XXX-4304 (associated with James) exchanged approximately eight calls with the number associated with Person Five. Your affiant is aware that certain Oath Keepers attended rallies in Washington, D.C., held on November 14, 2020, at which some Oath Keepers, to include Person Five, operated as a personal security detail for one or more speakers at the events.

Later, on or around November 20 and December 11, 2020, records indicate that phone number XXX-XXX-4304 (associated with James) exchanged two phone calls with Person Five. Your affiant is aware that certain Oath Keepers attended rallies in Washington, D.C., held on December 12, 2020, to protest the results of the 2020 election—at which some Oath Keepers, to include Person Five, operated as a personal security detail for speakers at the events.

Finally, records indicate that, on or around January 5, 2021, phone number XXXXXX-4304 (associated with James) exchanged six calls with the number associated with Person Five. That day, James, Person Five, and other individuals wearing apparel with the Oath Keepers name and/or insignia provided security to a speaker at the “Stop the Steal” events planned for that day.

Note that Minuta was hanging out with Proud Boy Dominic Pezzola in that December MAGA event.

James’ affidavit ends with this group photo, identifying Connie Meggs, two still uncharged Stack participants, four uncharged people who tracked with James and Minuta during the insurrection, Kelly Meggs, and another Stack member.

Both the Minuta and James affidavits focus on Oath Keeper head Stewart Rhodes, described as Person One, as does this detailed filing opposing bail for Caldwell.

James stayed in touch with others during the time of active investigation:

Since January 6, 2021, phone number XXX-XXX-4304 (known to be associated with James) has exchanged multiple phone calls and text messages with the number associated with Person Five. The number associated with James has also placed at least one call as recently as February 2021, to a phone number known to be associated with Kelly Meggs, the now-arrested self-described Florida Oath Keeper leader.

Thus far, DOJ isn’t explaining why Minuta, James, and Harrelson were arrested in the weeks after FBI started exploiting the Signal chats that organized Oath Keeper efforts on January 6 and, particular, Kelly Meggs’ communications.

But because the Oath Keepers were such promiscuous users of all kinds of social media tools, the FBI has a remarkable collection of data about the group’s activities since last fall. And they’ve picked these guys to arrest.

Update: In his detention hearing today, the FBI focused on James’ providing security for Stone.

The FBI agent who testified at Thursday’s hearing said several firearms were found during a search warrant executed at James’ home. All of the firearms were legal, and none were confiscated. They included a shotgun, a hunting rifle, a few “AR-15 style rifles,” and two pistols, the agent said.

James was paid $1,500 for security at two events, including a “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, according from testimony from his wife, Audrey James. Stone and other pro-Trump figures held several events in Washington in addition to the official rally that Trump spoke at shortly before the attack.

Audrey James said she was sent “around $1,500 total” directly from the Oath Keepers over a mobile app. She stated the funds were paid out over a couple of months to assist her and her children during Joshua James’ absence to Texas and Washington, DC, while he was providing security. She said she didn’t know where the money originated from.

This story, by itself, presents real problems with the story Stone told. He raised funds for “security” in advance of the insurrection, but then said he couldn’t find paid security so relied on volunteers.

Beryl Howell Takes an Early Swipe at the Trump Made-Me-Do-It Defense and Other Detention Standards

When DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell ordered Richard Barnett detained pending trial, the only record of her judgement — beyond her strong language at the detention hearing — was the order itself, including a paragraph about Barnett’s, “brazen conduct.” When she ordered Rachel Powell released to home detention, she released no opinion.

But when she ordered Proud Boy William Chrestman detained until trial, she wrote a 32-page opinion explaining her thinking. With regards to Chrestman — who threatened a cop, carried an axe-handle as weapon, and organized a cell of people who worked together to prevent police from expelling insurrectionists — Howell judged that his pre-trial detention wasn’t a close call: he poses a danger to the nation.

Defendant’s conduct on January 6 and blatant disregard for the law clearly show that he is a serious danger to the community and the nation, and that no condition or combination of conditions can be imposed that will ensure his compliance with the law pending trial in this matter.

