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THE CAPITOL RIOT, THREE YEARS ON

From the QAnon Shaman to zip-tie guy: The most notable Capitol rioters and what happened to them

Among the more than 1,230 people arrested for allegedly taking part in the failed insurrection, a few names and faces stand out. Andrew Naughtie catches up with their cases

Friday 05 January 2024 16:12 GMT
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Jacob Chansley, known as the ‘QAnon Shaman’ felt ‘duped’ after Trump didn’t pardon him
Jacob Chansley, known as the ‘QAnon Shaman’ felt ‘duped’ after Trump didn’t pardon him (Getty)

With the third anniversary of the 6 January insurrection at the Capitol looming, more than 1,230 people have been charged with federal crimes over their alleged part in the most serious breach of the building since the War of 1812.

Many are facing only minor charges, but others are in far more serious trouble – and among those already sentenced are some of the most familiar faces from the abundant footage of the day’s events.

As the hard work of identifying, arresting and prosecuting those involved in the riot continues, here’s what’s happened so far to some of the day’s most notorious figures.

Life by the horns: Jacob Chansley

Without question the most immediately recognisable member of the mob that entered the Capitol, Jacob Chansley – aka Jake Angeli, aka the QAnon Shaman – immediately became an icon of the insurrection thanks to his bare-chested, face-painted, horn-headed outfit.

A picture of him posing on the rostrum of the Senate chamber with a spear became one of the most iconic images from that day and his case soon became one of its most-watched.

Media attention focused heavily on Chansley’s “shamanic” beliefs as well as his demands for a special diet while in prison. Early on in legal proceedings, his psychological state became a key issue, with a judge denying him pre-trial release because of “a detachment from reality”. His lawyer attempted an insanity offence, saying in a widely condemned interview that the Capitol rioters “are people with brain damage, they’re f****** r*******, they’re on the goddamn spectrum”.

Jacob Chansley, the ‘QAnon Shaman’, in the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 (AFP/Getty)

A psychological evaluation diagnosed Chansley with transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety, but the court ruled him mentally competent to face charges.

After striking a deal to plead guilty, he was sentenced to almost three-and-a-half years in jail in November 2021.

He subsequently appealed the sentence, hiring a lawyer who previously represented teenage shooter and wannabe militiaman Kyle Rittenhouse but ending up serving time at the Federal Correctional Institution in Safford, Arizona, before released into the care of a halfway house on 28 May 2023 and finally freed two months later.

#FloridaFlagJacket: Robert Scott Palmer

One of the most distinctively dressed rioters at the insurrection, Robert Scott Palmer’s “Florida for Trump” hat and stars-and-stripes outerwear earned him the nickname “Florida Flag Jacket” – the moniker used by online sleuths who collaborated to identify him and hundreds of others from the footage of the riot.

After accepting a plea deal, Palmer was sentenced on 17 December 2021 to five years in jail for assaulting police officers with objects including a fire extinguisher, a plank and a pole – actions well-documented on video. His was the longest sentence handed down to a rioter at that point, and he was the first to be charged with “assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon, inflicting bodily injury”.

His lawyers tried to argue for a shorter sentence based on the fact that he had been drawn to the riot by those inciting it, but judge Amy Berman Jackson was not swayed. "It`s true that the people who exhorted you and encouraged you and rallied you to go take action and to fight have not been charged,” she told him.

“The issue of who has been charged is not before me. You engaged in combat with those law enforcement officers. That’s what you’re being punished for. You have a point, maybe the people who planned 6 January haven’t been charged, but that’s not a reason for you to get a lower sentence.”

‘You are not going to take away our Trumpy bear’: Gina Bisignano

In the video of Palmer attacking police officers, a voice can be heard bellowing through a megaphone: “You are not going to take away our Trumpy bear! They are not going to take our Trumpy bear! They will not take away our Trumpy bear! We love you, President Trump!”

This is Gina Bisignano, a California beautician famously pictured with makeup streaming down her cheeks behind her aviator glasses after being hit with a chemical irritant.

After being arrested later in January, she was indicted by prosecutors for encouraging and helping others to smash windows; since then, she has pleaded guilty to six of seven charges under a plea deal, and has cooperated with investigators.

Family ties: Eric Munchel and Lisa Marie Eisenhart

One of the most chilling images from the insurrection shows a man clad in combat-style clothes climbing over seats in the Senate visitors’ gallery with a handful of zip ties. In another picture, he is seen outside the Capitol accompanied by a middle-aged woman sporting what appears to be a protective vest.

