The insurrectionists who stormed the U.S. Capitol last month largely escaped arrest after overwhelming an underprepared police force. When the feds eventually tracked some of them down ― starting with those who openly bragged about their conduct on social media ― most initially faced low-level misdemeanor charges.
But now, after prosecutors presented their cases to a federal grand jury, many insurrectionists have been charged with much more serious offenses: felonies that come with the potential of significant time in federal prison.
In addition to criminal complaints, the government has secured federal grand jury indictments against a number of defendants, including conspiracy cases against defendants who allegedly worked together during the attack on the Capitol. A number of U.S. Capitol attack defendants have been indicted on serious charges — nearly a dozen on Wednesday alone.
As the indictments come back, it appears as though felony charges are going to be the norm for many defendants. Their online bragging, disclosures during FBI interviews and searches of their property after their arrests are giving prosecutors what they need to secure felony indictments.
One common charge is obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, in violation of Section 1512(c) of the U.S. Code. While 1512 is better known for its witness-tampering provisions, part of the law outlaws corruptly obstructing, influencing or impeding an official proceeding. The official proceeding in question here is the certification of the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6.
Take the case of the “selfie cops,” who used to be employed as law enforcement officers in Virginia. Jacob Fracker and Thomas Robertson were originally only facing two counts. But a federal grand jury indicted them on four counts on Friday, including a felony charge of obstructing an official proceeding and aiding and abetting others in impeding a proceeding before Congress “by entering and remaining in the United States Capitol without authority and participating in disruptive behavior.”
A conviction on that charge would keep them out of law enforcement for good, keep them from owning weapons and could come with some serious time in federal prison.
Jenny Cudd, a florist from Texas, bragged on social media about how rioters broke down House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office door and “charged the Capitol.” Cudd said she was proud of her actions. This week ― amid a raging coronavirus pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans ― she requested permission to take a vacation to Mexico. Because she was only facing misdemeanor charges, a court might have granted such a motion.
But a federal grand jury indicted Cudd on five charges on Wednesday, including the obstructing an official proceeding charge. Now that she’s been indicted on a felony, that Mexico vacation is less likely.
“Capitol insurrectionists' online bragging, disclosures during FBI interviews and searches of their property after their arrests are giving prosecutors what they need to secure felony indictments.”
Gina Bisignano, a California woman who stormed the Capitol wearing a Louis Vuitton sweater and was caught on video egging on the crowd with a bullhorn, was indicted on seven counts, including the obstructing an official proceeding charge. Grand jurors also added a civil disorder charge against Bisignano under a rarely used law first passed in the 1960s that the Trump administration more recently deployed during protests over the killing of George Floyd.
Patrick McCaughey III, caught on video battling police officers struggling to keep the pro-Trump mob from storming the Capitol, was indicted on nine counts, including a charge of assaulting, resisting or impeding an officer with a deadly or dangerous weapon.
Richard Barnett, photographed with his feet up on a desk in Nancy Pelosi’s office and bragging about stealing property from her office, was indicted on seven counts, including the felony obstruction of an official proceeding charge.
Stephanie Hazelton, the South Jersey right-wing activist known as “Ayla Wolf,” was indicted on six counts, including felonies for civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding.
Edward Jacob Lang was indicted on 11 counts, including felonies for civil disorder, assaulting officers and obstruction of an official proceeding.
Melony Steele-Smith, who bragged that she “stormed the castle” on Facebook and posted images from inside of Pelosi’s office, was indicted on five counts, including the felony count of obstructing an official proceeding.
Josiah Colt, an Idaho man who rappelled into the chamber of the Senate ― which he incorrectly believed was the House chamber ― was indicted on four counts, including the felony obstruction of an official proceeding charge.
The FBI recently launched an upgraded portal featuring images of 200 suspects wanted in connection with the Capitol attack, and the agency is continuing to bring new cases. In several Capitol cases, prosecutors have filed “information” against a defendant, which typically indicates that a defendant has waived their right to an indictment and plans to seek a plea deal, but may also just mean that prosecutors do not intend to seek any felony charges.
Samuel Camargo, who bragged online that he “got some memorabilia, did it myself” with an image of a piece of metal he apparently stole during the Capitol siege, was pretty confident with how things went when he gave the FBI an interview after the Capitol insurrection.
“Just finished speaking to an FBI agent, I believe I’ve been cleared,” Camargo wrote on Facebook.
Court records posted Thursday indicated that Camargo was indicted.