On the surface, it was a pretty solid lead.
Marilyn Hueper looks a lot like FBI suspect No. 225 on the bureau’s extensive wanted list for the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. They’re about the same age, with similar hair and similar taste in black jackets. Marilyn Hueper and her husband, Paul Hueper, were indeed on the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6 to support former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Like millions of Trump supporters, the Alaska couple believed Trump’s lies about a stolen election and thought they were part of a “righteous revolution to take back our country,” as Paul Hueper wrote on Instagram. The duo, according to the FBI, was also banned from Alaska Airlines for refusing to follow mask regulations on Feb. 17.
Overall, it seemed like a pretty good match. A special agent assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force out of Anchorage thought so too when he compared Marilyn Hueper’s driver’s license photo to FBI photographs 225A and 225B. He’d “confirmed” they were the same person, he wrote in a search warrant affidavit. A person who knows Marilyn Hueper, FBI Witness 2, also “confirmed” she was the woman in the FBI photos.
Last week, the FBI showed up to the Hueper home to execute a search warrant. The couple were handcuffed, and agents asked about a laptop from Nancy Pelosi’s office that they knew that FBI suspect 225 had grabbed. They showed Marilyn Hueper a photo of another woman who looked a bit like her but wasn’t actually her, Hueper said. And at some point, the FBI realized they’d made a mistake.
Marilyn bore a passing resemblance to FBI suspect No. 225, whom citizen sleuths in the Sedition Hunters community have branded “AirheadLady” because she and a young man she was with throughout her time in the Capitol ― FBI suspect No. 224 aka “AirheadBoy” ― eventually emerged from the building wearing emergency escape hoods.
When read in isolation, the FBI affidavit in support of the search warrant application, first found online by Seamus Hughes of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, makes a fairly compelling case that Hueper is the correct suspect. But a closer examination of the photos raises some red flags: The women’s ears are much different, as are their eyebrows and hairlines. A facial recognition check ― which the FBI has used to both identify high-profile Capitol suspects and to find people they’re already investigating on Capitol surveillance footage — would have almost certainly ruled her out.
It’s unclear how old Marilyn Hueper’s driver license photo is, or when the FBI witness who knew her last saw her (or how well they knew her). But the FBI did have access to a recent photo of Marilyn Hueper that was posted on Paul Hueper’s public Instagram page, which was cited in the affidavit. (On its own, the Instagram post is solid evidence that the Huepers entered restricted grounds of the Capitol and could theoretically face a possible misdemeanor charge, but federal authorities have focused their limited resources on defendants who entered the actual Capitol building, fought with police outside the building, or broke down barriers and let in the rest of the mob.)
In addition to closely examining the publicly available Instagram image, federal authorities might have been able to rule Marilyn Hueper out as No. 225 by crosschecking her cell phone against the government’s list of unauthorized cell phones inside the Capitol building or information they’ve obtained via search warrants for social media and tech companies. In other Capitol cases, authorities have been able to pinpoint suspect’s locations within a few meters.
Four months into the sprawling Capitol investigation, federal authorities have made more than 400 arrests. So far, there haven’t been any serious allegations that they’ve arrested the wrong person. The Capitol investigation is unprecedented in scope, and a degree of mistakes is inevitable. But wrongly telling a court that you’ve positively identified the woman who grabbed a laptop from the Speaker of the House and then raiding the wrong home is a pretty serious blunder.
Executing a search warrant is a very serious action that has potentially deadly consequences both for suspects and for FBI special agents, and the FBI’s mistake here has already been a tremendous public relations hit for the bureau. The Huepers have already appeared on Fox News and right-wing radio and podcasts. (Marilyn Hueper did not respond to a message left on the new cell phone number she obtained after the FBI seized her devices.) They’ve become the face of FBI overreach against the Trump supporters who entered the restricted grounds of the Capitol and stormed the building, who under normal circumstances would have been arrested at the scene on Jan. 6.
The FBI’s mistaken raid of the Huepers’ residence fits into a narrative promoted by the former president: that the conservative-leaning FBI, which has long been run by lifelong Republicans, somehow has a deep bias against conservatives. Republican trust in the FBI plummeted during the Trump administration; in 2018 less than a third of Trump supporters said they had even a fair amount of trust in the bureau.
As the Huepers’ profile rises, the question of what they actually did on the restricted grounds of the Capitol is still open. Plenty of defendants have lied about their activity, insisting they never entered the Capitol building when extensive evidence proves beyond any reasonable doubt that they did. There’s still a possibility that the Huepers engaged in the type of conduct that has resulted in charges against other defendants — but the feds are now in a precarious position to charge them with anything, given their major mistake last week.
The FBI doesn’t comment on search warrants, and the only public statement officials have made simply confirmed that there was FBI activity at a location in Homer, Alaska, on April 28.
For now, the stolen laptop ― as well as FBI suspects No. 224 and 225 ― are still out there. The FBI, meanwhile, has reportedly offered to replace the Huepers’ door.