Some of the most riveting and disturbing testimony at Tuesday’s opening Jan. 6 Commission hearing came from Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, an African American man who was bombarded with racist epithets and threats while battling insurrectionists, who described the moment when he encountered a man with a badge and a gun:
At the top of the stairs, I confronted a group of insurrectionists warning them, “Do not go down those steps.” One of them shouted, “Keep moving, patriots.” Another displayed what looked like a law enforcement badge, and told me, “We’re doing this for you.”
The moment embodied one of the lurking realities of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection: Namely, that the far-right-wing crowd that besieged police barricades in an attempt to interrupt the ballot-counting proceedings that day, beyond the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and the hundreds who carried pro-police banners while attacking uniformed officers, included a significant number of men who were police officers and law-enforcement veterans themselves—all of whom saw the Capitol’s defenders as traitors, justifying their brutal assaults against fellow cops in their own minds.
That in turn underscores one of the more disturbing realities to emerge in the insurrection’s aftermath—namely, that the nation’s law-enforcement apparatus has been deeply infiltrated by and populated with extremists who share the same far-right conspiracist beliefs as the mob who attacked American democracy that day. Moreover, any attempt to confront the spread of seditionist extremism and its attendant violence will require rooting such extremists out of the nation’s law-enforcement ranks.
As the arrests—now at more than 540 and counting—and prosecution cases continue to pile up, the mounting list of cops who openly assaulted Capitol Police with remarkable brutality has become a disturbing drumbeat. At least 15 of the people arrested so far were either currently employed in law enforcement on Jan. 6 or former police officers, according to court documents and employment records. At least one current firefighter and one retired firefighter have also been charged.
A former police chief, Alan Hostetter of the La Habra Police Department in California, is among the indictees; prosecutors have charged him with conspiring to obstruct an official proceeding. Other former officers facing charges include two associated with the New York Police Department: Thomas Webster, charged with attacking a Capitol Police officer with a flagpole and attempting to gouge out his eyes; and Sara Carpenter, who shook a tambourine inside the Rotunda, but who cooperated immediately with the FBI Joint Terrorism Taskforce.
“A street alliance among right-wing paramilitary forces, law enforcement and demagogic politicians has been a hallmark of fascism for a century, so the involvement of multiple law enforcement officers from across the country in waging the Jan. 6th insurrection against the Capitol and the Congress is a warning sign of danger for our democracy," Congressman Jamie Raskin of Maryland told USA Today. "Off-duty cops beating up on-duty cops to overthrow an election is a nightmare scenario for America."
The DEA agent who flashed his badge frequently that day, Mark Sami Ibrahim of Orange County, California, was a probationary employee of the DEA and was on personal leave from the agency when he traveled to Washington on Jan. 6. He had given the agency notice of his intention to resign several weeks before the riot.
Ibrahim denied to investigators that he had flashed his badge, but evidence in the court document indicated he did so multiple times outside the Capitol, along with the gun he was unmistakably carrying. A video posted on social media showed him carrying a flag bearing the words “Liberty or Death” outside the Capitol.
Ibrahim has attempted to claim that he only went to the event at the behest of a friend and was attempting to record him there. However, investigators found this narrative spin far less than persuasive. “According to Ibrahim’s friend, Ibrahim went to the rally in order to promote himself,” the OIG agent wrote in the affidavit. “Ibrahim had been thinking about his next move after leaving the DEA and wanted the protests to be his stage for launching a ‘Liberty Tavern’ political podcast and cigar brand.”
Officer Dunn testified that the man who flashed a badge at him—who may very well have been the same off-duty Drug Enforcement Agency officer, shown in charging papers flashing his badge in multiple photos, arrested last week for participating in the attack on the Capitol—also appeared to be armed:
When the officers—assumed officers—showed me what appeared to be a police badge … I don’t know too many police officers—this is just me being a police officer for 13 years—that carry their badge and don’t carry a gun with them. So I looked—we look on their hips, you see a print. I didn’t see that it was a gun, but a reasonable police officer would believe that that’s a gun on their hip.
Some of the arrested cops have been among the most adamant in denying they did anything wrong and have subsequently taken aggressive actions to continue engaging in seditionist violence. Indictee Thomas Robertson, an active officer with the Rocky Mount, Virginia, police department, who entered the Capitol with a colleague and later boasted about it to his colleagues on Facebook, claiming he had broken no laws—had his pretrial release revoked after FBI agents discovered that he had purchased an arsenal of over 30 guns and a stockpile of ammunition in the weeks after his arrest, and despite release conditions requiring him to abjure all weapons. Robertson and his colleague, Jacob Fracker, were both fired from the police force after their arrests.
The first search of his property after his release found him in possession of three Glocks, a Smith & Wesson handgun, and four other rifles, including one with a tactical scope. He also purchased some 34 guns from a gun dealer, but kept the guns there with the dealer. Investigators also found that he had constructed a booby trap intended to kill anyone who opened it.
