Nine supporters of former President Donald Trump, all arrested on weapons charges in connection with the storming of the U.S. Capitol, had “enough ammunition to shoot every member of the House and Senate five times,” according to a startling new report on the role of firearms in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Some of these heavily armed insurrectionists allegedly made statements threatening violence against lawmakers ahead of the Capitol siege, including a man who texted that he’d be “putting a bullet” in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s head; and another man who possessed a written note that menacingly described Rep. André Carson as “one of two muslims” in the House.
A review of police documents — conducted by the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety as part of a report published Thursday titled “The Role of Guns & Armed Extremism in the Attack on the U.S. Capitol” — shows cops seized at least 3,071 rounds of ammunition during the course of those nine arrests.
But the arrest and seizure data “likely vastly understates the presence of weapons at and near the Capitol on Jan. 6,” the report states, because police didn’t detain or search the majority of the insurrectionists on the day of the riot, many of whom had shared plans on social media to carry firearms. (Over 150 people have since been arrested for their role in the attack.)
Everytown’s report, however, is much more than a tally of guns and bullets in D.C. on Jan. 6; it’s an examination of how the “insurrectionist theory of the Second Amendment” — pushed for decades by powerful gun lobby groups like the National Rifle Association — led to an actual, armed insurrection in the seat of American democracy in the first week of 2021.
“We believe the NRA, like former President Trump, like some members of Congress, deserves blame for what led to Jan. 6,” Nick Suplina, the managing director of law and policy at Everytown, told HuffPost.
“You don’t get to Trump inciting an insurrection without an NRA laying the groundwork for all these years,” he said.
For decades, Everytown’s report argues, the NRA has shamelessly deployed over-the-top rhetoric and conspiracy theories about “mass civilian disarmament and looming authoritarianism” to get people to turn against even modest gun control measures, in turn helping radicalize a generation of American armed extremists.
The NRA, Everytown states, has “relentlessly” emphasized to its members that the Second Amendment gives them the right to overthrow a tyrannical government, while simultaneously labeling any politician advocating “for even the most modest” gun control measures “a tyrant-in-waiting.”
“It’s a recipe for the exact kind of disaster seen at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th: Americans fraudulently convinced the democratic process had been hijacked and left feeling that armed insurrection is a justifiable remedy,” the report states.
Everytown traces the NRA’s use of insurrectionist rhetoric back to at least to the early 1990s, when it leveraged the deadly law enforcement raids at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, to paint the government as authoritarian.
The nascent anti-government militia movement in America shared these beliefs, and the NRA often parroted that movement’s rhetoric. In 1995 — six days after the NRA sent a fundraising letter to the group’s members referring to federal agents as “jack-booted government thugs” who wanted to take Americans’ guns — Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.
He targeted the building because it housed an office for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, the NRA faced backlash for its insurrectionary rhetoric — former President George H.W. Bush famously quit the organization — but still refused to dial it down.
Fast-forward to 2021, Everytown notes in its report, and the NRA is still sending out fundraising letters in envelopes labeled “NOTICE OF GUN CONFISCATION,” warning that “only the NRA has the strength to win knock-down brawls on Capitol Hill.”
Evidence of Second Amendment insurrectionism was everywhere on display during the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill, Everytown says, pointing to images of insurrectionists waving a “Come and Take It” Confederate flag emblazoned with a drawing of an AR-15; or wearing NRA insignia on their clothing; or militia patches on their bulletproof vests.
Many of those arrested for unlawful entry into the Capitol, or for other charges related to the riot, have ties to extremist organizations or gun rights groups, or had “espoused the intention to use firearms in pursuit of their idea of justice,” Everytown states.
They include Richard Barnett, a gun rights activist and self-described white nationalist who was pictured sitting in Pelosi’s office inside the Capitol.
Prosecutors say William McCall Calhoun Jr., whose Twitter profile picture shows him wearing an NRA hat, advised his followers on social media ahead of the Capitol insurrection: “Whether the police can enforce their gun laws depends on how many armed Patriots show up.”
