WASHINGTON – The U.S. Justice Department and FBI announced charges Friday against an incoming West Virginia lawmaker, an Arkansas man who told the media he posed for photos on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office and an Alabama man whose truck allegedly carried 11 molotov cocktails and a semiautomatic rifle to this week’s U.S. Capitol riots.
The cases come as authorities in Washington continue working to identify members of the mob who stormed the Capitol – many of whom posted images of themselves on social media amid the mayhem.
A nationwide dragnet involving hundreds of prosecutors and agents from all 56 FBI field offices is involved in the effort, which “has the highest priority of the Department of Justice,” said Kenneth Kohl, a top official in the federal prosecutors office in Washington.
“Just because you’ve left the D.C. region, you can still expect a knock on the door if we find out you were part of criminal activity in the Capitol,” FBI Washington Field Office chief Steven D’Antuono told reporters in a teleconference, pledging “the full force” of the bureau in the investigation.
Investigators described a sprawling inquiry that could take months to unfold. District of Columbia police, for example, announced they had received about 17,000 tips from the public after posting images of people of interest in the break-in. The FBI also has been inundated with leads after posting more than 40 photographs asking for help identifying individuals.
Among 13 individuals facing federal charges in Washington was Richard Barnett, who was arrested Friday morning after turning himself in to local authorities in Arkansas.
Barnett, of Gravette, Ark., was photographed sitting with his boots up on a desk in Pelosi’s office – an image that quickly became emblematic of the chaotic storming of the complex by a pro-Trump mob. Barnett, who has defended white nationalism on Facebook, identified himself as the intruder in Pelosi’s office to the New York Times.
Barnett, 60, who goes by the nickname “Bigo,” was charged with three counts of entering restricted grounds, violent entry and disorderly conduct at the Capitol and theft of public property, Kohl said.
Also charged with unlawful entry was Hawaii Proud Boys founder and unsuccessful state house candidate Nicholas Robert Ochs, who gave media interviews saying he participated in the break-in, an FBI arrest affidavit unsealed Friday alleged. The affidavit also said he tweeted a photo of himself and another person smoking cigarettes inside the Capitol, saying “Hello from the Capital lol.”
Prosecutors said in a court filing that Ochs was arrested Thursday in Hawaii and was expected to go before a federal magistrate Friday or Monday for possible transfer to Washington. A defense attorney for Ochs could not immediately be located.
Kohl also announced that recently elected West Virginia delegate Derrick Evans was charged with unlawfully entering restricted grounds after allegedly live-streaming a video of himself during the breaking on his Facebook page.
“Bring the tear gas. We don’t care,” Evans is heard yelling on the video. “We’re taking this country back whether you like it or not. Today’s a test run. We’re taking this country back.”
An attorney for Evans, John Bryan, has maintained Evans is innocent, that he was not part of the violent mob that damaged the Capitol Building and that he was exercising his First Amendment rights.
Prosecutors announced that Lonnie Leroy Coffman, 70, of Falkville, Ala., charged Thursday on one federal and one local count of possessing an unregistered or unlicensed firearm, was the registered owner of a red GMC pickup truck with Alabama plates parked near the Capitol in which officers allegedly found 11 molotov cocktails, a handgun and an M4 carbine assault rifle.
Kohl said police also found Coffman carrying two handguns. Federal agents discovered the truck while investigating suspected pipe bombs near the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill and its Democratic counterpart, Kohl said.
Kohl said that while the truck was investigated because of the suspected or “perceived pipe bombs,” Coffman was not charged in connection with those possible devices, but with allegedly possessing the other weapons and destructive devices in his truck or on his person.
At an initial court appearance Thursday in Washington, Coffman did not enter a plea, and was ordered held pending a hearing next week on the government’s evidence or an indictment. In response to a U.S. magistrate’s questions over whether he wanted a court-appointed attorney, Coffman said he earned a high school equivalency degree in the U.S. military after dropping out in the 8th grade to work on a farm.
An attorney for Barnett could not immediately be reached, and Coffman’s assistant federal defender declined to comment.
In addition to 40 suspects facing local charges, federal defendants face counts including entering restricted areas, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds. Authorities said they may use placeholder charges against some suspects pending deeper investigation.
But as officials provided updates on the arrests, the Justice Department also appeared to step back from remarks Thursday by Michael R. Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for Washington, who had said President Donald Trump’s own remarks before Wednesday’s riot at the U.S. Capitol may be investigated.
Asked about incendiary statements made by the president and other speakers at Trump’s rally shortly before a mob of his supporters breached security and wreaked havoc inside the Capitol, Sherwin said: “Yes, we are looking at all actors here, not only the people that went into the building, but . . . were there others that maybe assisted or facilitated or played some ancillary role in this? We will look at every actor and all criminal charges.”
On Friday, asked about the possibility that Trump or other onstage speakers could face charges for inciting violence, Kohl clarified, “We don’t expect any charges of that nature.”
Afterward, Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi elaborated: “Our focus is on the events at the Capitol. As of now, we have not charged anyone with incitement or insurrection. This is an extremely complex and ongoing investigation and we will continue to follow the facts and the law.”