An Alleged Capitol Rioter Came Disguised As A Journalist, Prosecutors Say

A judge initially refused to issue an arrest warrant, but agreed following a fuller explanation about how the government had determined the suspect wasn’t a member of the press.

A man in tactical gear with "PRESS" written in multiple places on his back, chest, and helmet

WASHINGTON — A California man arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection showed up disguised as a member of the press, prosecutors allege in newly unsealed charging papers.

Matthew Purse of Irvine, California, was arrested on Friday. An FBI affidavit includes photographs and still images from videos that appear to show him inside the Capitol wearing a helmet and tactical vest featuring multiple markings identifying him as “PRESS,” including one that says “Don’t shoot.” But according to prosecutors, Purse is not actually a member of the media.

The government is alleging that a confidential source tipped them off to a livestream Purse did on Twitch on Jan. 6 where he recorded himself saying, “Mission accomplished, we broke into the Capitol”; that video was later deleted. Purse isn’t a credentialed member of the Capitol press corps and there was no record of him ever being employed by a media outlet, according to the FBI. Purse had a website he used for livestreaming, but the government didn’t include a link.

A federal magistrate judge originally refused to sign off on an arrest warrant for Purse in June, finding prosecutors failed to offer a robust enough explanation for how they’d made sure that Purse wasn’t actually a journalist. The original version of the charging complaint included a one-sentence footnote stating the FBI hadn’t been able to find evidence that he was a journalist; it didn’t include a reference to the Twitch stream or the extent of the FBI’s investigation into his employment history.

US Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey noted in his June 15 opinion, which was also unsealed on Friday, that the US Supreme Court and the Justice Department had provided robust protections for reporters against being prosecuted for doing their jobs; DOJ regulations require that the attorney general sign off on arresting a member of the media in connection with newsgathering activities.

Prosecutors came back to Harvey with an expanded version of the complaint on June 25, and the judge approved it a few days later. The case was under seal until Purse’s arrest.

Purse didn’t have an attorney listed as of Friday afternoon.

Multiple reporters were assaulted and had their equipment destroyed by rioters on Jan. 6. The Justice Department recently has begun bringing criminal prosecutions in connection with that violence.