Reports Say FBI Closing In on Capitol Officer Sicknick | MSNBC
FBI investigators are reportedly closing in on an assailant in the death of capitol police officer Brian Sicknick. The New York Times and Washington Post are reporting that investigators pinpointed a person on video who attacked officers, including Sicknick, with a chemical spray.
The FBI on Thursday arrested Federico Klein, a former State Department aide, on charges related to the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, marking the first known instance of an appointee of President Donald Trump facing criminal prosecution in connection with the attempt to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.
Klein, 42, was taken into custody in Virginia, said Samantha Shero, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
An FBI lookout bulletin issued two weeks after the Capitol assault included a photo of Klein, prompting two tipsters to contact the FBI and finger him as the man in that picture, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Washington.
The affidavit says video from police body-worn cameras on Jan. 6 shows Klein jamming a riot shield into doors at the Capitol as police were trying to secure them to keep the mob out. Klein was also heard on video trying to encourage others to clash with the police, the complaint says.
"We need fresh people, we need fresh people,” Klein shouted repeatedly, according to the complaint. In much of the video, he is wearing the Trump campaign's trademark "Make America Great Again" red hat.
Klein is charged with several felonies, including assault on police officers, interfering with police during civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding, as well as lesser offenses.
Klein worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign and was then hired at the State Department. As of last summer, he was listed in a federal directory as serving as a special assistant in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs and was designated as a “Schedule C” political appointee.
In a joint intelligence bulletin earlier this week, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security delivered a jarring warning to state and local law enforcement: violent domestic extremists “motivated by the QAnon conspiracy theory” might be mobilized to action because they believed Donald Trump would be inaugurated on March 4.
But the date came and went without serious incident. It wasn’t that the false and sprawling conspiracy theory that accuses “Deep State elites” of running a secret pedophile ring was losing steam. Rather, it was at least in part because QAnon followers smelled a trap.
In the weeks leading up to March 4 — the day in QAnon lore when Trump was actually supposed to be inaugurated for a second term, thus taking the country back from the Joe Biden — QAnon influencers had been discouraging their massive audience to avoid attending any event on that day, suggesting that any planned gatherings would be “false flag operations” designed by the government to make them look bad.
“FOR ALL YOU SHILLS, MSM LURKERS AND NORMIES VISITING TODAY - Q HAS TOLD US MARCH 4 IS A TRAP,” a user posted Thursday on GreatAwakening.win, one of the larger QAnon web forums. “THEREFORE ANYTHING THAT HAPPENS IS NOT US!!”
A week earlier, the message was the same on another large private QAnon channel on Telegram, an app that has increasingly become the home of right-wing extremists kicked off of Twitter and Facebook.
“Serious warning from Anon’s [sic]: Stay away from ANY event being held on March 4th!” a moderator wrote on February 26. “Something is potentially cooking and we don’t need to be a part of it. Any of it!”
As it turned out, social media mentions of the term “false flag” — an event orchestrated to make one’s enemies look culpable for acts of violence — skyrocketed in the days and weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Inhabitants of QAnon safe spaces — forums, chat rooms, websites — became aware they were suddenly being monitored by law enforcement and media, alarming them in the run-up to March 4.
“A lot of them have been de-platformed, a lot of groups have shut down, a lot of people have been arrested, leaders in the movement have become subject of FBI interrogation, even arrest,” said Jared Holt, a research fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab, where he specializes in following right-wing extremists. “So these groups are not in a place where they feel comfortable, in this moment, organizing any sort of mass event in the open. And if you can't do it openly, you are automatically going to limit participation.”
In a statement, the FBI declined to discuss the specifics of the alleged March 4 plot, adding that they were “always on alert for any potential threats." Lawmakers and congressional staff have still not been briefed on the specifics of the alleged plot, nor were the National Guard.
For conspiracy theorists, “false flag operations” are a key concept that shapes their worldview. Shadowy forces are frequently said to be responsible for tragedies that are used to scapegoat others. From there, it wasn’t a difficult leap to suggest that the Jan. 6 insurrection was an inside job, too.
Across their few remaining social media platforms, QAnon followers kept reposting a screenshot of a 2019 message from “Q”, the mythical intelligence agent working against the Deep State, according to the QAnon conspiracy theory. In it, “Q” wrote a message that contained the words “March 4, 2018” and “trap” — which a user had circled in red.
