WASHINGTON – One waved as he carried off the lectern of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The other flexed his bare, tattoo-covered torso and as he stood in front of Vice President Mike Pence’s chair in the Senate chamber.
Two men seen in some of the most memorable images of Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol have been charged and arrested, as federal prosecutors in the District of Columbia target high-profile figures from the pro-Trump riot.
Jacob Anthony Chansley, of Arizona, who also goes by Jake Angeli, is accused of trespassing on Capitol grounds, entering violently and committing disorderly conduct while there. Adam Johnson, 36, of Bradenton, Fla., faces the same charges as well as theft of government property in connection with the lectern.
Prosecutors also detailed charges against a man accused of threatening to kill Pelosi, D-Calif., and against a West Virginia state lawmaker who resigned his office Saturday.
Sixteen people have been charged in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with crimes related to the storming of the Capitol, including a man who admitted to stealing a document from Pelosi’s office. Forty others face charges in District Superior Court.
The federal cases charged so far involve the low-hanging fruit of the investigation – people who either identified themselves in online postings or were quickly identified by others who saw the images and recognized the individuals. The acting U.S. attorney in the District, Michael Sherwin, said a broader investigation into who did what at the Capitol, and what their intentions were, could take until at least the end of this year.
“This is just the beginning,” he said Friday.
The most common charge, unlawful entry into a restricted building, is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in prison. People who carried weapons or engaged in violence could face up to 10 years in prison. Making interstate threats is a felony punishable by up to five years. Most federal sentences fall far below statutory maximums.
The nation’s capital is one of the most secure cities on the planet, and federal law enforcement agencies, particularly the Capitol Police, have faced blistering criticism from the public and politicians that they were unprepared for the mob that invaded the building. Law enforcement agencies are scrambling to prove that they can quickly investigate, arrest and prosecute those responsible, particularly with the added pressure of talk already circulating online of additional unrest or confrontations on Jan. 17 and Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
A number of right-wing politicians and advocates have suggested that the mob at the Capitol contained far-left provocateurs, and blamed antifa, a shorthand term for antifascists. But FBI officials said they have seen no evidence that antifa activists were there or involved.
Cleveland Meredith was charged Thursday with threatening Pelosi, one day after arriving in the capital from Colorado. He told law enforcement he got to Washington too late for the protest or the attack on the Capitol. But on his way there, according to court documents, he texted a friend to say he was “Thinking about heading over to Pelosi . . . speech and putting a bullet in her noggin on Live TV,” a remark that was followed by purple devil emoji.
While prosecutors do not allege that Meredith ever got near Pelosi, they say he was carrying a 9mm Glock 19 pistol, an Israeli army standard-issue Tavor X95 assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.
In these early arrests, authorities relied heavily on open-source information, including news reports and the participants’ own social media posts. Former West Virginia state representative Derrick Evans, a Republican, who is charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct, live-streamed himself barging into the Capitol building with the mob. An FBI special agent wrote in an affidavit that though Evans later deleted the video, it is still available on Reddit, and that though Evans later described himself as “an independent member of the media,” on Facebook he says he is a “political candidate” who would attend the rally in support of President Donald Trump.
In his resignation letter, Evans said he took “full responsibility for my actions.”
A “widely circulated” Getty Images photograph led investigators to Johnson, FBI Special Agent Michael Jeng wrote in an affidavit. The image showed a red-haired man in a ski hat carrying Pelosi’s lectern and waving.
The lectern, which is worth over $1,000, was found a day later in a corridor on the other side of the Capitol building, according to Jeng.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Jeng noted, subsequently reported that the same man posted pictures under the name Adam Johnson from inside the Capitol. In one, he is pictured next to a sign saying the building is “Closed to all tours.”
“The caption accompanying the photograph, seemingly in response to the sign, says ‘No,’ ” Jeng wrote.
Florida documentary photographer Allan Mestel told The Washington Post that he had planned to travel to the event himself as an observer, but his wife deemed it too dangerous. Then, watching the news, he saw a friend’s neighbor carrying Pelosi’s lectern.
Mestel said that though he had never met Johnson, he “knew him by sight” and from social media, where the fellow Floridian expressed “extreme right-wing views and pro-conspiracy theory views.”
The Bradenton Herald reported that hours before the riot, Johnson posted on Facebook that he had joined a crowd the previous evening chanting expletives dismissive of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It was “pretty amazing,” his post said.
About 200 Trump supporters converged on Black Lives Matter Plaza near the White House on Tuesday night; a woman and two District police officers were taken to a hospital with minor injuries in connection with that demonstration.
Mestel said he called the FBI to identify Johnson. He said he was “impressed and surprised by how quickly they responded.”
Prosecutors identified Chansley as the man wearing fur-lined headdress and face paint who stood on the dais in the Senate chamber next to Pence’s chair in widely distributed photographs of the chaos inside the Capitol.
Chansley, who also goes by Jake Angeli and is associated with QAnon, was charged Friday with entering restricted grounds and disrupting Capitol business in Washington. A Capitol Police arrest affidavit said an agent confirmed Chansley’s identification by media reports, citing his “unique attire and extensive tattoos” seen in photographs Chansley posted on a Facebook page. The defendant also was identified by law enforcement through public databases, including his Arizona driver’s license photo, said Capitol Police Special Agent James Soltes.
Chansley called the FBI on Thursday to speak to law enforcement, Soltes wrote, and confirmed that he was the man wearing the headdress on the dais. He “stated that he came as a part of a group effort, with other ‘patriots’ from Arizona, at the request of the President that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021,” Soltes wrote.
Chansley could not be reached Saturday. In a lengthy telephone call Friday, he told The Post he was “not at all” afraid of arrest and believed himself innocent. “I didn’t do anything wrong,” he said, although he acknowledged that he entered the Capitol with other protesters, wearing the distinctive costume with horns and fur. “[B]ut isn’t that a public building? Didn’t our tax dollars pay for that building?”
Using the name Angeli, Chansley has been repeatedly photographed and interviewed in his distinctive garb at pro-Trump rallies over the past year. He often carried a sign saying “Q sent me.”
“When you really do enough research, it all ties together,” he told the Arizona Republic about QAnon, which holds that Trump is fighting an alliance of Democratic politicians and Hollywood liberals involved in child sex trafficking. The woman who was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer Wednesday also was an adherent of the conspiracy theory, which is heavily influenced by anti-Semitic tropes.
Information about attorneys for Chansley, Johnson and Meredith was not immediately available.
– – –
The Washington Post’s Fredrick Kunkle contributed to this report.