WASHINGTON – As President Donald Trump's supporters massed outside the Capitol last week and sang the national anthem, a line of men wearing olive-drab helmets and body armor trudged purposefully up the marble stairs in a single-file line, each man holding the jacket collar of the one ahead.
The formation, known as “Ranger File,” is standard operating procedure for a combat team that is “stacking up” to breach a building – instantly recognizable to any U.S. soldier or Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a chilling sign that many at the vanguard of the mob that stormed the seat of American democracy either had military training or were trained by those who did.
An Associated Press review of public records, social media posts and videos shows at least 22 current or former members of the U.S. military or law enforcement have been identified as being at or near the Capitol riot, with more than a dozen others under investigation but not yet named. In many cases, those who stormed the Capitol appeared to employ tactics, body armor and technology such as two-way radio headsets that were similar to those of the very police they were confronting.
Experts in homegrown extremism have warned for years about efforts by far-right militants and white-supremacist groups to radicalize and recruit people with military and law enforcement training, and they say the Jan. 6 insurrection that left five people dead saw some of their worst fears realized.
“ISIS and al-Qaida would drool over having someone with the training and experience of a U.S. military officer,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent. “These people have training and capabilities that far exceed what any foreign terrorist group can do. Foreign terrorist groups don't have any members who have badges.”
Among the most prominent to emerge is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel from Texas who was arrested after he was photographed wearing a helmet and body armor on the floor of the Senate, holding a pair of zip-tie handcuffs.
Another Air Force veteran from San Diego was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to leap through a barricade near the House chamber. A retired Navy SEAL, among the most elite special warfare operators in the military, posted a Facebook video about traveling from his Ohio home to the rally and seemingly approving of the invasion of “our building, our house.”
Two police officers from a small Virginia town, both of them former infantrymen, were arrested by the FBI after posting a selfie of themselves inside the Capitol, one flashing his middle finger at the camera.
Also under scrutiny is an active-duty psychological warfare captain from North Carolina who organized three busloads of people who headed to Washington for the “Save America” rally in support the president's false claim that the November election was stolen from him.
While the Pentagon declined to provide an estimate for how many other active-duty military personnel are under investigation, the military's top leaders were concerned enough ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration that they issued a highly unusual warning to all service members this week that the right to free speech gives no one the right to commit violence.
The chief of the U.S. Capitol Police was forced to resign following the breach and several officers have been suspended pending the outcome of investigations into their conduct, including one who posed for a selfie with a rioter and another who was seen wearing one of Trump's red “Make America Great Again” caps.
Adam Newbold, the retired Navy SEAL from Lisbon, Ohio, whose more than two-decade military career includes multiple combat awards for valor, said in a Jan. 5 Facebook video, “We are just very prepared, very capable and very skilled patriots ready for a fight.”
He later posted a since-deleted follow-up video after the riot saying he was “proud” of the assault.
Newbold, 45, did not respond to multiple messages from the AP but in an interview with the Task & Purpose website he denied ever going inside the Capitol. He added that because of the fallout from the videos he has resigned from a program that helps prepare potential SEAL applicants.
Meanwhile, police departments in such major cities as New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston and Philadelphia announced they were investigating whether members of their agencies participated in the Capitol riot. The Philadelphia area's transit authority is also investigating whether seven of its police officers who attended Trump's rally in Washington broke any laws.
In Houston, Police Chief Art Acevedo said an 18-year veteran of the department suspected of joining the mob that breached the Capitol resigned before a disciplinary hearing that was set for Friday.
“There is no excuse for criminal activity, especially from a police officer,” Acevedo said. “I can't tell you the anger I feel at the thought of a police officer, and other police officers, thinking they get to storm the Capitol.”
Feds back away from claim on rioter
PHOENIX – Federal prosecutors who initially said there was “strong evidence” the pro-Trump mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol last week aimed to “capture and assassinate elected officials” backed away from the allegation after the head of the investigation cautioned there was no “direct evidence” of such intentions.
The accusation came in a court filing in the case against Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man who wore face paint, no shirt and a furry hat with horns during the insurrection. Prosecutor Todd Allison said the statement may end up being appropriate at Chansley's trial but said prosecutors didn't need to rely on it to argue he should remain in jail.