For more than eight months, Republican lawmakers have sought to rewrite the harrowing events of January 6. They have continually whitewashed the assault on the US Capitol despite copious footage showing mobs of Trump supporters ransacking Congress, threatening to kill Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and viciously attacking scores of police officers with chemical spray, fire extinguishers, hockey sticks, and flagpoles. The attack led to several deaths and was followed by the suicides of several police officers who defended the Capitol.
“It was not an insurrection,” Rep. Andrew Clyde of Georgia declared at a House hearing in May, suggesting that most participants were engaged in “a normal tourist visit.”
“By and large it was peaceful protest,” said Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin after the May hearings.
This attempted political cover-up has hinged on another specific claim: that no one who stormed the Capitol brought guns.
“This didn’t seem like an armed insurrection to me,” Johnson said five weeks after the attack, adding, “When you think of armed, don’t you think of firearms?” During the May hearings, Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona claimed “zero firearms” were found among suspects charged with breaching the Capitol. “There were no guns whatsoever,” former President Trump declared repeatedly during a Fox News interview in July.
Evidence of numerous firearms among January 6 perpetrators shows those claims to be false. A Mother Jones investigation drawing on public video footage, congressional testimony, and documents from more than a dozen federal criminal cases reveals that various Trump supporters descended on DC that day armed for battle with guns and other potentially lethal weapons. At least three people arrested in connection with the insurrection are facing charges for carrying firearms on Capitol grounds. At least eight others carried knives or tasers at the Capitol, including two defendants who allegedly committed assaults with tasers, according to FBI and court documents. Multiple others arrested downtown and in the vicinity of the Capitol had rifles, pistols, explosive materials, and large supplies of ammunition. And communications among numerous January 6 suspects detailed in court documents indicate that many of their fellow insurrectionists were armed with guns.
Evidence disclosed in court filings suggests that some defendants may have decided against bringing guns to the Capitol due to strict DC gun laws. But many other participants that day apparently were undeterred.
“Over the radio I heard our gun recovery unit working constantly,” testified DC Metropolitan police officer Daniel Hodges during late July hearings held by the House Select Committee investigating January 6. “Multiple gun arrests were made from January 5th through the 7th against those attending, likely had attended, or planned to attend Donald Trump’s gathering.” (A spokesperson for the DC police declined to specify the total number of firearms arrests stemming from January 6, but it appears to be at least six.) In his testimony, Hodges also described fearing that law enforcement would have been perilously outnumbered had they acted more aggressively against suspected armed extremists. “Unfortunately, due to the course of events that day we will never know exactly how many were carrying firearms and other lethal weapons.”
“The people that were around me were all carrying too”
Among the defendants who face weapons charges is Trump supporter Christopher M. Alberts of Maryland, who is accused of multiple federal crimes, including engaging in physical violence at the Capitol and unlawfully carrying a semiautomatic pistol and a large-capacity ammunition device. Appearing in January 6 video footage recorded by an unknown person in the crowd outside the Capitol, Alberts wore a tactical vest and called for overthrowing the US government. “If the government is no longer for the people,” he shouted, “it is your duty to overthrow that government and reinstate a new government, for the people.”
According to court documents, Alberts later tried to flee from DC police, who arrested him carrying a Taurus G2C 9mm pistol and more than two dozen rounds of ammunition. An attorney for Alberts did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Alberts’ alleged crimes and the January 6 footage of him, which Mother Jones authenticated using public records, previous news reporting, and video footage of Alberts, who had long protested publicly in support of Trump.
Another person charged with unlawfully carrying a handgun is Guy Reffitt of Texas, whom the government alleges is a Three Percenter militia member who wore a helmet and body armor as he confronted police defending the Capitol. According to FBI wiretap evidence contained in court documents, Reffitt boasted to family and fellow militia members after returning to Texas in January that he and other insurrectionists brought guns to the siege. “The people that were around me were all carrying too,” he said. “I had every constitutional right to carry a weapon and take over the Congress, as we tried to do. We went in, they scurried like rats and hid. That’s how it works.” Reffitt and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment.
