WASHINGTON — Samuel Fisher, a Trump supporter and one of more than 100 people charged in the insurrection at the US Capitol so far, had been posting and sending Facebook messages for weeks about his plans to travel to Washington, DC, and “bring the pain.”
“We must stand up to these people and take our world back. … It’s time to bring the pain upon them,” Fisher posted on Dec. 3, according to court papers.
On Dec. 31: “they cant arrest us all man.”
On Jan. 3: “Real Patriots will fall upon the capital in protest.”
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Then, on Jan. 6, the day a mob pushed past barriers and US Capitol Police officers to stream into the Capitol, Fisher sent a photo of a rifle and a handgun he’d brought to DC on Facebook to an unidentified person. He wrote that he planned to leave the weapons — “maybe except the pistol” — at a garage in case “it kicks off.” He also posted a call to action on his website.
“Trump just needs to fire the bat signal… deputize patriots… and then the pain comes,” Fisher, who was arrested in New York on Wednesday and charged with unlawfully entering the Capitol and disorderly conduct, wrote that day. “1 Million Pissed off men with guns… bad idea.” The day after, in posts quoted by prosecutors that no longer appear online, he wrote, “i was there,” and that “people died . . . but it was fucking great if you ask me.”
An extraordinary element of the investigation into the attack on the Capitol is the sheer number of people who announced what they were going to do, broadcast when they did it, and, in some cases, proudly took credit for it. A review of federal charging documents reveals a constellation of quotes from social media posts, video and audio recordings, and media interviews, all in the defendants’ own words.
The evidence presents in stark terms that many of former president Donald Trump’s supporters understood his overtures to come to the Capitol and “stop the steal” to be a call to violence. It dispels the damage control by some on the far right who lied that the rioters were leftists in disguise, and it reveals the destructive consequences of a four-year barrage of anti-government rhetoric and the encouragement of conspiracy theories by Trump and his allies.
Trump’s supporters were spoiling for a final fight, excited to join the attack, and planned for more violence — and it’s their words, and, to some extent, the age of online clout, that made it easy for law enforcement to find them.
“We must smite them now”
In one of the starkest examples of advance planning presented by prosecutors, members of the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group that focuses on recruiting military veterans, allegedly made their way into the Capitol in "an organized and practiced fashion.” Thomas Caldwell, a Virginia man and Oath Keepers member charged with conspiracy, spent the week leading up to Jan. 6 posting messages on Facebook about his plans to travel to Washington and threatening to “smite” people he believed were involved in “rigging” the election. Caldwell is a retired Navy officer, according to the Winchester Star.
"[It] would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to."
“Let them try to certify some crud on capitol hill with a million or more patriots in the streets. This kettle is set to boil...” Caldwell posted on Dec. 31, according to charging papers. A day later he posted, “I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. I did the former, I have done the latter peacefully but they have morphed into pure evil even blatantly rigging an election and paying off the political caste. We must smite them now and drive them down.”
Caldwell allegedly messaged one of his codefendants that they were arranging to have “goodies in case things go bad and we need to get heavy.” When he told other members about a hotel they’d booked in Virginia, he described it as a “good location and would allow us to hunt at night if we wanted to.”
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Prosecutors quoted communications between Jessica Watkins, a US Army veteran and one of Caldwell’s codefendants, and other unidentified members of the alleged Oath Keepers conspiracy discussing “sticking to the plan” and doing what they “trained for” during the Capitol assault over Zello, a walkie-talkie app that stored recordings of what they said.
"We have a good group. We have about 30-40 of us. We are sticking together and sticking to the plan," Watkins allegedly said that day. Prosecutors also included a screenshot of a post from Parler that they said shows Watkins in tactical gear, with the caption, "Me before forcing entry into the Capitol Building."
Later, a man is heard telling Watkins, "Get it, Jess. Do your fucking thing. This is what we fucking [unintelligible] up for. Everything we fucking trained for." Watkins, Caldwell, and a third man, Donovan Crowl, were charged with conspiring to obstruct Congress’s certification of the election results and destroying government property, entering a restricted building, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds; the last two are the most common charges facing people arrested to date.
Prosecutors highlighted defendants’ social media posts trying to gin up support for the Capitol assault as it was happening and proudly declaring that they’d been there after the fact.
“We’re in. … We need all the patriots of this country to rally the fuck up and fight for our freedom or it’s gone forever,” Alex Harkrider, a 32-year-old man from Carthage, Texas, posted on Snapchat, along with a selfie inside the Capitol, according to charging papers. Prosecutors drew a red arrow over a screenshot of Harkrider's post noting that he had what appeared to be a baton strapped to his body.
Jennifer Ryan, a real estate broker in Texas, posted on Twitter after the insurrection: “We just stormed the Capital. It was one of the best days of my life.”
