They Were Not Tourists: The Radicals At The Heart Of The Capitol Riot

On the six-month anniversary of the insurrection, Republicans are trying to convince America it wasn't that big a deal.
It's been six months since supporters of Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
It's been six months since supporters of Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost

A collection of rightly concerned patriots. Confused tourists. A motley band of hapless, harmless dopes.

In the six months since the dramatic conflict at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, large parts of the Republican Party, working alongside the right-wing media machine, have labored to make the case that what happened that day was no big deal. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) argued that it was not an insurrection, but a “largely peaceful protest.” Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) — who can be seen in photos from Jan. 6 looking horrified as he rushed to barricade the House gallery doors to stop the rioters from entering — called the riot a “normal tourist visit.” Fox News megastar Tucker Carlson has even asserted that perhaps the uprising was a false flag event orchestrated by the FBI.

There were indeed some people at the Capitol who were basically harmless and have claimed they didn’t realize what would happen. A 49-year-old Indiana woman was sentenced this week in federal court on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge for being inside the Capitol for only 10 minutes, during which she didn’t break anything or assault anyone, prosecutors say. She won’t serve prison time. “I would have never been there if I had known it would turn out that way,” she said at her sentencing, while apologizing to the “American people.”

Later that day, however, another man pleaded guilty to far more serious charges. Graydon Young of Sarasota, Florida, faces up to 78 months in prison for conspiring with members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia to overrun the Capitol and stop electoral votes from being counted. He will cooperate with authorities in cases against his co-conspirators.

Young’s case points to a fundamental, terrifying fact about Jan. 6: A dedicated core of bad actors, from architects of the “Stop the Steal” rally to a wide range of extremists and militia members, came to Washington to derail the democratic process. And it almost worked.

On this half-year anniversary of that fateful day, it’s important to remember the horror of it, to retain our dwindling sense of shock, so that those who were complicit face justice ― and it never happens again.

The Extremists Who Were There

The White Nationalists

Richard Barnett, a supporter of President Donald Trump, holds a piece of mail as he sits inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after insurrectionists breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Richard Barnett, a supporter of President Donald Trump, holds a piece of mail as he sits inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after insurrectionists breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

In the summer of 2017, President Donald Trump infamously condoned the actions of violent white supremacists at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, by declaring there were “very fine people” on both sides of the deadly event.

On Jan. 6, some of those very white nationalists traveled to Washington, D.C., in big numbers to aid in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of a fair election.

Nick Fuentes, leader of the white nationalist America First “groyper” movement, marched in Charlottesville in 2017 alongside neo-Nazis. On Jan. 6 he allegedly used a megaphone to implore a crowd of his supporters to attack the Capitol. “Keep moving towards the Capitol — it appears we are taking the Capitol back!” he said. “Break down the barriers and disregard the police. The Capitol belongs to us,” he added.

One of Fuentes’ friends, Tim Gionet, also known as “Baked Alaska,” a white nationalist troll who also marched in Charlottesville, livestreamed himself participating in the riot. “We are in the Capitol building. 1776 will commence again,” he allegedly said on the livestream, according to court documents. “America First is inevitable!”

Multiple white nationalist flags were seen at the Capitol on Jan. 6, including an “America First” flag; a flag for the white nationalist website VDare; and an alt-right Kekistan flag.

Other assorted white supremacists were there too, including Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, a U.S. Army reservist who prosecutors say was known to co-workers as a Nazi sympathizer who donned a “Hitler mustache” at his naval security job.

Robert Keith Packer was seen inside the Capitol wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones and the words “Camp Auschwitz: Work Means Freedom,” a reference to the slogan outside the infamous Nazi death camp where over 1 million people, most of them Jews, were killed.

Richard Barnett, a self-proclaimed white nationalist from Arkansas, was famously photographed sitting in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) with his feet propped up on a desk.

And Bryan Betancur of Maryland, according to a police affidavit, is a “member of several white supremacy organizations” who has “voiced homicidal ideations, made comments about conducting a school shooting, and has researched mass shootings.” He also allegedly has “voiced support for James Fields, the individual convicted for killing an individual with his car during protests in Charlottesville, Virginia.”