After the riot, Calhoun allegedly told his followers: “The word is we’re all coming back armed for war.”
Guy Wesley Reffitt is a member of the Texas Freedom Force, an anti-government militia, prosecutors say. After returning home from the Capitol, Reffitt’s family members say they saw him remove an AR-15 rifle and a pistol from his car and bring them into the house.
“If you turn me in, you’re a traitor and you know what happens to traitors,” he allegedly told his own family members. “Traitors get shot.”
Kevin Greeson had a heart attack during the insurrection and died — one of five deaths during the riot. In the months leading up to the insurrection, Greeson made multiple social media posts calling for a new civil war in America.
“Let’s give it to them. A war,” he wrote in one post. “Democrats don’t have guns. We do…. Im Bringing MY GUNS”
Around the 2020 election in November, Greeson wrote: “All males over the age of 18 join a group.. be ready to defend our country!! Spend your money on guns and ammo... It’s time to stop this shit!!!!!”
And Len Guthrie, a self-described “lifetime NRA member” arrested after Jan. 6, often shared Second Amendment insurrectionist propaganda on his Facebook page.
“This was an armed insurrection in many senses of the word,” Suplina, of Everytown, told HuffPost. “People were armed at the Capitol, but also they were motivated by gun-rights extremism, and by the fearmongering of the NRA.”
Suplina is worried that the armed insurrection was just the latest escalation of a new, concerning fixture of American politics: heavily armed right-wing extremists at demonstrations.
The Capitol riot, Everytown’s report notes, “was a continuation of a pattern of extreme right wing intimidation and violence that has grown unchecked during the Trump presidency.”
Throughout 2020, the report continues, “the extreme right used guns as tools of intimidation and violence in increasingly open ways, most notably by taking advantage of weak state gun laws to brandish weapons at anti-government protests and to intimidate peaceful protests for racial justice.”
From May 2020 to January 2021 there were at least 100 instances of armed demonstrators with guns at protests in the capital cities of 28 states, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project and the Bridging Divides Initiative at Princeton University.
Right-wingers brandishing big guns gathered by the thousand in Richmond, Virginia, for a gun-rights rally; they entered the state Capitol building of Michigan to demonstrate against coronavirus lockdown measures; and they repeatedly turned up to harass and intimidate Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
In the days after the election, police arrested two Trump supporters for traveling to Philadelphia’s vote-counting center with an AR-15 rifle and roughly 160 rounds of ammunition.
The two Trump supporters later took part in the Capitol insurrection. One of them allegedly even gave a speech to his fellow insurrectionists as they stormed the building.
The NRA did not condemn the insurrection at the Capitol for nine days, posting a statement to its social media pages denouncing “unlawful acts” late on a Friday afternoon. (Seven minutes later, the group announced that it was filing for bankruptcy.)
“The NRA has publicly condemned the tragedy that occurred at the U.S. Capitol,” NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam told HuffPost in a statement Thursday. “It is disappointing but not surprising that Everytown now seeks to exploit that event and the tragic loss of life to attack law-abiding gun owners.”
Arulanandam added that “Everytown’s assault on the Second Amendment is being firmly rejected by the American people. The recent rise in lawful gun ownership is a referendum on Everytown, Michael Bloomberg, and all who seek to dismantle constitutional freedoms.” (Everytown is largely financed by the former New York City mayor.)
Ultimately, Everytown’s report argues that the insurrection at the Capitol “demonstrated the urgent need for policymakers to confront armed extremism.”
The report calls for laws prohibiting the carrying of firearms at and around sensitive government facilities, as well as at demonstrations on public property.
It also says “armed extremists must be held accountable under existing laws for their criminal conduct.” Suplina warned what might have happened if Washington, D.C., didn’t have some of the stricter gun laws in the country.
“If it had been a jurisdiction that didn’t have laws against openly brandishing assault weapons, we would have seen far worse at the Capitol,” Suplina said. “We could have been witness to a mass-casualty event.”