But as one after another DC District judge struggles with the difficult pre-trial detention questions and just days after Judge Amit Mehta noted that some of these legal questions will pertain to a significant number of January 6 decisions, Howell used her decision on Chrestman to address three issues that have been and will continue to be litigated by insurrectionists:

  • Standards for review of magistrate decisions from other districts
  • The distinctions between different roles in the insurrection
  • The claim that Trump ordered or sanctioned insurrection

Magistrate decisions from other districts

As she did with a number of other defendants, after a magistrate in Kansas granted Chrestman pre-trial release, Judge Howell granted an emergency request from prosecutors staying that order for another review. And in at least one case where DC judges reviewed a magistrate’s decision (Dominic Pezzola), the defendant has tried to limit the scope of the review.

In most cases, January 6 defendants will have their cases initially reviewed by a magistrate local to their homes, only to be prosecuted in the DC District.

Perhaps to establish both the primacy and the scope of these District Court orders, in her opinion Howell reviews the requirements for granting a hearing on detention (both Jessica Watkins’ and Thomas Caldwell’s attorneys had argued their charged crimes did not merit a review).

As generally pertinent to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, a detention hearing must be held on the government’s motion when the charged offense involves:

1. “[A] crime of violence,” id. § 3142(f)(1)(A), which is defined broadly as an offense having as an element the attempted, threatened, or actual use of physical force against a person or property of another, or a felony offense that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense, id. § 3156(a)(4)(A)–(B);

2. “[A]n offense listed in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed,” id. § 3142(f)(1)(A), which “list” includes “a violation of . . . [18 U.S.C. §] 1361 (relating to government property or contracts),” id. § 2332b(g)(5)(B)(i);4

3. “[A]ny felony that is not otherwise a crime of violence that involves . . . the possession or use of a firearm or destructive device . . . or any other dangerous weapon[,]” id. § 3142(f)(1)(E);

4. “[A] serious risk that such person will flee,” id. § 3142(f)(2)(A); or

5. “[A] serious risk that such person will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice, or threaten, injure, or intimidate, or attempt to threaten, injure, or intimidate, a prospective witness or juror,” id. § 3142(f)(2)(B).

A subset of the types of offenses requiring a detention hearing triggers a rebuttable presumption “that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of the community if the judicial officer finds that there is probable cause to believe that the person committed” that subset of offenses. Id. § 3142(e)(3). As pertinent to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, that subset of offenses includes “an offense listed in section 2332b(g)(5)(B) of title 18, United States Code, for which a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years or more is prescribed.” Id. § 3142(e)(3)(C).

4 18 U.S.C. § 2332b(g)(5) provides a definition for “the term ‘Federal crime of terrorism,’” when the offense is “a violation of” an enumerated list of Federal offenses set out in § 2332b(g)(5)(i)–(iv) and the offense “is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct,” id. § 2332b(g)(5)(A). While individuals involved in the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol expressed publicly the intent to disrupt a government function in certifying the results of the 2020 Presidential Election and to coerce such disruption by breaching the Capitol, to date, to the knowledge of this Judge, no person charged in connection with the assault on the Capitol has been charged with a “Federal crime of terrorism,” under chapter 113B of title 18, United States Code, but only with separate, predicate enumerated offenses, such as violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1361 (relating to government property or contracts).

Howell then reaffirms that when conducting such reviews, District Court judges conduct a de novo review (Dominic Pezzola’s attorney, for example, asked the District judge for a more limited review).

[B]oth the BRA and the Federal Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636, support the conclusion, reached by every circuit to have considered the question, that a district court reviews a magistrate judge’s release or detention order de novo.

[snip]

First, the BRA vests the authority to review and ultimately to “determine[]” a motion for review of a pretrial release or detention order in a “judge of a court having original jurisdiction over the offense.” 18 U.S.C. § 3145. Even when reviewing an order issued under § 3142, then, the district court exercises its original jurisdiction over the case as a whole, not appellate jurisdiction over the magistrate judge’s release or detention order.

