They came from around the country — a 60-year-old from northern Pennsylvania, a tattoo artist from Illinois. There were members of a neo-Confederate and militant groups, an organizer of a Trump boat parade, and a man convicted of attempted first-degree murder.
Each one of them came to DC because, their social media posts show, they believed the same lie: They were true patriots who were heeding President Donald Trump’s call to keep him in power, by storming the Capitol and stopping Joe Biden’s certification as the presidential election winner.
Instead, they all got arrested.
More than 80 people were charged in Wednesday's insurrection. While some were well-known white supremacists, QAnon believers, and a newly elected West Virginia lawmaker — whose actions inside the Capitol caught the world’s attention in viral photos and videos — many were not as high profile.
A BuzzFeed News review of their social media posts shows the disturbing extent to which the president of the United States encouraged and validated his most ardent supporters’ fringe beliefs and conspiracy theories with his lies, emboldening them to take their anger out on those who stood in his way.
They shared posts echoing Trump’s constant bullshit about a “stolen election” and conspiracy theories about voter fraud. Some showed a passionate hatred for antifa, Congress, and Democrats, especially Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Several were radicalized by QAnon — the mass delusion that Trump has implicitly endorsed.
“Nothing can stop what is coming,” Zandra Sixkiller-Cramer tweeted more than a week before she was arrested after the deadly assault on the Capitol. She said was prepared to “fight.”
In a tweet on Dec. 29, she objected to the COVID-19 restrictions in Washington, DC, saying, “They think they can stop US from showing up at the Capitol on Jan 6 to #StopTheSteal #Treason Nothing Can Stop What Is Coming #FightForTrump #FightLikeAFlynn #PatriotParty.”
And Sixkiller-Cramer followed through, spurred by the dangerous and delusional lies. She was arrested and charged with unlawful entry.
Most who were arraigned on Thursday were not from the city. A majority were charged for unlawful entry and violating the curfew, but some were charged with unlawful possession of a weapon or assaulting an officer. A man who had attended the riot had brass knuckles on him when he was arrested; several others had guns and ammunition, many without licenses. One young man was charged with assaulting an officer with a “hockey or lacrosse stick.” Those who were arraigned on Thursday afternoon all pleaded not guilty.
A Twitter account that apparently belongs to Sixkiller-Cramer showed that most of her retweets leading up to Jan. 6 included lies about voter fraud from Trump and other right-wing sources. She also retweeted Trump’s tweet encouraging his followers to attend Wednesday’s rally at the Capitol.
Her social media posts include references to QAnon — the mass delusion that preposterously claims Trump is fighting a deep state cabal of child sex abusers. In one post, she used the QAnon slogan “Where we go one we go all WWG1WGA.”
In a Facebook post on Nov. 1, she posted a photo of Trump's face with the words “Let’s Finish This.” In the caption, she wrote, “Anyone who does not defend America has their own rights. And, I’m heart broken when I observe. I grew up with outstanding groups of diverse people ... and NOW I WILL DEFEND OUR GROUND! Potomac Panthers #Virginia slide on in for the #WINNING #Trump2020LandslideVictory.”
A LinkedIn profile that appears to belong to Sixkiller-Cramer said she was a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. A spokesperson for the hospital later said that Sixkiller-Cramer was not an employee there. Sixkiller-Cramer did not respond to a request for comment.
Other rioters’ social media posts showed how they truly believed they could get Congress to “stop the steal” and overturn the results of the election by “protesting.”
David Fitzgerald, a tattoo artist from Illinois who was arrested for curfew violation and unlawful entry, was prepared for the events of Jan. 6 a week before.
In a Jan. 1 post on Facebook, Fitzgerald wrote: “Transportation. Arranged. Lodging. Confirmed. Cold weather clothes. Acquired. Oath. Sworn. 1/6/21. Reality.”
He also posted a photo of himself in the jacket he was going to wear at the Jan. 6 rally, saying that he was on a "mission" to serve his country.
Fitzgerald documented his car journey from Illinois to DC in several videos posted on Facebook. In one video, someone is overheard saying that they will avoid looking like Trump supporters when they check into the hotel.
He also posted videos of himself smoking joints at the Lincoln Memorial a day before the riots. In another video, a man is overheard referring to the Jan. 6 rally and talking about how “these Chinese motherfuckers” have invaded “our country.”
“We’re here for the same fucking reason,” Fitzgerald replies. “Whatever happens, we’re all in.”
He posted a photo of himself wearing what appeared to be a bulletproof vest with a “Make America Great Again” label and a US flag stitched on, with the caption, "Let's roll."