Betancur was photographed outside the Capitol posing with a Confederate flag. He faces multiple charges, including unlawful activities on Capitol grounds and disorderly conduct.

The Proud Boys

Members of the Proud Boys make a hand gesture while walking near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Members of the Proud Boys make a hand gesture while walking near the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

During a 2020 presidential debate, when asked to condemn the violent neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys, Trump said only that the group’s members should “stand back and stand by.”

When Trump summoned his supporters for the “wild” rally he was going to hold on Jan. 6, the president’s black-shirted Proud Boys showed up in droves.

Over 30 Proud Boys have since been arrested for their roles in the riot, including four of the group’s leaders, all of whom are now facing conspiracy charges.

Ethan Nordean, Zach Rehl, Charles Donohoe and Joseph Biggs, prosecutors say, coordinated the Proud Boys to overwhelm Capitol police officers and enter the building.

Two other Proud Boys, Dominic Pezzola and William Pepe, also face conspiracy charges. Pezzola allegedly stole a riot shield from a police officer and then used it to smash a window in what has been considered the first real breach of the Capitol building. In court filings in January, law enforcement agents said they discovered a thumb drive containing bomb-making instructions in Pezzola’s home.

The Oath Keepers

The Oath Keepers are one of the most prominent armed far-right paramilitary groups in America. For the past two decades, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group has “steeped itself in conspiracy theories and trained for a revolution against the state.”

The Oath Keepers got their chance to attack the government on Jan. 6. Video footage shows them donning helmets and vests, forming a military-style “stack” formation to force their way through the crowd, up the Capitol steps, and then into the building.

Members of the Oath Keepers wearing military tactical gear attend the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6 prior to the storming of the Capitol.
Members of the Oath Keepers wearing military tactical gear attend the "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6 prior to the storming of the Capitol.
Robert Nickelsberg via Getty Images

Sixteen Oath Keepers have been charged in a massive federal conspiracy case. The Department of Justice alleges the paramilitary group members “agreed to plan and participate in an operation to interfere with the certification of the electoral college vote by coordinating in advance with others, using websites and social media to recruit participants, and traveling to Washington, D.C., with paramilitary gear and supplies including firearms, tactical vests with plates, helmets and radio equipment.”

Two of the defendants have already pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their case against the extremist group.

One of the men who pleaded guilty, Mark Grods, admitted to stashing firearms across the Potomac River, in a Virginia hotel.

Prosecutors allege the Oath Keepers stored the weapons there in case the violence escalated at the Capitol and they needed more firepower.


The QAnon movement is based on an ever-evolving group of conspiracy theories stemming from the foundational belief that an anonymous high-ranking government official known only as “Q” has been leaving cryptic clues online about a secret, globalist cabal of Satan-worshipping, blood-drinking pedophiles who, in league with the Democratic Party, are working to undermine and destroy Trump.

QAnon followers have long nursed the authoritarian fantasy about the coming “storm,” the day that Trump would use the military to arrest, imprison and possibly execute his political enemies. For the Q faithful, the forecast for Jan. 6 was promising, and an opportunity to show their loyalty to the president and take part in history.

QAnon T-shirts, flags and signs were everywhere in and near the Capitol on Jan. 6. According to researchers at the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, some 40 QAnon believers have been arrested for participating in the insurrection.

"QAnon Shaman" Jacob Chansley screams "Freedom!" inside the Senate chamber after the U.S. Capitol was breached by a mob during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
"QAnon Shaman" Jacob Chansley screams "Freedom!" inside the Senate chamber after the U.S. Capitol was breached by a mob during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6.
Win McNamee via Getty Images

They include, perhaps most notoriously, Jacob Chansley, a 33-year-old Arizona man known as the “QAnon Shaman,” who could be seen in multiple viral photos and videos wearing horns, a bearskin headdress, and red, white and blue face paint.

Prosecutors have accused Chansley of forcing his way into the Senate chamber, where he sat in then-Vice President Mike Pence’s chair and left a note that read: “ITS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME JUSTICE IS COMING!” Earlier that day, Pence had refused Trump’s request to block the certification of Joe Biden’s election as the next president of the United States.

