Some of the startling revelations of the recent blockbuster Jan. 6 House committee hearing came in snippets of police radio traffic captured during President Donald Trump’s rally on the Ellipse and from Trump’s purported response to being told there were armed protesters just outside a secured area.
The chatter included reports of a man with an AR-15 in a tree on Constitution Avenue who was accompanied by two men with pistols on their hips. Another officer radioed, “I’ve got three men walking down the street in fatigues carrying AR-15s, copy, at 14th and Independence.” (The intersection is on the same block as the Washington Monument grounds, the U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.)
The recordings aired during the June 28 hearing in which former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson testified that Trump reportedly “was angry that we weren’t letting people through the [metal detectors] with weapons.”
The full picture of how many among the crowd were armed before the riot occurred is unclear, but court records, trial testimony and accounts from police officers and rioters have supplied growing evidence that multiple people brought firearms to Washington for Jan. 6, 2021. Six men were arrested that day for having guns in the vicinity of the U.S. Capitol, and a seventh who arrived after the riot ended was arrested the following day. Despite some instances in which alerts about people with guns turned out to be false alarms, accounts from police officers and rioters indicate that many firearms were spotted on Jan. 6 but were not seized as law enforcement focused more on defending the Capitol than on arresting gun-law violators.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Park Police said the agency investigated “a report of an individual on the Washington Monument grounds in a tree possibly armed with a pistol. USPP officers contacted the individual and it was determined the individual was unarmed.” A spokesman for the Washington, D.C., police said there was no indication that any arrests were made or weapons confiscated on the basis of the people cited in radio transmissions played by the committee.
At 15th Street and Independence Avenue the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, a Washington Post reporter watched as a group from Broward County, Fla., was stopped by Washington, D.C., police because people in the group were carrying large assault rifles. They said the guns were not loaded and “just a symbol” of their Second Amendment rights. They were briefly detained but released once the guns were handed over to police. Some in the crowd protested that “you can’t suspend a constitutional amendment,” but the interaction occurred before the Capitol was breached and did not turn violent. It is unclear whether the group the reporter encountered was the same reported on the hearing’s radio transmissions or why the men were not arrested when Washington, D.C., law prohibits the open carrying of guns.
Federal authorities have said that officers were confiscating weapons illegally brought into the District starting Jan. 5 and encountered people brandishing gun parts in an intimidating manner. The latter category included two men stopped the morning of Jan. 6 who wore slings attached to machine gun barrels while walking along the Mall. The men were not charged because the barrels alone were not firearms, authorities said. It is unclear whether they were part of the group seen by a Post reporter.
U.S. Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman, whose pursuit by a mob inside the Capitol was the subject of a viral video, has said that but for police restraint in the use of force, the riot “could have easily been a bloodbath,” a sentiment echoed by several officers on the witness stand in Jan. 6 criminal trials.
Defendants have said as much as well. In video evidence played at his trial, Guy Reffitt of Wylie, Texas, said that as he stood near the front of the mob on the west side of the Capitol, he counted eight firearms carried by five people.
Reffitt said that his count included his .40-caliber pistol and his Texas companion’s .45-caliber handgun, five firearms carried by a couple he met at the Capitol and a .22-caliber weapon carried by a woman who stopped to help him after he was hit with bear spray. Reffitt was found guilty in March of encouraging one of the first surges by the mob to overwhelm police while carrying his semiautomatic handgun in a hip holster.
Of the rioters who approached the Capitol on Jan. 6, four have been charged with taking guns onto the Capitol grounds, and two of those have been convicted. Three other supporters of Donald Trump have been convicted of bringing weapons into the city but not to the Capitol. And a New York City man suspected of taking weapons to the Capitol was found to have a cache of guns and ammunition in his Manhattan residence and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.
Also, at least three other men from outside the Washington, D.C., area, which includes parts of Maryland and Northern Virginia, were arrested for carrying unregistered guns in the city on Jan. 6, court records show, but it is unclear whether they attended either the Trump rally or the Capitol riot. All three pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court and their charges were later dismissed.
At least some were aware of the city’s laws strictly limiting firearm usage and banning the open carrying of guns.
“You aren’t going to do anybody any good rotting in jail,” Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes told his followers in a recorded online meeting in November 2020, according to court documents. “Pepper spray is legal. Tasers are legal, and stun guns are legal. And it doesn’t hurt to have a lead pipe.” An armed group would stay in Virginia “awaiting the President’s orders … then D.C. gun laws won’t matter,” Rhodes said in the meeting, according to court documents. Attorneys for Rhodes, who has pleaded not guilty to seditious conspiracy and other charges, said he and other defendants staged firearms hoping Trump would invoke the Insurrection Act, transforming the Oath Keepers into a kind of militia to keep Trump in office.
About 825 people have been charged federally in the Jan. 6 riot. Most have been charged with misdemeanor-type trespassing counts. Although only a handful have been charged with firearms violations, at least 121 people have been charged with using or carrying dangerous weapons, and about 20 have been found guilty, a Washington Post database shows. Scores of police officers reported being attacked that day with chemical spray, stun guns, flagpoles and clubs. A Florida man who hurled a fire extinguisher, a plank and a long pole at officers was sentenced to more than five years in prison in December, the longest sentence of any defendant so far.