He livestreamed a video in the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol in which an officer tells him he’s going to be arrested for violating the 6 p.m. curfew. In a comment on the video, Fitzgerald wrote, “I’m under arrest.”
Fitzgerald's posts leading up to Jan. 6 were filled with anti-government propaganda and references to Trump’s baseless claims about the election.
“President Trump is following the U.S. Constitution. That's not sedition. That's not treason. That's patriotism,” he said in one Jan. 2 post.
“Beware the Kraken. Inbound,” he wrote in a Jan. 5 post, referring to the phrase Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell used to falsely claim that she had mountains of evidence to disprove Biden’s victory, which turned out to be unfounded allegations and conspiracy theories.
Fitzgerald vehemently denied entering the Capitol building, telling BuzzFeed News that he had attended Trump’s rally and then remained outside the entire day, watching the mob breach the Capitol from the grounds. He maintained that he was only arrested because he broke the curfew while standing outside.
Charging documents show that Fitzgerald was arrested for entering the Capitol grounds and ignoring officers' multiple warnings to leave after the curfew, NBC 5 reported.
Fitzgerald said he was at the Capitol to “show love to anyone else who loves America as much as [he does],” adding that he believes in “conservative values” and not in Republicans or Democrats.
He falsely claimed the election was controversial and that “there needs to be more clarity on some of the unfinished questions concerning the potentially fraudulent process.”
He claimed that the police were hurting and arresting people who were predominantly behaving peacefully, many of whom did not enter the Capitol building.
When asked what he thought of the mob who had stormed the Capitol, he responded, “I’m not sure. People were amped up, to say the least.”
He also said that he borrowed the bulletproof vest from a friend who was with him because it looked cool, but added that he was concerned about violence and didn’t want to get hurt.
Even after Trump released a video on Twitter on Thursday finally admitting that his presidency is ending, Fitzgerald said he believed the president did not actually concede.
He refused to definitively say whether he would accept Biden as the president, instead saying, “I support the next president.”
Fitzgerald’s wife, Jeanette Fitzgerald, told the Chicago Tribune that her husband was not involved in breaching the Capitol but was there to “peacefully protest and support President Trump.”
She added, “He wasn’t there with anything malicious in mind.”
After being arrested inside the Capitol, Douglas Sweet, a pro-Confederate man from Virginia, said he was proud of what he had accomplished during what he mischaracterized as a “real peaceful protest.”
“Our goal was to speak to the house and Senate about 'stop the steal' and infiltration by the Chinese Communist Party of our government," he wrote in a Facebook post that his daughter Robyn Sweet provided to BuzzFeed News.
"We The People employ both house and Senate and they both need reminding more frequently than I'd like,” Douglas wrote.
He said he was trying to "influence change using peaceful dialogue."
"I feel strongly about defending our Constitutional rights and will not sit on the sidelines and watch as both parties trample our Rights and commit treason with foreign enemies and Governments,” he wrote.
Douglas was arrested for violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds and for unlawful entry in a restricted building.
He was part of a large crowd of disorderly Trump rioters near the House Atrium inside the Capitol, some of whom were kicking chairs and spraying substances at officers, according to a complaint.
Douglas was among those at the front of the crowd, who began "shouting and cursing" at Capitol police officers when they were ordered to leave the building, the complaint said.
Like the others, Douglas "willfully refused the order to leave" and was arrested.
Following his release, Douglas told News 3 that he stormed the Capitol because, “I was hoping to go in and talk to the Senate and the House and actually speak.”
“First of all, you're not going to get in there unless you walk right in,” he said.
He said that he traveled from Virginia to Washington because Trump “asked all the patriots to show up, so I did.”
Douglas said that he did not intend to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s win but that he wanted his voice to be heard and believed that it was his only recourse.
Douglas declined to comment to BuzzFeed News.
Robyn, who attended a Black Lives Matter protest last June and actively posts on an anti-bigotry Facebook group, told BuzzFeed News that she was “ashamed and disgusted” by her father’s actions.
Douglas is an active member of pro-Confederate and anti-government groups, including the Hiwaymen, the Three Percenters, and Dixie Defenders, according to his social media posts and his daughter. He believed in the QAnon mass delusion and attended the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Robyn said.
Douglas, who organized a Trump truck parade in October, was convinced that the election was stolen and COVID-19 was a hoax, Robyn said.
In his post about his arrest, Douglas mentioned that he was with Cindy Sue Fitchett at the Capitol. Records show that a Virginia woman named Cindy Fitchett was arrested for the same charges as Douglas and was among the riotous crowd of people inside the Capitol who ignored repeated orders to leave the building.
