Capitol riots: Five takeaways from the arrests

The storming of the US Capitol last month left five people dead, over 100 police officers injured and millions of dollars in damage to the building.

Most of the rioters were allowed to leave the building without arrest, but a month-long search for offenders has resulted in charges against 194 people.

Among those arrested, there have been state lawmakers, military veterans and even a gold medal-winning Olympian.

Here’s a closer look at who conducted the siege and why.

1. Right-wing extremist links were rare

Far right insignia was spotted on the clothing, badges and flags of several insurrectionists, but the vast majority of the nearly 200 people charged so far are ordinary pro-Trump activists.

So far, only about 10 to 11% of those charged have been found to have ties to organised far right militias or other right-wing extremist groups.

“What we are dealing with here is not merely a mix of right-wing organisations, but a broader mass movement with violence at its core,” said Dr Robert Pape, who led a University of Chicago study – titled “Faces of the American Insurrection” – that takes a closer look at the arrested rioters.

The report found that FBI arrests of violent right-wingers over the past five years were almost five times as likely to uncover militia and gang connections as those arising from the violence on 6 January.

At least 12 people linked to the Proud Boys – an all-male group with a history of street violence against left-wing opponents – currently face charges.

It includes prominent members like a leading organiser of its Hawaii branch, a self-proclaimed “sergeant in arms” and a former US Army captain who ran for a seat in the state legislature.

Bomb-making manuals were located in the homes of one of the arrested Proud Boys. One was a self-professed white supremacist who had previously expressed his desire to become a “lone wolf killer”.

Pro-Trump protestors clash with police during the tally of electoral votes that that would certify Joe Biden as the winner of the US election
image captionArrests have been made across the country and across several walks of life

Other extremists had connections with militant anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters and the Aryan Nations, several of whom have military experience.

One arrested Three Percenter – Guy Wesley Reffitt, 48, a drilling rig worker from Texas – reportedly threatened his children, saying: “If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors…traitors get shot.”

2. More rioters came from ‘Biden counties’ than ‘Trump counties’

The mob was largely pro-Trump, but they came from all parts of the country.

The 194 people who face federal charges hail from 41 out of the 50 US states and the District of Columbia, according to the George Washington University extremism tracker.

The University of Chicago report finds that most of the insurrectionists came from large urban counties where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by slim-to-moderate margins in the 2020 election.

These counties typically contain big and racially diverse populations.

Only a few came from pro-Trump strongholds.

“This will come as a surprise to many Biden supporters, who presumably think that the insurrectionists are coming from red counties – rural, almost completely white, and with high unemployment – far from Biden strongholds,” said Dr Pape.

“This is fundamentally a political movement, one not only centered in “red” parts of the country, but also consisting of pro-Trump supporters who are in the political minority in many places.”

3. The crowd was not a young one

Much like other right-wing activists arrested for deadly violence since 2015, the protesters facing charges have been predominantly white and male.

But whereas the extremists charged from 2015 to 2020 were mostly under the age of 35, two thirds of those facing charges for the Capitol attack are over the age of 35.

The average age of the protesters was 40 years old, according to the GWU tracker.

More than four fifths of them are employed and come from various backgrounds, from business owners to white collar professionals.

There is Dr Simone Gold, 55, from Beverly Hills, California, who was among a group of doctors that last year spread misleading claims about the coronavirus, including that hydroxychloroquine – a drug touted relentlessly by Mr Trump – was an effective treatment.

Jenna Ryan – a real estate broker from Dallas, Texas – garnered attention on social media after she flew to DC by private jet to join the march to the Capitol.

Cogensia – an Illinois-based marketing company – fired its chief executive Bradley Rukstales, after he was federally charged for being a part of the violent mob.

4. Many of them say Trump motivated them

Some of those involved in storming the Capitol have suggested they were at least partially motivated by Donald Trump.

Jacob Chansley – the “QAnon shaman” from Arizona who wore a Viking pelt to the riot – told the FBI he was in DC “at the request of President Trump”.

A lawyer for Robert Bauer, a Kentucky man, said he “marched to the US Capitol because President Trump said to do so”.

In an FBI interview, Valerie Elaine Ehrke from Northern California said she heard President Trump tell the crowd to go to the US Capitol and “decided she wanted to be part of the crowd, and she walked to the US Capitol”, according to court documents.

Trump supporters near the U.S Capitol, on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC
image captionSome have argued in court that they went to the riot because Donald Trump told them to

Several have indicated they believed the election was not over and there was still a path to preventing the results from being certified.

This false claim was repeatedly made by Mr Trump since his election defeat and – prior to the riot – he told gathered supporters at a rally near the White House that he “won by a landslide”.

With the second impeachment trial of Mr Trump starting this week, these statements may form the backbone of the prosecution’s case as they try to prove the former president was “personally responsible” for inciting an insurrection.

5. Several threatened violence 

At least some of those who came to DC for the march on the Capitol may have had some very violent intentions.

Lonnie Coffman, 70, from Alabama, allegedly parked a vehicle packed with 11 “Molotov Cocktails”, several firearms and magazines loaded with ammunition near the building complex.

Police say Christopher Alberts, 33, from Maryland, fled when confronted for being in possession of a handgun.

Garrett Miller, 34, from Texas, took to social media on the day of the riot, bragging he had taken weapons to previous protests in DC and replied to a tweet from Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez with the words: “Assassinate AOC”.

Days after the attack, he expressed intent to find the police officer who shot a Trump supporter dead inside the Capitol and “hug his neck with a nice rope”.

In text messages, a Colorado man threatened to shoot and run over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

US Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was dragged into the violent mob and repeatedly struck with objects, later succumbing to his injuries. One man used a flagpole “with a United States flag affixed to it” to “repeatedly strike” the officer who “remained prone” on the steps, according to a complaint filed with the authorities.

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What are the charges so far?

  • 169 charged with trespassing or disrupting Congress
  • 40 charged with interference with law enforcement
  • 25 charged with property crimes
  • 17 charged with assault
  • 17 charged with weapons crimes
  • 11 charged with conspiracy
  • 5 charged with threats

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