An Ohio man who was identified by online investigators in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack was arrested by the FBI on Thursday and charged with attacking law enforcement during a brutal siege on the western side of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Dave Mehaffie of Dayton, Ohio, was known to online investigators as #TunnelCommander because he was issuing orders to members of the mob who were attacking officers during a brutal battle at the lower western terrace entrance to the Capitol. Mehaffie was 86-AFO on the FBI’s Capitol wanted list, meaning he was wanted for assault on a federal officer.
A judge signed an arrest warrant for Mehaffie on Aug. 4 after he was indicted by a grand jury as part of an existing case.
Mehaffie was involved in one of the toughest battles of the Capitol siege. Members of the mob had stormed past police barriers and ascended the scaffolding set up for President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20, and were attempting to break into the building. During the “medieval” battle, members of the pro-Trump mob kidnapped D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone, who was repeatedly electroshocked. Rosanne Boyland, a pro-Trump member of the mob, was trampled during the brutal clash. The woman’s brother-in-law said that former President Donald Trump “incited a riot” that killed one of his “biggest fans.”
The arrest of #TunnelCommander is yet another boost for online “Sedition Hunters” who have used open-source information to identify the rioters who took part in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The open-source work of the online community is a constant presence in court filings, and prosecutors have recently been more explicit about citing their work.
HuffPost referenced Mehaffie (though not by name) in a March 26 story on the role that public facial recognition websites were playing in the Capitol investigation. A search of #TunnelCommander’s image on a publicly available facial recognition website pulled up photos of Mehaffie, including one of him on Classmates.com. As HuffPost wrote at the time, Mehaffie had scrubbed his Facebook profile, though there were plenty of images of him available online in connection with the businesses he ran in Dayton as well as his anti-abortion activity.
Mehaffie’s display of violence on Jan. 6 wasn’t the only time he’s resorted to right-wing extremism. The Dayton, Ohio, native was at one time a vocal member of Operation Rescue, a conservative anti-abortion group known for doing sit-in demonstrations in front of abortion clinics. Mehaffie was one of six defendants in a 1998 federal lawsuit which alleged that, under the leadership of Operation Rescue, Mehaffie and five other protesters illegally blocked entrances to abortion clinics in three different cities in Ohio during the summer of 1997. The judge in the case declared a mistrial due to issues with the prosecution witnesses.
“I do believe it’s a victory,” Mehaffie told The Associated Press at the time. “God has given a victory over a federal government that has wholeheartedly endorsed, protected and even propagated infanticide.”
Mehaffie was even more irreverent in a statement he made a month before the mistrial, accusing the federal court of supporting murder.
“Better to hold on to my soul in prison than to lie in bed with my wife and my children nearby, having betrayed all that I have told them I stand for,” Mehaffie said in an Operation Rescue press statement. “The enemy wages this battle, not only for the lives of the innocent and the souls of women who give them up, but also for the very soul of the church in Dayton.”
Mehaffie wasn’t the only rioter who has a history of anti-abortion extremism. Several high-profile anti-abortion leaders were involved in promoting the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and many took part in the violence.
Tayler Hansen, the founder of “Baby Lives Matter” and a well-known abortion clinic protester, filmed and shared a video to Twitter of fellow rioter Ashli Babbitt being shot and killed by Capitol police as rioters tried to push through a barricade. John Brockhoeft, infamous in anti-abortion circles for firebombing an Ohio abortion clinic in the 1980s, livestreamed himself in front of the Capitol on Jan. 6 “fighting” for Trump. Derrick Evans, a former member of West Virginia’s House of Delegates, participated in the Capitol riot and has a long history of harassing women outside of West Virginia’s Women’s Health Center, the only abortion clinic in the state.
The large presence of anti-abortion advocates at the Jan. 6 riot is no coincidence. The anti-abortion movement has long held deep ties to white supremacy, which was on full display in the mob of Trump supporters at the Capitol. Anti-abortion advocates were also the first to introduce conspiracy theories and disinformation to undermine facts and fan the flames of extremism, similar to the tactics of Trump and his base.
The fact that some people who truly believed Trump’s lies about a stolen election engaged in violence shouldn’t have come as a surprise, as HuffPost reported just a week after the 2020 election. If you actually believe that there was a massive criminal conspiracy across several states to steal the election on behalf of Joe Biden ― or if you deeply believe that abortion is equivalent to murder ― there’s a lot you can morally justify.
“It’s crucial we grapple with the deep and historic connections between the anti-choice movement, violence and white supremacy in this country,” NARAL Pro-Choice president Ilyse Hogue said after the Capitol riot. “We cannot move forward from these dark days and defend our democracy if we continue to gloss over how ideologically aligned these movements are.”