The so-called “zip tie guy” is Eric Munchel – who filmed the attack himself – and the woman is his mother, Lisa Eisenhart. Both are facing multiple charges, among them bringing a Taser onto Capitol grounds.

Despite his ominously militaristic attire, Munchel’s lawyers have claimed that he only entered the Capitol to keep an eye on his mother, whom his video footage shows him following into the Capitol and into the Senate chamber while warning her: “Mom, be careful”.

His representatives also claim that he only picked up the zip ties after they were dropped by fleeing law enforcement officers, and that he did not intend to use them to take hostages.

‘They need to hang’: Pauline Bauer

The crowd who descended upon the Capitol between them held a dizzying array of misinformed, misguided and malign beliefs, but some were far more extreme than others.

Bauer, owner of a pizzeria in Pennsylvania, stands accused of trying to organise transportation for people headed to the pre-riot “Stop the Steal” rally. She was pictured inside the Capitol, and is alleged to have told a police officer to “bring Nancy Pelosi [he Democrats’ house speaker] out here now… we want to hang that f***ing b****”.

In court hearings, she has repeatedly invoked contorted and arbitrary legal concepts associated with the “sovereign citizen” movement – a longstanding belief system based around various false and bizarre ideas, including that US law does not in fact apply to them.

Among her various outbursts and mangled statements, Bauer has claimed “diplomatic immunity” and insisted that she is “not a person” – a core trope of the sovereign citizen belief system.

Beyond the fringe theories and assertions she has advanced, Bauer has also behaved erratically in court, shouting at staff and refusing legal assistance.

Keyboard warrior: Riley Williams

According to the statement of facts in her case, Riley Williams was turned in by someone who called themselves a former romantic partner who spotted her in video footage from the day. Like many of those picked out, she was clad in eye-catching attire – in her case a brown trench coat and a zebra-print shoulder bag – but her actions stuck out too.

She not only joined the crowd inside the building, but directed other rioters up a staircase that leads to Nancy Pelosi’s office – and more than that, the witness who turned her in claims to have seen video that showed her stealing one of the office’s Hewlett-Packard computers, which she allegedly intended to send to the Russian foreign intelligence service via a friend. The sale reportedly fell through.

Williams absconded before she could be arrested, and her own mother confirmed to a British ITV news crew that it was indeed her featured in footage of the insurrection.

An ITV crew helped identify Riley Williams while police were searching for her

According to her lawyers, the witness who accused her of planning the Russian sale is a former abusive boyfriend who has “threatened Ms Williams in a number of ways”.

‘This has been a bunch of crap’: Richard ‘Bigo’ Barnett

Also notorious among those who infiltrated the speaker’s office is Richard Barnett, who was pictured sitting with his feet on one of the office’s desks. He has confirmed both his identity and his infiltration of the office to multiple media sources, including TheNew York Times reporter Matthew Rosenberg and Arkansas outlet 5News.

Barnett, also known as “Bigo”, left a note on Pelosi’s desk. Prosecutors claim it reads “Hey Nancy Bigo was here b****”; Barnett’s lawyers have stated that he intended to use the slang term “biatch” but obscured it with poor handwriting.

Legal proceedings in his case so far have been eventful. In March, while still incarcerated, he dialled into a hearing to rant that authorities were “dragging this out” and that “this has been a bunch of crap”. Having pleaded innocent and been released from custody for now, he will now face trial early next year after prosecutors were granted an extension to grapple with the volume of evidence from 6 January.

Barnett’s views appear to tend towards the hardcore. As reported by The Washington Post, he spelled them out on a pseudonymous Facebook page: “I am white,” he wrote. “There is no denying that. I am a nationalist. I put my nation first. So that makes me a white nationalist.”

‘I’m sorry’: Danny Rodriguez

The hundreds of people charged in connection with the events of 6 January have expressed wildly different shades of pride and remorse over their actions. At the extremely regretful end of the spectrum is Danny Rodriguez, footage of whose interrogation shows him weeping and apologising profusely.

Rodriguez has pleaded not guilty to assaulting police officer Michael Fanone with a stun gun to the neck, but in the videotaped interview with federal officers he appears to confess to the crime, as well as describing himself as a “f****ing piece of s***” and regretting that he had fallen for the “joke” theory that the attack could avert a Joe Biden presidency.