Thus in the Chrestman case and in the hundred or so detention motions that will come, Howell lays out, the DC District judge will — if the government requests a review under the available offenses — decide the detention question.

Distinctions between different roles in the insurrection

Howell then turns to the difficult question of presiding over the detention reviews for hundreds of defendants involved in an unprecedented crime. Before assessing the question with respect to Chrestman, she addresses the question more generally:

The BRA, of course, requires a reviewing court to assess the specific conduct of each defendant, but the varying results in these cases raise the natural question, given the undeniably traumatic events of January 6, of the standard against which a particular defendant’s actions on that day should be evaluated. Before evaluating the nature and circumstances of defendant’s specific conduct, then, consideration of the differentiating factors that warrant pretrial detention of certain defendants facing criminal liability for their participation in the mob and pretrial release of others is helpful.

She lays out the kind of things judges might consider (all but one of which happen to work against Chrestman, but which provide useful guidelines for others). This analysis covers three pages, but the questions she asks (I’ve changed the order slightly) are:

  • Was the defendant charged with misdemeanor or felony offenses?
  • Did the defendant remain on the Capitol grounds or breach the building?
  • Did the defendant engage in planning before arriving at the Capitol, for example by obtaining weapons or gear?
  • Did the defendant carry or use a dangerous weapon?
  • Did the defendant coordinate with other participants before, during, or after the riot?
  • Did the defendant assume a formal or de facto leadership role?
  • Did the defendant injure or attempt to injure others?
  • Did the defendant damage or attempt to damage federal property?
  • Did the defendant threaten federal officers or law enforcement?
  • Did the defendant specifically promote the disruption of the electoral vote?

These questions aren’t surprising. Similar questions (excepting the first) seem to guide the government’s charging decisions. Still, as Howell says explicitly, they offer a “useful framework” to help contextualize each defendant’s actions.

Using these guidelines, she assesses that Chrestman’s actions pose a particularly grave threat to the country.

The nature and circumstances of defendant’s offenses evince a clear disregard for the law, concerted and deliberate efforts to undermine law enforcement, and an apparent willingness to take coordinated, pre-planned, and egregious actions to achieve his unlawful aims, all of which indicate that he poses a danger to the community. This first factor weighs heavily in favor of detention.

Without relying on the framework of terrorism (though she describes Chrestman as “terrorizing elected officials”), Howell places the danger in Chrestman’s pre-planning and coordination to undermine government.

Defenses claiming to be following Trump’s orders

As I noted, in his bid for pre-trial release, Chrestman suggested that he believed he was operating with Trump’s approval.

To prefigure how those offenses relate to the likelihood of Mr. Chrestman succeeding on pretrial release, we must start long before January 6.

It is an astounding thing to imagine storming the United States Capitol with sticks and flags and bear spray, arrayed against armed and highly trained law enforcement. Only someone who thought they had an official endorsement would even attempt such a thing. And a Proud Boy who had been paying attention would very much believe he did. They watched as their “pro-America, pro-capitalism and pro-Trump” rhetorical strategy “allowed the Proud Boys to gain entry into the Republican mainstream.”11 They watched as law enforcement attacked Black Lives Matter and anti-fascism protestors, but escorted Proud Boys and their allies to safety.12 They watched as their leader, Enrique Tarrio, was named Florida state director of Latinos for Trump.13 They watched the Trump campaign, “well aware of the organized participation of Proud Boys rallies merging into Trump events. They don’t care.”14 They watched when then-President Trump, given an opportunity to disavow the Proud Boys, instead told them to “stand back and stand by.”15 They understood that phrase as “a call to arms and preparedness. It suggests that these groups, who are eager to do violence in any case, have the implicit approval of the state.”16 Having seen enough, the Proud Boys (and many others who heard the same message)17 acted on January 6.

In the guise of addressing Chrestman’s claim that he has a viable defense, even in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him, Howell takes an early swipe at a defense many, if not most, defendants are offering: Trump invited or ordered the insurrectionists to take the illegal actions.

