Who were the rioters attacking the Capitol last Wednesday? In the immediate aftermath, images highlighted deluded Trump fans snapping gleeful selfies and expressing their disdain for the system by vandalizing and defacing the building. But there were also rioters out for blood, seen in bulletproof vests and, chillingly, armed with zip ties to take hostages, shouting things like “Hang Mike Pence.” Images of them were not immediately available, and the full scope of the danger wasn’t apparent: For some watching the footage at home, it was hard to say if this was a group of angry buffoons who took things too far, or an actual attempted coup.
Over the next few days, details emerged—from a wave of arrests by authorities, but also from an army of internet sleuths working in a frenzy to identify those who breached the building. Those details revealed a group of people who were not unified in their motivations and goals, who often failed to realize the seriousness of their actions, but who were universally angry and by no means harmless. Researchers and journalists dug up exchanges from far-right spaces of the internet showing extremists discussing tactics in the days leading up to the riot, with plans to “arrest” certain legislators. Some rioters arrived with weapons. The result could have been even worse, but the actual events were tragic: the deaths of five people, including a protester shot by police and a Capitol Police officer killed by rioters who overpowered him and struck him with a fire extinguisher.
QAnon and Proud Boys
Several people arrested had expressed belief in the QAnon conspiracy theory, including its claims that Trump has been plotting to expose a network of Democrats and shadowy “deep state” figures who traffic children and worship Satan, among other evil acts. This wasn’t surprising: An attention-hungry man known as “Q Shaman,” decked out in face paint and horns, stood out in the crowds on Wednesday. His arrest and those of less flamboyant QAnon adherents followed. Doug Jensen, a man seen prominently wearing a “Q” T-shirt and attacking Capitol Police officers Wednesday, was arrested in Iowa. A family member told reporters that he had believed that “Q” was either Trump or someone close to the president. A 40-year-old woman named Tara Coleman had posted articles supporting QAnon to her Facebook page. Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran who was fatally shot inside the Capitol, believed in Q’s messages. She looked forward to Wednesday, which she believed would be “the storm,” when Trump finally and righteously vanquished his enemies.
There were less convoluted and conspiracy-oriented extreme beliefs on display. One man, in one of the most repulsive images from the march, was seen wearing a sweatshirt with the words “Camp Auschwitz.” The man was identified as a Virginia resident named Robert Keith Packer and described to CNN as an extremist who hated the government. Some among the rioters were animated by the idea of engaging in ideologically motivated brutality. While the Proud Boys had shown up separately earlier in the week, some of the group’s members were found at Wednesday’s events. Nick Robert Ochs, the leader and founder of a Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, was arrested the next evening in Honolulu. Ochs, who was the Trump campaign’s vice chairman in Hawaii in 2016 and who ran an unsuccessful bid for the state Legislature (with endorsements from the Hawaii GOP and Roger Stone), claims he was working as a journalist, representing a podcasting and YouTube group called “Murder the Media.”
Law Enforcement and the Military
Off-duty police officers and former and current members of the military were present in the mob. According to the Washington Post, police departments and sheriff’s offices across the country are investigating whether anyone in their departments participated in the riot. A number of officers have already been suspended or otherwise disciplined. One sheriff’s lieutenant called Wednesday “aside from my kids … the best day of my life.” According to the Post, at least one police chief appeared to have attended the rally. It’s unclear how these officers—and the Trump supporters carrying “thin blue line” flags—rationalize the violence against the Capitol Police that took place Wednesday.
It’s also unclear how many active-duty members of the military were in the crowd on Wednesday, but there appear to have been a good number of ex-military. Babbitt, for example, served for more than six years in an Air National Guard unit pledged to protect the D.C area. Larry R. Brock, seen in photos in a helmet, tactical vest, and camo—and identified by his ex-wife, who called the FBI when she recognized him on-screen—is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and combat veteran.* He was seen also carrying white flex cuffs, though he told the New Yorker that he had picked them up to give them to police.
A 30-year-old Army officer, Capt. Emily Rainey, was also identified in the crowd. Rainey, a psychological operations officer who had submitted her resignation after being rebuked for her actions in an earlier protest, led a group from North Carolina to Washington.* According to CBS News, the Pentagon is looking into how many Fort Bragg soldiers may have followed her. In a video she posted Friday, she told her followers that they should be ready to “put everything on the line.” In that same video, she insisted that rioters were antifa because “Patriots [would not] smash the windows of a National jewel” like the Capitol.
Remorse or Pride?
Many played down their actions, likely because of the realization that they faced jail time. Eric Gavelek Munchel, the 30-year-old man photographed with plastic restraints and dressed in all-black military garb, said in an interview that he and his mother entered the Capitol just to check things out and left when others started talking about stealing government property. Still, he expressed pride in their position, saying the two of them “wanted to show that we’re willing to rise up, band together and fight if necessary.” (Munchel’s mother told the Times of London, “I’d rather die as a 57-year-old woman than live under oppression.”) Others couldn’t help bragging. Richard Barnett, the man photographed sitting with his feet on a desk in Pelosi’s office, said, “I wrote her a nasty note, put my feet up on her desk, and scratched my balls.”
Others were apologetic. Derrick Evans resigned from the West Virginia House of Delegates on Saturday after broadcasting his actions in the Capitol. Bradley Rukstales, the former chief executive of an Illinois marketing company, put out a formal apology. A few who never made it to the Capitol storming seemed shocked by how things devolved. Leonard Guthrie Jr. has said he thought he’d “pray for honesty and integrity” at a peaceful protest. After being arrested for crossing a police barrier, he said, “I doubt I’ll ever do anything like that again.”
Correction, Jan. 12, 2021: This post originally misspelled Larry Brock’s last name. It also misstated that Emily Rainey resigned over her participation in Wednesday’s protest. She had resigned earlier after being reprimanded for behavior at a different protest. Because the resignation process is not immediate in the Army, she was still designated as an active-duty officer.