Mark Sami Ibrahim of California, who was on personal leave on January 6 from his job as a special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, was indicted in July on four federal charges stemming from his alleged activity outside the Capitol. Multiple images contained in the criminal complaint against him show Ibrahim posing for photos while displaying his badge and DEA-issued pistol; according to the complaint, he later made a false statement to a federal investigator, saying he “never exposed” his badge and gun at the Capitol. Among the charges against Ibrahim—who the complaint says was not on DEA duty and “had no role as a law enforcement officer” on January 6—are that he knowingly was on restricted Capitol grounds without lawful authority while carrying “a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm.” Ibrahim, who said during an appearance on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show in March that he did nothing illegal and had since been fired from the DEA, did not respond to requests for comment, nor did his attorney.
The identities of other individuals who carried guns on Capitol grounds remain unclear. One person who wore a star-spangled cowboy hat and is wanted by the FBI, in connection with an assault on a journalist, appeared in footage recorded by Vice News in which he revealed a pistol in his front waistband.
As the scene grew more tense and chaotic that day, escalating calls for violence could be heard around the Capitol. “If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon,” announced one unidentified man repeatedly through a bullhorn. Elsewhere among the mob, another unidentified man urged opening fire on a police officer guarding a building entrance: “Shoot that motherfucker! Shoot him!” the man shouted. “Either you let us in or you die!”
Oath Keepers’ hidden “arsenal” on January 6
In a sweeping conspiracy case stemming from the insurrection, federal prosecutors have indicted 17 members of the Oath Keepers militia network, a loose-knit group of far-right political extremists who claim to have thousands of backers among law enforcement and military veterans. According to court documents, at least seven Oath Keepers involved in the events of January 6 stockpiled firearms in a northern Virginia hotel for potential use by a “quick reaction force” on behalf of Trump inside DC. Three others discussed participating in that effort, court filings show.
Evidence submitted by prosecutors includes video surveillance images from the Comfort Inn Ballston, located about 7 miles from the Capitol, allegedly showing some of the men transporting guns in and out of the hotel between January 5 and January 7. The quantity of weapons and ammunition the Oath Keepers stored there is not publicly known, but it included rifles in cases carried through the hotel lobby on luggage carts—some shrouded in bedsheets—that were retrieved by Oath Keepers the day after the insurrection, according to court documents.
The Oath Keepers began planning to mobilize shortly after Trump’s November 2020 election defeat. According to court filings, during a post-election video call two months before the insurrection, Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes warned that “a bloody, bloody civil war” could be imminent—which he said would be welcome and “give Trump what he needs.”
“We want him to declare an insurrection, and to call us up as the militia,” said Rhodes, an un-indicted co-conspirator in the case whom Mother Jones and other media have confirmed is referred to as “PERSON ONE” in the federal indictment. Rhodes has not been charged, though he said in March that he thought he might be arrested, according to BuzzFeed News. Court filings show that in a series of communications through video chats and encrypted messaging platforms multiple Oath Keepers discussed coordination of weapons for their January 6 “ops” in DC. Although some talked about not bringing firearms into the city initially, the group was preparing for battle against Trump’s political enemies, including “antifa.” (FBI Director Chris Wray testified to Congress in March that people associated with antifa, a term generally referring to leftists who oppose fascism and in some cases have committed violence, had no role in the events of January 6.)
Evidence disclosed by prosecutors includes a message from Oath Keepers conspiracy defendant Brian Ulrich, a 43-year-old Georgia resident, who stated in the group’s “Leadership Signal Chat” on December 31 that he planned to bring “a separate backpack with my ammo load” and a common type of semiautomatic rifle: “I will be the guy running around with the budget AR.”
“[W]e have a shitload of [quick reaction force] on standby with an arsenal,” messaged Oath Keeper Joshua James, a 33-year-old Alabama resident, responding to an offer from an unidentified individual to “coordinate help” from “friends not far from DC with a lot of weapons and ammo.”
Kellye SoRelle, a lawyer who represents the Oath Keepers organization and is close with Rhodes, told Mother Jones in an interview that an Oath Keeper member transported a cache of firearms by truck from North Carolina to the Comfort Inn Ballston shortly before the assault on the Capitol. The member who transported the weapons then stayed at the hotel to oversee the stockpile, SoRelle said. (That Oath Keeper member has not been charged; although Mother Jones corroborated various details from SoRelle’s account, we were unable to confirm that member’s identity.) SoRelle herself may be a subject of growing scrutiny from federal prosecutors; as Mother Jones was first to report recently, the FBI seized SoRelle’s personal phone on September 7 as part of an ongoing “seditious conspiracy” investigation focused on January 6.