Howell admits she’s reviewing the particular form of the argument Chrestman presented before it has been sufficiently briefed (without also noting that one after another defendant is already trying some version of it).

This theory has not been fully briefed by the parties, and the question of former President Trump’s responsibility, legal, moral, or otherwise, for the events of January 6, 2021 is not before this Court.

Defendant presents this defense only for the limited purpose of counterbalancing the overwhelming weight of the evidence against him.

Nevertheless, Howell reviews the precedents Chrestman invokes to suggest that he might be excused for following Trump’s directions by distinguishing — first of all — between believing that a government official was describing the law accurately and, as happened here, believing that a government official could bless a “waiver of law.”

Nonetheless, in order to measure properly defendant’s potential privilege against liability against the government’s proffer, some exploration of the proposed due process defense is necessary.

Defendant invokes a novel iteration of a complete defense to criminal liability that arises when an individual criminally prosecuted for an offense reasonably relied on statements made by a government official charged with “interpreting, administering, or enforcing the law defining the offense” and those statements actively misled the individual to believe that his or her conduct was legal. United States v. Cox, 906 F.3d 1170, 1191 (10th Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (outlining the elements of the defense). “The defense . . . is based on fundamental fairness concerns of the Due Process Clause,” United States v. Spires, 79 F.3d 464, 466 (5th Cir. 1996), and thus relies on an assessment of whether the challenged prosecution “offends some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental,” Patterson v. New York, 432 U.S. 197, 202 (1977) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted), because of the lack of notice and fairness to the charged defendant. The Supreme Court recognized this defense, sometimes called “entrapment by estoppel,” in three cases, Raley v. Ohio, 360 U.S. 423 (1959), Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 559 (1965), and United States v. Pennsylvania Industrial Chemical Corp. (“PICCO”), 411 U.S. 655 (1973). Examination of these decisions shows first, that entrapment by estoppel is a narrowly tailored defense, available in very limited circumstances, and second, that this defense does not excuse defendant’s conduct in the instant case.

[snip]

[T]his trilogy of cases gives rise to an entrapment by estoppel defense under the Due Process Clause. That defense, however, is far more restricted than the capacious interpretation suggested by defendant, that “[i]f a federal official directs or permits a citizen to perform an act, the federal government cannot punish that act under the Due Process Clause.” Def.’s Mem. at 7. The few courts of appeals decisions to have addressed the reach of this trilogy of cases beyond their facts have distilled the limitations inherent in the facts of Raley, Cox, and PICCO into a fairly restrictive definition of the entrapment by estoppel defense that sets a high bar for defendants seeking to invoke it. Thus, “[t]o win an entrapment-by-estoppel claim, a defendant criminally prosecuted for an offense must prove (1) that a government agent actively misled him about the state of the law defining the offense; (2) that the government agent was responsible for interpreting, administering, or enforcing the law defining the offense; (3) that the defendant actually relied on the agent’s misleading pronouncement in committing the offense; and (4) that the defendant’s reliance was reasonable in light of the identity of the agent, the point of law misrepresented, and the substance of the misrepresentation.” Cox, 906 F.3d at 1191 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

The Court need not dally over the particulars of the defense to observe that, as applied generally to charged offenses arising out of the January 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol, an entrapment by estoppel defense is likely to fail. Central to Raley, Cox, and PICCO is the fact that the government actors in question provided relatively narrow misstatements of the law that bore directly on a defendant’s specific conduct. Each case involved either a misunderstanding of the controlling law or an effort by a government actor to answer to complex or ambiguous legal questions defining the scope of prohibited conduct under a given statute. Though the impact of the misrepresentations in these cases was ultimately to “forgive a breach of the criminal laws,” Cox, 379 U.S. at 588 (Clark, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), none of the statements made by these actors implicated the potential “waiver of law,” or indeed, any intention to encourage the defendants to circumvent the law, that the Cox majority suggested would fall beyond the reach of the entrapment by estoppel defense, id. at 569. Moreover, in all three cases, the government actors’ statements were made in the specific exercise of the powers lawfully entrusted to them, of examining witnesses at Commission hearings, monitoring the location of demonstrations, and issuing technical regulations under a particular statute, respectively.