Last month, Mark Andrew Mazza, 57, of Shelbyville, Ind., pleaded guilty to assaulting an officer with a baton and carrying a pistol without a license. Mazza told authorities that he lost his .45-caliber Taurus revolver loaded with shotgun shells and hollow-point bullets on the Capitol grounds during the mob fighting before entering the Capitol building. He later filed a false police report saying the gun had been stolen in Ohio, court records state.
Both Reffitt and Mazza are awaiting sentencing.
In addition, then-DEA Agent Mark Ibrahim of Orange County, Calif., posed for photos with his DEA badge and a pistol inside his waistband on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, prosecutors have said. Photos seem to show Ibrahim circling the Capitol grounds, and then climbing onto the Peace Monument at First Street and Pennsylvania Avenue on the grounds, where he recorded a video of himself delivering a monologue, court records state. He has pleaded not guilty to two counts of possessing a dangerous weapon on Capitol grounds. Ibrahim told investigators he did not recall intentionally exposing his weapon, according to court filings. His attorney declined to comment.
Also, Maryland tow truck driver Christopher Alberts was arrested outside the Capitol Visitor Center (the Visitor Center is in the lower level of the Capitol building) on Jan. 6 after a Washington, D.C., police officer spotted him with a loaded 9mm handgun on his hip as people were leaving the grounds that night, court records show. Alberts also wore a bulletproof vest, carried a backpack and had a full spare magazine of bullets, prosecutors said. He was later indicted on multiple counts of entering restricted grounds and assaulting law enforcement officers, and has pleaded not guilty. Alberts’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Three men who identified themselves as Trump supporters but did not enter the Capitol on Jan. 6 also were arrested and convicted of gun charges. Lonnie Leroy Coffman, 70, of Falkville, Ala., marched around the Capitol that morning and then wandered away before the riot. But his unoccupied truck attracted police attention because it was on First Street SE, in the area where pipe bombs had been found outside the headquarters of the Democratic and Republican parties. (First Street SE is adjacent to the Capitol grounds, the House office buildings, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court building.) While U.S. Capitol Police officers were sweeping the area, they spotted a handgun on the passenger seat of Coffman’s red GMC Sierra 1500.
The police said they searched Coffman’s truck and found 11 Mason jars filled with gasoline and Styrofoam, allegedly to create a napalm-type effect for a Molotov cocktail. In addition to the gasoline-filled Mason jars, which had holes in the lids, with rags and lighters nearby, investigators reported finding a 9mm handgun, a rifle, a shotgun, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, large-capacity ammunition-feeding devices, a crossbow with bolts, machetes and camouflage smoke devices. Coffman also was carrying two handguns when he was arrested, authorities said. All the guns were loaded.
Coffman pleaded guilty to possession of unregistered weapons and was sentenced to 46 months in prison, the third-longest term issued to a Jan. 6 defendant so far.
“I don’t think I’ve seen, in all my years as a judge, quite such a collection of weapons,” U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said. She began serving as a superior court judge in the city in 1984 and moved to the federal bench in 1997.
Cleveland G. Meredith Jr., a devoted follower of the radical QAnon ideology, drove toward the nation’s capital from Colorado on Jan. 6 with a rifle, a 9mm handgun, 2,500 rounds of ammunition and high-capacity magazines. In one text message, he told his family he was “gonna collect a . . . ton of Traitors heads.” But his truck broke down and he didn’t arrive until after the riot had ended. The next day, Meredith texted his family that he was considering “putting a bullet in her [Nancy Pelosi’s] noggin on live TV.” His family called the FBI. Meredith was arrested, pleaded guilty to one count of making felony threats and was sentenced to 28 months in prison.
One Trump supporter was charged in D.C. Superior Court with illegal gun possession. About 6:20 p.m. on Jan. 6, a city police officer was sent to check out a report of a suspicious man in a white van parked on Maryland Avenue, about a block northeast of the Capitol and an area with many residences, businesses, churches, and schools. Grant McHoyt Moore, 65, of Georgia, was inside the van and, according to a police arrest affidavit, “pointed to a red MAGA hat on the dash and said, ‘I’m one of those.'”
Moore told the officer he had a handgun in a backpack on his passenger seat, for which he had a license in Georgia but not the District, the affidavit states. The officer found a loaded Ruger .380 handgun with three extra loaded magazines. Moore was charged in D.C. Superior Court with possession of an unlicensed firearm and unregistered ammunition, and pleaded guilty with a “deferred disposition,” meaning the charge will be dismissed if the defendant remains trouble-free for six months. Moore did so, and the case was dismissed.
Samuel Fisher, 33, of New York City, posted at least one photograph on Facebook of himself at the Capitol on Jan. 6, followed by a photo of himself holding a handgun in front of a flag with a message that read, “Don’t Tread on Trump, Keep America Great,” court records show. On the morning of the riot, Fisher wrote on Facebook, “I got a Vest and My Rifle.” The FBI said agents searched his apartment on New York’s Upper East Side several days after the riot and discovered several weapons, including a modified AR-15 rifle, a ghost gun pistol, a loaded shotgun, and 13 loaded high-capacity magazines. He pleaded guilty in New York to one count of criminal possession of a weapon and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.
Fisher was not charged with taking a gun to the Capitol. He pleaded guilty to a federal trespassing charge on Wednesday.
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The Washington Post’s Peter Hermann contributed to this report.