The Oath Keepers’ armed mobilization followed what prosecutors in court documents called “paramilitary training” undertaken by some defendants in fall 2020. Four Oath Keepers from Florida who currently face conspiracy and other charges—married couple Kelly and Connie Meggs, Kenneth Harrelson, and Joseph Hackett—participated last September and October in a firearms course in Leesburg, Florida, as Mother Jones previously reported. In one of those sessions, an instructor coached the militia members on how to “drop” adversaries by shooting them in the heart, lungs, or head.
As Oath Keepers traveled with guns toward the nation’s capital to help “stop the steal” and ostensibly go to war with antifa, several of the Florida members spent the night of January 4 at the home of the leader of the network’s North Carolina chapter, Doug Smith, where they planned to practice at a firing range, according to SoRelle. Smith, who has not been charged, could not be reached for comment. The Oath Keepers drove up to northern Virginia the next day, when members began stashing weapons in the hotel just across the Potomac from downtown DC.
(Where not specified, all Oath Keepers identified in this story or their lawyers either declined to comment or did not respond to inquiries from Mother Jones.)
Since June, four Oath Keepers have pleaded guilty to conspiracy and other charges, including Graydon Young of Florida and Mark Grods of Alabama. As part of a plea deal in mid-September, Jason Dolan of Florida admitted that he drove with other unidentified Oath Keepers from Florida to the nation’s capital, bringing an M4 rifle that he dropped off with at least one of his co-conspirators at the Comfort Inn Ballston. Dolan further admitted to storming the Capitol with fellow Oath Keepers and obstructing Congress from certifying the 2020 presidential election by “intimidating and coercing government personnel.”
Dolan also admitted he tried to hide evidence of his crimes by deleting data from his cellphone, including “photographs he had taken while inside the Capitol and encrypted communications with at least some of the co-conspirators.”
To date, more than 600 people have been arrested and charged with federal crimes in connection with January 6. Stark footage and accumulating criminal evidence make clear that the assault on the Capitol, grim as it was, teetered on the brink of turning far worse.
The FBI’s wanted list in connection with that day remains hundreds of people long, including an unknown individual suspected of planting pipe bombs outside the headquarters of both the Democratic and Republican national committees the night before the insurrection. Federal judges overseeing some January 6 cases have warned that the threat is far from gone, with one judge observing in a pretrial detention ruling that the “steady drumbeat” of lies from Trump and other GOP figures about the 2020 election could continue to incite violence. At a political rally in Georgia in late September, Trump added a brazen new twist, suggesting that investigation of the January 6 insurrection was just another partisan “hoax.”
In a 2021 counterterrorism budget request made public in June, Justice Department leaders stated that further acts of political violence from domestic terrorists are highly likely. The FBI announced in late September that it has more than doubled its domestic terrorism caseload.
Some January 6 defendants, including additional Oath Keeper members charged with conspiracy, have lied to investigators and went to significant lengths to destroy evidence of their communications related to the insurrection, according to court documents. Others have kept weapons in their homes in violation of pretrial orders. And some defendants have threatened future attacks.
“We took the Capital and put the POS Capital Hill on it’s [sic] heels,” said Reffitt, the defendant from Texas, in a message to fellow Three Percenters a week after the attack, according to a filing from prosecutors. “This has only just begun and will not end until we The People of The Republic have won our country back. We had thousands of weapons and fired no rounds yet showed numbers. The next time we will not be so cordial.”
In June, defendant and former cop Thomas Robertson of Virginia, who faces charges for going inside the Capitol and was fired by the Rocky Mount police department, violated the terms of his pretrial release by possessing an array of guns and an explosive device in his home, prosecutors allege. That same month, Robertson, whose attorney did not respond to a Mother Jones inquiry, posted some ominous comments online.
“They are trying to teach us a lesson. They have. But its [sic] definitely not the intended lesson,” he wrote, according to court documents. He added, “I have learned very well that if you dip your toe into the Rubicon…cross it. Cross it hard and violent and play for all the marbles.”