In contrast, January 6 defendants asserting the entrapment by estoppel defense could not argue that they were at all uncertain as to whether their conduct ran afoul of the criminal law, given the obvious police barricades, police lines, and police orders restricting entry at the Capitol. Rather, they would contend, as defendant does here, that “[t]he former President gave th[e] permission and privilege to the assembled mob on January 6” to violate the law. Def.’s Mem. at 11. The defense would not be premised, as it was in Raley, Cox, and PICCO, on a defendant’s confusion about the state of the law and a government official’s clarifying, if inaccurate, representations. It would instead rely on the premise that a defendant, though aware that his intended conduct was illegal, acted under the belief President Trump had waived the entire corpus of criminal law as it applied to the mob. [my emphasis]

Moreover, the instructions Trump purportedly gave cannot be deemed part of his job. Howell argues that under both the Take Care Clause and the Constitution, Trump cannot sanction illegal or unconstitutional acts.

No American President holds the power to sanction unlawful actions because this would make a farce of the rule of law. Just as the Supreme Court made clear in Cox that no Chief of Police could sanction “murder[] or robbery,” 379 U.S. at 569, notwithstanding this position of authority, no President may unilaterally abrogate criminal laws duly enacted by Congress as they apply to a subgroup of his most vehement supporters. Accepting that premise, even for the limited purpose of immunizing defendant and others similarly situated from criminal liability, would require this Court to accept that the President may prospectively shield whomever he pleases from prosecution simply by advising them that their conduct is lawful, in dereliction of his constitutional obligation to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

[snip]

[A] President cannot, within the confines of his constitutional authority, prevent the constitutionally mandated certification of the results of a Presidential Election or encourage others to do so on his behalf, nor can he direct an assault on the coequal Legislative branch of government. Were a President to attempt to condone such conduct, he would act ultra vires and thus without the force of his constitutional authority.

This gets close to the argument I keep making, that a key step Trump took that day (and riled up the mob when it didn’t work) was to give another Constitutional officer, Mike Pence, an unconstitutional order. And I was surprised that Howell didn’t mention pardons, a means by which Trump, at least, has forgiven the illegal obstruction of justice done for his behalf. Similarly, I would expect more focus on the separation of powers.

Still, it’s a framework for responding to what already is a sea of defendants claiming they can’t be held accountable for their crimes because Donald Trump invited or ordered them to commit the crimes. And does so within a broader framework that may provide DC District judges some way to approach the detention challenges with some measure of consistency.

The Broken Windows Terrorism Enhancement and Detention of the January 6 Insurrectionists

In this post, I described how Jessica Watkins’ defense attorney, Michelle Peterson, admitted how damning her client’s own description of her actions was, but then invented a false timeline to explain away those statements. Peterson also said that evidence about Stewart Rhodes’ plans for the Oath Keepers to replicate January 6 can’t be held against her client because Watkins was already in jail when Rhodes made those comments, but also says Watkins — who in November, before the Trump rallies that Watkins’ own lawyer cited to explain Watkins’ actions, said she’d go underground if Biden assumed the Presidency — can be released while those plans are ongoing. (Peterson is also arguing that Watkins should go back to running the bar where she recruited co-conspirator Donovan Crowl.)

I think Peterson’s argument fails because the evidence doesn’t match her claims. But she makes an argument that I think will be compelling for some other Oath Keeper defendants.

The government conspiracy charge against nine Oath Keepers alleges a conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding (the counting of the electoral vote), obstruction of that proceeding, and forcibly entering the Capitol while the Vice President was present. The evidence for those allegations is all clear cut.

But as I described in the post, the government also charges the nine Oath Keepers with destruction of government property and aiding and abetting such destruction.

The indictment only describes destruction in two places: in the general boilerplate description of the event used against all January 6 defendants, and describing the door through which The Stack entered the Capitol, around 40 minutes after the Capitol was initially breached.