How the alleged attackers described themselves and their cause underscored the dangerous versatility of “stop the steal,” the phrase that Trump and his allies adopted as a rallying cry after the November election, referring to the lies of widespread voter fraud, claims that state election officials and judges across the country found baseless. Charging papers show some people arrested for descending on the Capitol had taken it as a personal instruction — that they were the ones who, literally, had to “stop the steal.”
“I refuse to tell my children that I sat back and did nothing. I am heading to DC to STOP THE STEAL,” Kevin Lyons, a Chicago man, posted on Instagram, along with a map showing the driving route from his home to Washington, according to his charging papers.
Other cases showed how alleged participants in the insurrection took their direction from Trump.
Daniel Goodwyn, described by prosecutors as a “self-proclaimed” member of the Proud Boys, a far-right men’s group with a history of instigating violence, tweeted a few days after the election urging Trump supporters to go to their state capitols and to “Await orders from our Commander in Chief.” Goodwyn wrote at the time, “Stand back and stand by!”, quoting Trump’s call to the Proud Boys in response to a presidential debate question of whether he would condemn extremist groups. Prosecutors presented screenshots from a video livestream recorded inside the Capitol that they said showed Goodwyn.
"I’m here to see what my President called me to DC for."
On Jan. 5, Jorge Riley, a Sacramento man, posted on Facebook, “Do you really not get what is going to happen on the 6th? I absolutely am looking forward to that and NO MATTER WHAT THERE IS NOTHING THAT CAN STOP IT!!!!”, according to the complaint against him. The morning of Jan. 6 he allegedly posted, “I’m here to see what my President called me to DC for.”
The majority of defendants have been charged so far with federal misdemeanor crimes, such as unlawfully entering a restricted building. But Michael Sherwin, the acting US attorney in Washington, said at a Jan. 12 press conference that prosecutors were pushing to file charges against people as quickly as possible and that more serious counts could be added as the investigations continue. The Justice Department has formed special “strike forces” to probe certain categories of crimes, including conspiracy and sedition.
“Might start a revolution later”
Most defendants in the unsealed cases to date aren’t charged with conspiring with one another to assault the Capitol, but prosecutors highlighted posts on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and the far-right social media platform Parler dated before Jan. 6 and in the final hours leading up to the riot as evidence that people came prepared for a fight.
Patrick Montgomery, a Colorado man, posted on Facebook on Jan. 5 that he was going to Washington “to check it out for myself,” that whatever happened next would take “courageous Americans doing shit,” and that he wanted to meet other like-minded people in person because he didn’t think he’d find them on Facebook, according to his charging papers. Prosecutors included a photograph of a man in the Senate chamber on Jan. 6 that they identified as Montgomery, as well as screenshots of messages that they said were between a tipster and Montgomery where he confirmed being there, along with an “OK” symbol emoji that’s become associated with the far right.
Jacob Hiles of Virginia allegedly posted a selfie on Facebook the morning of Jan. 6 with the caption “Feelin cute...might start a revolution later, IDK” and tagged his location as Capitol Hill. Hiles later posted another selfie from inside the Capitol, according to charging papers, disputing that the group around him was violent.
Jennifer Ryan, the Texas real estate broker who prosecutors identified in photographs boarding a private plane to Washington on Jan. 5, allegedly posted a video on Facebook that shows her speaking into a bathroom mirror on Jan. 6: “We're gonna go down and storm the Capitol. They’re down there right now and that's why we came and so that's what we are going to do. So wish me luck.”
Ryan later posted live video as she went into the Capitol, according to her charging papers, and prosecutors quoted her as saying, “We are going to fucking go in here. Life or death, it doesn’t matter. Here we go.”
The government noted social media posts leading up to the insurrection that showed defendants preparing to arm themselves in response to the election. Prosecutors noted that Michael Daughtry of Georgia ran a business called “Crazy Coon’s Armory” and included a screenshot of a Facebook post he allegedly put up on Nov. 2 that read: “Anyone needing an AR15 and some extra ammo before the election, I’ve got a couple left in stock. . . It may be your last chance if the election don’t go right tomorrow! Let me know if you are interested?”
In charging papers for Jordan Mink of Pennsylvania, who was allegedly photographed using a bat to break a window at the Capitol, prosecutors included a screenshot of a Nov. 3 Instagram post that appeared to show Mink holding a large gun with an “I Voted” sticker on it and the caption “‘The ballot is stronger than the bullet.’ – Abraham Lincoln. Well ... my magazines will be fully loaded just in case it’s not.”
“This is not a peaceful protest”
As the crowd descended on the Capitol, court papers show a number of participants continued to post real-time updates online, about what they were doing, sharing selfies and livestreaming video.
“We are storming the Capitol! Yeah, baby!” Andrew Williams, a firefighter from Sanford, Florida, recorded himself saying on a video while inside the Capitol, according to his charging papers.