Online, Robertson has been—like many of the insurrectionists—defiant of the law and unrepentant about his actions. When someone on Facebook asked him whether the other defendants were proud of what they did, Robertson responded, “I sure as fuck am.”
He then added:
I’ve said before. They are trying to teach us a lesson. They have. But its definitely not the intended lesson. I have learned that if you peacefully protest than you will be arrested, fired, be put on a no fly list, have your name smeared and address released by the FBI so every loon in the US can send you hate mail. 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.
Prosecutors said Robertson has “flouted his release conditions,” and asked that he be detained prior to his trial.
In revoking Robertson’s release, District Judge Christopher Cooper found that “there is probable cause to believe that Robertson committed a felony—willfully shipping or transporting firearms and ammunition despite being under felony indictment—while on pretrial release. Under the applicable statute, this finding gives rise to a rebuttable presumption that Robertson cannot be safely released into the community pending trial under any conditions.”
It also noted: “Both in the immediate aftermath of the riot and more recently, Robertson has expressed remorselessness and endorsed future political violence. Even after January, Robertson appears to have continued violating the prohibition against possessing firearms. ... This recent history suggests that, if released under new conditions designed to protect the community, Robertson might violate those conditions.”
Cooper concluded that “the undisputed facts demonstrate a concrete risk that Robertson might participate in or provide material support to acts of ideologically motivated violence if released at this time. His recent social media posts may contain elements of bravado and hyperbole, but they provide evidence that Robertson is sympathetic to calls for a violent ‘revolution,’ … and has been further radicalized by his pending prosecution …”
A Virginia man arrested just this week—James Russell Davis, 45, of King George—shouted at Capitol Police as he battled police officers with a large stick, pointing at his Marine Corps ballcap: “I fought for this country… I’m a military fucking police!”
Davis—who in fact had served as a military policeman in 2010—was charged with assaulting police officers on the west front terrace stairs of the Capitol. Body-worn camera footage showed Davis charging toward officers while swinging a baseball-bat-sized stick. Video footage captures Davis shouting and pushing down the hands of an officer as the officer tries to block Davis’ advance.
The official response at local departments has been a mixed bag. Of the seven police officers employed at the time of the riot, at least six have since lost their jobs, including the two Virginia police officers fired after prosecutors charged them for their alleged conduct at the Capitol. CBS News has a rundown:
Kevin Tuck, a police officer with Windermere Police Department in Florida, resigned after the FBI arrested him at his police department. Karol J. Chwiesiuk, a Chicago police officer who was arrested June 11 and accused of entering the Capitol building on Jan. 6, was not fired but has been "relieved of his police powers," a department spokesperson said. The Board of Supervisors in North Cornwall Township, Pennsylvania, voted June 1 to fire Joseph Fischer, a police officer who had been charged with, among other crimes, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder. Houston police officer Tam Dinh Pham and Monmouth County correctional police officer Marissa Suarez both resigned after they were arrested.
However, officials in Seattle have been slow to take action against two police officers—among six total on the force who were present in D.C. that day—who were found to have broken the law and violated department policy, standing by during an “active insurrection,” after a detailed six-month investigation by the department’s civilian-run Office of Police Accountability (OPA).
The Seattle Times’ Lewis Kamb identified the two officers as Alexander Everett and Caitlin Rochelle, a married couple who later downplayed and likely lied to internal investigators about their actions at the so-called “Stop the Steal” rally. The investigation recommended they be fired for breaking the law, violating SPD policy and unprofessional conduct.
Of the other four officers who attended “Stop the Steal” rally that day, three were cleared of allegations of unprofessional conduct and did not break any laws in the report, while the OPA said its investigation into the fourth officer’s actions was inconclusive.
Everett and Rochelle, the investigation noted, appeared in photos posted on Facebook and elsewhere smiling and standing within a restricted area just outside the U.S. Capitol; in the background, pro-Trump rioters could be seen forcing their way into the building.
Despite the OPA’s recommendation, issued on July 8, Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz has not taken action in the matter yet because he’s awaiting a due-process hearing for the officers, expected to be held in early August. Diaz intends to issue the decision within the next 30 days, according to a Seattle Police statement.
As Capitol Police Officer Aquilino Gonell told the Jan. 6 commission, the willingness of active and former police officers to assault fellow cops, or to support it, on behalf of a mendacious would-be authoritarian dictator should tell Americans a great deal about the nature of what American democracy is now up against.
“Even though there’s overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including hours and hours of videos and photographic coverage, there’s a continued shocking attempt to ignore or try to destroy the truth of what truly happened that day and to whitewash the facts into something other than what they unmistakingly reveal, an attack on our democracy by violent domestic extremists and a stain on our history and our moral standing here at home and abroad,” Gonell said.
He later pointedly added: “For me, it’s confounding that some people who have swore an oath, elected officials, including people in the military that I’d seen at the lower stairs fighting against me, they swore an oath and they’re forgetting about that oath. They’re not putting their country before their party.