In the course of these events, approximately 81 members of the Capitol Police and 58 members of the Metropolitan Police Department were assaulted. The Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damage-including broken windows and doors, graffiti, and residue from pepper spray, tear gas, and fire extinguishers deployed both by crowd members who stormed the Capitol and by Capitol Police officers trying to restore order. Additionally, many media members were assaulted and had cameras and other news-gathering equipment destroyed.

[snip]

The Capitol building doors through which CROWL, WATKINS, SANDRA PARKER, YOUNG, STEELE, KELLY MEGGS, CONNIE MEGGS, and the others in their group breached suffered significant damage.

The government implicates the Oath Keepers in this destruction via an aiding and abetting charge.

It’s on that basis that the government initially moved to detain Watkins.

Watkins made her initial appearance in the Southern District of Ohio on January 19, 2021, and the government moved for detention under 18 U.S.C § 3142(f)(1)(A), on the basis that 18 U.S.C. § 1361 is a crime of violence.

While they don’t explain it specifically in that motion (but the government does elsewhere for other defendants, such as for the Proud Boys’ Ethan Nordean), effectively the government is using the damage done to a government building to get presumption of detention under 18 USC 2332b‘s terrorism enhancement.

Peterson argues that the Watkins’ crimes are not crimes of violence.

The offenses charged are not crimes of violence. While violence was committed on January 6, 2021, and those responsible will be held accountable, that is not the issue before the Court in determining whether Ms. Watkins must be held in custody pending the outcome of her case. Rather the question is solely whether or not there are conditions that can reasonably assure the safety of the community and her appearance until this case is resolved in whatever manner it is resolved. Here, the government has not presented any evidence that Ms. Watkins committed any violence. Their evidence is that 40 minutes after the Capitol had been breached, she went to the Capitol and entered the building. By that time, the door had already been opened. The government acknowledges that “the crowd aggressively and repeatedly pulled on and assaulted” the doors of the building to get inside, causing damage. Ms. Watkins is charged with aiding and abetting this offense, but there is no evidence that this was something she had a criminal intent to do. She would have to have shared in the intent to destroy property, when in fact, she attempted to stop people from destroying property.

Peterson argues that the body cameras of some of the cops with whom Watkins interacted will show her trying to prevent damage (though, as noted, Peterson’s explanation for Watkins’ description of the beauty of breaching the Capitol is utterly inconsistent with the actual comments Watkins made, which framed that beauty specifically in terms of fighting cops).

Peterson’s argument here is important, and it will be very compelling for those Oath Keeper defendants who didn’t leave tracks of messages describing efforts to train a militia to take out the federal government even before Trump’s incitement to violence cited by the defense started. While there might be evidence from other Oath Keepers the government is investigating (remember there is a busload of Oath Keepers from NC who were coordinating with the charged co-conspirators, along with the Quick Reaction Force ready to bring additional weapons, as well as a few more known Oath Keepers who directly confronted cops), nothing in the record thus far shows The Stack had a direct role in the damage to the Capitol.

Compare with the Proud Boys to understand the significance of this. In that case, Dominic Pezzola, in fairly obvious coordination with others, was the very first person to break a window allowing the breach of the Capitol. While the other Proud Boys are not yet charged in a conspiracy with Pezzola, there’s every likelihood they will be, in which case a claim that they worked together to break that window will be reasonable and detention claims based on that property damage against co-conspirators substantiated.

In the apparent Proud Boys plot to breach the Capitol and delay the vote count, breaking that window was a fundamental part of the conspiracy.

This is the same problem the government has — and will face on appeal — with Zip Tie Guy Eric Munchel and his mother, Lisa Eisenhart. While mother and son clearly had intent to obstruct the counting of the vote and Munchel came armed with a taser, there’s no evidence that they were working in concert with those who committed the violence or did the damage to the Capitol.

In both the Munchel case and the Oath Keepers case, the government might believe or might have believed they could rely on another terrorism enhancement, attempted kidnapping of  congressional or cabinet targets (18 USC 351), kidnapping of Presidential staff (18 USC 1751a) or hostage taking (18 USC 1203). The government has argued, for example, that Munchel and his mom are the only ones who saw the Capitol Police zip ties sitting out in public and seized them, after which Munchel headed to where the vote was being counted in the Senate chamber, supporting a supposition he would have detained Senators if he had had the chance.