A U.S. Army reservist who participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was widely known as a white supremacist and regularly discussed his hatred of Jews while working at a New Jersey-based naval facility, according to new evidence revealed by federal prosecutors late Friday.
The reservist, Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, who worked as a security contractor at Naval Weapons Station Earle and held a secret-level security clearance, was arrested and charged Jan. 15 for allegedly breaching the Capitol. At the time, prosecutors described him as an “avowed white supremacist” and Nazi sympathizer, a determination based in part on evidence provided by a confidential source to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a YouTube channel in which Hale-Cusanelli expressed those views.
But Friday’s filing — a bid to keep Hale-Cusanelli in prison while awaiting trial — included newly revealed results of an extensive NCIS investigation following Hale-Cusanelli’s arrest. That investigation included interviews with 44 colleagues at NWS Earle conducted on Jan. 20 and 21.
Of those interviewed, 34 agreed Hale-Cusanelli held “extremist or radical views pertaining to the Jewish people, minorities, and women.” One contractor colleague said he discussed his dislike for Jews every day. A supervisor told investigators she had to admonish him for sporting a “Hitler“ mustache (images of which prosecutors extracted from Hale-Cusanelli’s phone).
“A Navy Petty Officer stated that Defendant talked constantly about Jewish people and remembered Defendant saying ‘Hitler should have finished the job,’” according to prosecutors’ summary of the report.
The newly disclosed interview results are the latest evidence that the Jan. 6 insurrection, when a mob of thousands of Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results, included a contingent of white supremacists — in addition to extremist militia and paramilitary groups who used the cover of the mob to breach the Capitol.
Hale-Cusanelli’s case has received attention because of his role in the Army reserves and active employment at a military facility. The new evidence underscores a challenge policymakers have begun confronting on Capitol Hill and across military leadership: how to combat extremist ideologies among service members. Many former military and police were among the rioters.
Prosecutors disclosed the NCIS investigation results in part to rebut a letter of support from one of Hale-Cusanelli’s supervisors at NWS Earle, Sgt. John Getz, submitted by defense lawyers to support Hale-Cusanelli’s release on bond. In a two-page letter, Getz told the court that he was “appalled at how [Hale-Cusanelli] was slandered in the press in regards to him being a ‘white supremacist.’"
“I have never known him to be this way. I know that our co-workers would agree,” Getz wrote, adding “Never have I seen Mr. Hale treat any of his African-American co-workers differently than anybody else, nor have I heard any distasteful jokes or language leave his mouth.”
According to federal indictments, Kelly and Connie Meggs are members of the Oath Keepers militia who used the chaos around the U.S. Capitol riot to enter the building in an organized “stack.” Dressed in camouflage, the husband-and-wife pair from Florida can be seen on security footage illegally entering the Capitol and walking around the building with fellow Oath Keepers.
Kelly Meggs, according to prosecutors, is an Oath Keepers leader with the alias “OK Gator.” Both of the Meggs are facing conspiracy charges for their alleged role in the riot.
To sympathetic readers of the right-wing blog The Gateway Pundit, though, the Meggs are humble farmers unfairly abducted by the federal government and forced to deal with some loose donkeys. In a Tuesday post on Gateway Pundit, blogger Jim Hoft claimed the Meggs are on the verge of losing their farm after an FBI raid in which, they claim, the FBI accidentally freed their donkeys.
“During the arrest, the FBI let all of their donkeys lose (sic) in the neighborhood,” Hoft writes.
The donkeys were later returned to the farm. The solution to this injustice for Hoft’s far-right audience, according to his blog: donating tens of thousands of dollars to the Meggs.
The rioters’ stories have made for big money on GiveSendGo, a Christian crowdfunding site that has become a go-to option for right-wing figures who would likely be banned from more mainstream sites like GoFundMe. The Meggs family has raised more than $80,000 as of Tuesday, while the family of Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson has raised more than $160,000.
Members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers charged in the aftermath of Jan. 6 riot have been on a public relations blitz in the right-wing media, trying to recast themselves as victims of government overreach and a thuggish FBI. They’re also raising a lot of money along the way.
That PR push has extended to Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran who was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer as she tried to break into the Speaker’s Lobby during the riot. Terrell Roberts, an attorney for Babbitt’s family, appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show on March 12 and claimed police should have just arrested Babbitt instead.