“Are we all that stupid that we thought we were going to go do this and save the country and it was all going to be fine after?” he told the agents. “We really thought that. That’s so stupid, huh? I understand what it – it’s very stupid and ignorant, and I see that it’s a big joke, that we thought that we were going to save this country, we were doing the right thing and stuff. I get it.”

Mr Rodriguez’s lawyers fought to have the transcript of his interview excluded from his trial, claiming that he had tried to invoke his right to silence just before the portion in which he discusses the assault. The request was denied.

‘Definitely not going to jail’: Jenna Ryan

Texas realtor Jenna Ryan became infamous for her exuberant bragging about her role in the insurrection – to which she flew by private jet – and for a hubristic tweet in which she shrugged off the potential consequences of taking part in the attack.

“Definitely not going to jail,” she wrote. “Sorry I have blonde hair, white skin, a great job, a great future and I’m not going to jail. Sorry to rain on your hater parade. I did nothing wrong.” In November, she was sentenced to jail for 60 days on a misdemeanour charge and hit with hundreds of dollars in fines. She is scheduled to report for her sentence in early January; according to a TikTok video, her plans for her stint behind bars include yoga, a detox and losing 30 pounds.

Aside from her infamous tweet, Ryan is also notable for a January 2021 interview in which she demanded Donald Trump grant a blanket pardon for those who stormed the Capitol. “I was following what we were called to do,” she told CBS. “He asked us to fly there. He asked us to be there. So I was doing what he asked us to do.”

Mr Trump ultimately did not pardon any of the grassroots supporters involved in the event.

Proud Boys shamed

Enrique Tarrio, Ethan Nordean, Joe Biggs and Zachary Rehl of the Fred Perry-shirted “neo-chauvinist” outfit were all convicted of seditious conspiracy over their role in the riot and sentenced on 4 May 2023.

Tarrio, their leader, was condemned to 22 years in prison, Nordean to 18 years, Biggs to 17 and Rehl to 15.

Enrique Tarrio (AP)

Oath Keepers kept

Tarrio aside, the longest sentence to be handed out to one of the rioters went to Stewart Rhodes, a Yale Law graduate, military veteran and the founder of another notorious far-right group, the Oath Keepers, who was handed an 18-year prison sentence on 23 May 2023 for seditious conspiracy and evidence tampering.

Stewart Rhodes (AP)

Kelly Meggs, leader of the Florida chapter of the same organisation, was sentenced alongside Rhodes and given 12 years.

Jessica Watkins, another military veteran and Oath Keeper, was given eight and a half years behind bars for her conduct during the attack.

Hall of Shame: Dishonourable mentions

Some other notable sentencees include Peter Schwartz of Pennsylvania, who was given 14 years in December 2022 on 10 charges including four felony charges of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers while using a dangerous weapon.

Former New York City police officer Thomas Webster also deserves a mention, after picking up a 10-year sentence for assaulting a DC cop and grabbing his gas mask. Webster has since said he regrets visiting the nation’s capital that day.

Patrick McCaughey and the improbably-named Albuquerque Cosper Head were given seven and a half years respectively for their own attacks on police officers, while another man, Kyle Young, was given seven years for the same offence.

McCaughey pinned officer Daniel Hodges in a doorway, ignoring his howls of pain and beating him with a stolen baton – an act he later admitted had been “monumentally stupid” – while Young and Head joined in the mob assault on officer Michael Fanone.

Police officers including Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone appear before Congress to describe their ordeals on 6 January 2021 (AP)

Both cops memorably described their agony to the House select committee in the first of its public hearings on the Capitol riot in July 2021.

Other armed rioters also given hefty jail sentences of more than six years for their parts in the violence were Guy Reffitt, Thomas Robertson and Julian Khater, the latter pepper-spraying three police officers in the face, one of whom was Brian Sicknick, who subsequently died of multiple strokes a day later.

Gone to ground: the pipe bomber

The single most mysterious figure from the insurrection is still the person who left pipe bombs on Capitol Hill the night before the attack.

The FBI has released multiple video clips showing the masked suspect in various locations as they dropped off devices outside buildings housing the Democratic and Republican party headquarters. According to the bureau, the devices were viable.

CCTV footage of the person suspected of leaving pipe bombs on Capitol Hill on 5 January 2021

Despite nearly three year’s investigation, leads on the suspect remain thin on the ground, and the lack of an arrest has fuelled a growing conspiracy theory indulged by Donald Trump himself.

A tip line remains open and a $100,000 (£74,000) reward is available.

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