A devoted Trump supporter, Fitchett appears to be a member of a Facebook group called “Trump Women Landslide 2020.” After the Capitol riot, the discussion on the group has ranged from calling Vice President Mike Pence a traitor and a coward for not reversing the outcome of the election (he can’t) and blaming antifa for staging the coup (they didn’t).
A Twitter account that appears to belong to Fitchett shows her agreeing with Trump’s barrage of nonsensical claims about voter fraud and a “rigged election.”
On Nov. 7, when one Twitter user accused Kamala Harris and the Democrats of cheating to win the election, Fitchett replied, “They sure did..but I haven’t given up.”
When Fox News host Sean Hannity tweeted debunked claims about GOP poll watchers not being allowed inside a Philadelphia voting location in November, Fitchett replied, “This is bull shit.. but we will be redeemed when President Trump wins after all this stuff they tried and failed against him.”
Her tweets show that she also appears to despise Democrats and liberals, calling Harris an “idiot,” Ocasio-Cortez a “dumb ass,” and Colin Kaepernick a “worthless POS” for taking a knee to protest the police killings of Black people.
When a Black Lives Matter street mural in front of the Trump Tower in New York was vandalized with red paint last year, Fitchett tweeted, “Too bad they didn’t cover it completely #Trump2020.”
She also appears to believe that Democrats had planned a coup against Trump by accusing him of treason, and that they had released the coronavirus and organized racial justice demonstrations to get rid of him.
A woman who answered a number listed for Fitchett did not identify herself but told BuzzFeed News Fitchett was not interested in talking.
Anthony Tammaro, a 60-year-old from northern Pennsylvania, was arrested for unlawful entry and for violating the DC mayor’s 6 p.m. curfew. On Facebook, Tammaro frequently voiced support for the president, sharing memes from conservative and pro-Trump pages.
After it became clear that Joe Biden had won the election, he wrote an all-caps post calling the president-elect “THE MOST CORRUPT, SENILE, AND RACIST PRESIDENT THIS COUNTRY HAS EVER ELECTED.” A couple of weeks later, on Nov. 25, he posted, “FUCK JOE BIDEN.” Tammaro declined to talk to BuzzFeed News when reached by phone.
Some of those arrested at the Capitol and in the aftermath of the riot were affiliated with the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group who were stirred to action when Trump told them “stand back and stand by” during the first presidential debate last year.
Jay Thaxton, a North Carolina resident who was arrested for violating the curfew, has used a Proud Boys graphic as his Facebook cover photo, according to the Stanly News & Press. In 2019, Thaxton, 46, helped organize a rally to support high school cheerleaders who were put on probation for carrying a “Trump 2020” banner during a football game, the local newspaper reported.
A man who answered a number listed for Thaxton did not identify himself but told BuzzFeed News that Thaxton is "not talking to the left-leaning media,” adding “all journos can take a leap off a ... cliff.”
Joshua Pruitt, a bodybuilder and bartender in DC who was charged with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, was seen apparently being inducted into the Proud Boys in a viral video from November. In the days leading up to the attempted coup, Pruitt posted on Parler about “getting ready for these clowns,” saying he was the “wrong patriot to fk with.” In a video Pruitt posted after Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio’s arrest on Monday, he said, “y’all motherfuckers just started a war.”
“You want to arrest Enrique? OK. We got you,” he said. “You have to arrest fucking all of us. Cause I’m going fucking balls to the wall. Fucking pull up see what the fuck happens. I’m ready.”
“Like fucking ready,” he continued as he pulled out a mouthguard with the word “FIGHTR” and slipped it onto his teeth.
On Wednesday morning, hours before the attempted coup, Pruitt, 39, posted a photo of himself carrying a rifle on Instagram. He also posted a picture of himself with two others on Parler holding up the “OK” hand signal — which has been adopted as a white power symbol often used by pro-Trump and the alt-right to troll the media. On Friday, Pruitt confirmed his arrest on Parler, saying “the fight isn’t over.”
He declined BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
Some of those arrested had a criminal history. Michael Curzio of Florida, who was arrested for unlawful entry, served eight years in prison after being convicted of attempted first-degree murder, according to online court records. He was released in 2019. Curzio could not be reached for comment Friday.
Bradley Rukstales, the CEO of an Illinois tech company, was placed on leave after he was arrested for unlawful entry.
Rukstales later apologized in a statement, saying he regretted his actions.
“In a moment of extremely poor judgment following the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, I followed hundreds of others through an open set of doors to the Capitol building to see what was taking place inside,” Rukstales said.
“It was the single worst personal decision of my life.”
Ema O’Connor contributed reporting to this story.