One of the Oath Keepers on the Zello channel Watkins was using (it’s unclear whether the government has IDed this person yet) told her she was executing a citizens arrest based on probable cause for treason and election fraud, implying a plan to detain members of Congress.

An individual directed, “You are executing citizen’s arrest. Arrest this assembly, we have probable cause for acts of treason, election fraud.” WATKINS responded, “We are in the mezzanine. We are in the main dome right now. We are rocking it. They are throwing grenades, they are fricking shooting people with paint balls. But we are in here.” An individual responded to WATKINS, telling her to be safe, and stated, “Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for.”

That is, in both cases, there’s reason to suspect the intent was to detain members of Congress — possibly even Mike Pence himself — but that hasn’t been charged against either Munchel and his mom or the Oath Keepers.

The government also may have reason to believe the Oath Keepers conspiracy will ultimately merge with the Proud Boys conspiracy, putting the former on the hook for the violence of the latter.

There’s evidence, for example, that Oath Keeper co-conspirator Thomas Caldwell was trying to coordinate between the militias. By December 23, he described to someone what he knew of the Proud Boys’ plans.

Okay. I got your msg that maybe a whole bunch of you will be going to the rally which is great. [Person Two] and I are going for sure and as of now a bunch of the Oathkeepers from North Carolina whowe hosted here on the farm for the Million Maga march are coming up on one or two buses so that will be neat. I am expecting a big turn out of the Proud Boys (didn’t know until the last march that they had a chapter in Charlestown) and of course the local Vietnamese will probably have at least 2 bus loads like last time. We will keep in touch. I gotta get off my ass and get on parler. I picked up Signal which is a free app that is encrypted talk and text. Thats how I do some secure comms with the Oathkeepers.

On December 30, he reached out to someone in the Three Percenter movement and asked to be included in their plans.

“[A]re you and any of your fellow 3-percenters having any kind of meetings coming up to discuss the 6th of Jan in d.c. or just getting together? I would like to meet some of the guys if you think I ‘m cool enough.” That individual responded, “You can join our group if you want but you have to be veted before you can attend any training events or zoom meetings. Ill get with ya this evening.” In part, Caldwell replied, “Outstanding!”

While there’s no sign yet of a conspiracy charge against the Three Percenters, one of the three people charged together in beating a prone cop, Thomas Lopatic, wore Three Percenter clothes. The father who threatened to kill his kids if they reported his involvement (who mounted the scaffolding used in a flanking move in the breach), Guy Reffitt, is a member. Most intriguingly, Robert Gieswein, who marched with and coordinated with the Proud Boys in the original breach and is also charged with assaulting cops while wielding a baseball bat and some kind of spray, also has ties to the Three Percenters.

There’s also reason to believe that the December MAGA March provided a key networking opportunity in advance of January 6 — for example, Pezzola spent time there with Roger Stone bodyguard, Robert Minuta.

Indeed, one of the likely nodes between the two main militia groups charged with conspiracy is Roger Stone, who was hanging out with both of them. Heck, even Rudy Giuliani, a key proponent of a very different theory of law enforcement involving broken windows, could be such a node.

So it’s possible that as FBI exploits more communications and starts to flip cooperators, they’ll tie the coordinated actions of the various militia together. But they’re not there yet. And until they do that, it’s not clear that the government has the evidence to detain Oath Keeper foot soldiers or random militia sympathizers pre-trial.

The government makes a very good case that the far right — particularly these three groups — have plans to follow up on January 6, plans for which the existing leadership arrested as part of January 6 could play a key role. This is what I’ve pointed to repeatedly (most clearly with Munchel). January 6 was an unprecedented insurgent attack on the country. But that unprecedented attack can look like either civil disobedience involving legally owned weapons or a threat to the Republic. Because of that, it’s not entirely clear how the government’s attempts to detain key figures pre-trial will work out.