Another QAnon believer, Douglas Jensen, could be seen in a viral video (shot by HuffPost’s Igor Bobic) chasing U.S. Capitol Police officer Eugene Goodman through the Capitol building. “We’re here for the corrupt government!” Jensen can be heard shouting at Goodman as he runs up the stairs toward the officer.

Jensen now has regrets about joining the QAnon movement, according to a court filing from his attorney, Christopher M. Davis.

“Jensen became a victim of numerous conspiracy theories that were being fed to him over the internet by a number of very clever people,” Davis wrote. “Six months later, languishing in a DC Jail cell, locked down most of the time, he feels deceived, recognizing that he bought into a pack of lies.”

A Serious Plot, By The Numbers


The number of people arrested on charges related to storming the Capitol. Federal prosecutors say the cases could add up to the largest investigation in American history.


The number of photos of suspects on the FBI’s Capitol violence “most wanted” website. Hundreds of people identified by the agency have yet to be arrested. Included in those photos: an image from a surveillance camera showing a person — seen wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt, a face mask and Nike Air Max Speed Turf sneakers — who allegedly placed pipe bombs near the headquarters of both the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee the night before Jan. 6.


The number of people arrested for assaulting federal law enforcement officers during the riot. Robert Sanford, a 55-year-old retired Pennsylvania firefighter, allegedly struck three police officers with a fire extinguisher.


The number of officers injured in the attack. One officer lost the tip of his right index finger. Another was stabbed with a metal fence stake. Some were hit over the head with baseball bats and flagpoles. Rioters attacked officers with bear spray, irritating their eyes and lungs. One officer suffered cracked ribs and shattered spinal discs. Many were concussed. Some have brain injuries.


The number of Capitol Police officers who died by suicide after the riot.


The number of people with military backgrounds arrested for participating in the riot. Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr. was photographed on the Senate floor in a helmet and combat gear, zip ties held in his right hand.

“He means to take hostages,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer alleged during a court hearing. “He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government.”

Brock is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, as well as violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.


The number of off-duty or former police officers arrested for participating in the attack. Thomas Robertson, a former Rocky Mount, Virginia, police officer is accused of storming the building and then posing for photos inside. He pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including obstruction of an official proceeding. In a Facebook comment on Jan. 8, Robertson wrote, “The next revolution started in DC 1/6/21. The only voice these people will now listen to is VIOLENCE. So, respectfully. Buckle armor or just stay at home.”

As part of his bail conditions, a judge stipulated that Robertson could not own any firearms or destructive devices while his case was pending. But last month, prosecutors said, law enforcement agents found a loaded M4 carbine and a partially built pipe bomb during a search of Robertson’s home. Prosecutors said he also purchased 34 firearms online, “transporting them in interstate commerce while under felony indictment.”


The number of dollars allocated by the House to the Architect of the Capitol for repairs related to the attack. Rioters broke windows and doors, ransacked offices, stole objects and vandalized statues and walls. (Someone wrote “Murder The Media” on a door.)

Historical art and furniture was damaged, and a 19th-century gold mirror was shattered. The residue of bear repellent, pepper spray and fire extinguishers was left behind.

Rioters stole, or attempted to steal, the following objects during the attack: a sign reading “Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi,” chairs, a lamp, drawers, documents, the U.S. flag from the Senate chamber, a coat rack, a bottle of bourbon, a bottle of wine, a Senate procedure book and Pelosi’s lectern.


A member of the National Guard patrols outside the U.S. Capitol on March 8.
A member of the National Guard patrols outside the U.S. Capitol on March 8.
Sarah Silbiger via Getty Images

The number of dollars set aside by Congress to reimburse the National Guard for expenses incurred while responding to the riot. National Guard troops were stationed at the Capitol for five months after the attack.


The number of state and local GOP officials whom HuffPost has identified as being at the rally that preceded the insurrection. As we previously reported, they include “a QAnon conspiracy theorist; a self-described member of a fascist militia; and a man who once declared that ‘the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.’” The group also included “an extremist sheriff from Oklahoma who discussed harming members of Congress, a town council member from Massachusetts who is closely affiliated with the violent neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys and a county commissioner from Florida who once discussed beheading liberals.”

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