Ryan Nichols of Texas was allegedly seen in one video outside the Capitol yelling, “This is the second revolution right here folks! [...] This is not a peaceful protest,” according to his charging papers. Prosecutors included a screenshot of a photo Nichols posted on Facebook with Alex Harkrider describing their location as outside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s “smashed office” — he apparently updated it later to note that Pelosi’s office was actually in another part of the building — and warning, “We ain’t done yet! We just got started!”
During a livestream of the Capitol attack, the far-right media personality Tim Gionet — who briefly worked for BuzzFeed and now goes by the name “Baked Alaska” — is quoted in charging papers saying, “Occupy the Capitol let’s go. We ain’t leaving this bitch.” He was arrested last week.
Lawmakers fled as the mob entered the Capitol, and a few defendants left threatening and vulgar messages behind when they found offices and the Senate chamber empty.
Jacob Chansley, an Arizona man and follower of the QAnon mass delusion who was photographed with a painted face and wearing a fur outfit and horns inside the Capitol, left a handwritten note on the dais where then–vice president Mike Pence had been sitting moments before rioters broke into the Senate side of the Capitol, according to his charging papers.
“It's only a matter of time, justice is coming,” Chansley wrote. Prosecutors noted that when the FBI interviewed Chansley, he’d said the note wasn’t meant as a threat, but the government argued that wasn’t believable. A federal magistrate judge in Arizona agreed and granted the government’s request to keep Chansley jailed pending trial.
Richard Barnett of Arkansas was photographed sitting in Pelosi’s office and told reporters afterward that he’d left a note on her desk that said, “Nancy, Bigo was here, you bitch.”
Charging papers quoted defendants who posted online and sent messages to friends and family after the insurrection wanting to claim credit for the violence. Some wanted to specifically make clear that they, and not “antifa,” assaulted the Capitol.
“Fuck yes, I am proud of my actions. I fucking charged the Capitol today with patriots today. Hell yes, I am proud of my actions,” Jenny Cudd of Texas says in a video she allegedly recorded at her hotel in downtown Washington after the riot, according to her court papers.
Charging papers for Cody Connell of Louisiana included screenshots of Facebook messages provided by a tipster where Connell wrote that the Jan. 6 riot wasn’t “planned” but pledged to “be back and it will be a lot worse than yesterday!” Prosecutors also quoted from another conversation on an unidentified social media platform on Jan. 7 where someone asked Connell, “Yall boys something serious lol it lookin like a civil war yet?” Connell replied: “It’s gonna come to it.”
Blake Reed of Tennessee posted photos from the Capitol on Facebook with the caption “No antifa, no BLM... We The People took the Capitol!” according to his charging papers.
“We took the Capitol and it was glorious,” Brandon Fellows of upstate New York posted on Facebook, according to his charging papers.
“Blood running out of that building”
Most defendants charged so far have been released while their cases are pending, but prosecutors have argued to keep some of them behind bars, emphasizing their own descriptions of what they did and their vows to come back to Washington for President Joe Biden’s swearing-in and commit more violence in the future.
In arguing to keep Chansley, the Arizona man known as the “QAnon shaman,” behind bars, prosecutors noted that he’d told the FBI that he planned to come back for Biden’s inauguration, saying, “I’ll still go, you better believe it. For sure I’d want to be there, as a protestor, as a protestor, fuckin’ a.” He was in jail during the inauguration Wednesday.
Joshua Black, an Alabama man, posted videos of himself on YouTube after the Capitol assault discussing his experience going inside. He talked about bringing a knife with him — he claimed he didn’t plan on using it and only brought it so he wouldn’t be “defenseless” — and prosecutors highlighted that in arguing for a judge to keep him in custody going forward; the judge hasn’t ruled yet.
“We can’t kill nobody I mean that ain’t gonna look right it’s all about PR, you know? I mean, it may come to that. I hope it don’t but it’s a Democrat house, a crooked Democrat house, crooked Republicans too, in a crooked Democrat senate, crooked Republicans, too, and now there’s a straight up crooked lying cheating you know president and I ain’t even gonna say nothing about Kamala Harris,” prosecutors quoted from one of Black’s videos in their detention memo.
Couy Griffin, a New Mexico man identified as the founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” allegedly posted a video on the group’s Facebook page about going back to Washington and threatened violence on Inauguration Day.
“If we do, then it’s gonna be a sad day because there’s gonna be blood running out of that building. But at the end of the day, you mark my word, we will plant our flag on the desk of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and Donald J. Trump if it boils down to it,” Griffin allegedly says in the video, which has been removed from Facebook.
Prosecutors filed a motion on Tuesday arguing to keep Griffin in custody as his case goes forward, based in part on what he said in the Facebook video. They argued that his posts and public statements showed a “willingness to threaten, injure, and intimidate,” and that it was “reasonable” to expect he might also try to threaten potential witnesses and jurors. A judge has yet to rule.