The Capitol siege: The cases behind the biggest criminal investigation in U.S. history

Originally published on October 8, 2021 12:46 pm

Updated October 8, 2021 at 1:59 PM ET

Editor's note: This story was first published on Feb. 9, 2021. It is regularly updated, and includes explicit language.

The riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 has led to what the Department of Justice calls the largest criminal investigation in American history. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has classified the attack as an act of domestic terrorism.

The violent breach forced the evacuation of the Capitol, and threatened the country's peaceful transfer of presidential power. Approximately 140 members of law enforcement suffered injuries in the attack, including brain damage and crushed spinal discs. More than 115 rioters have been accused of assaulting police, and many allegedly used weapons such as pepper spray, stun guns, bats, and American flags wielded as clubs.

Five people ultimately died. One rioter, 35-year-old Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by a police officer. And Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who investigators allege was attacked with a chemical spray, died the day after the riot. The medical examiner determined that death was the result of natural causes - two strokes - though stated that "all that transpired [on Jan. 6] played a role in his condition." Two other people died of natural causes, authorities concluded, and a third as the result of "acute amphetamine intoxication."

Since that day, the government has brought criminal charges against more than 650 individuals, and even now, more than eight months after the attack, the FBI continues to arrest new suspects. Meanwhile, some of these cases are reaching their conclusions. Almost 100 defendants have pleaded guilty to one or more charges, and the charges against one defendant were dismissed. No defendants have gone to trial.

The stories of those charged provide clues to key questions surrounding the Capitol breach: Who exactly joined the mob? What did they do? And why? To try to answer those questions, NPR is examining the criminal cases related to the Capitol riot, drawing on court documents, public records, news accounts and social media.

Jump to our database of individuals charged

A group this large defies generalization. The defendants are predominantly white and male, though there were exceptions. Federal prosecutors say a former member of the Latin Kings gang joined the mob, as did two Virginia police officers. A man in a "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirt allegedly took part, as did a Messianic Rabbi, and a Christian pastor. Far-right militia members decked out in tactical gear allegedly rioted next to a county commissioner, a New York City sanitation worker, and a two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Still, NPR's examination did identify certain commonalities.

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There were those with connections to extremist groups or fringe ideas. At least 33 defendants appear to have expressed support for QAnon, the pro-Trump conspiracy theory.

At least 35 of the defendants appear to have links to the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violent rhetoric and street violence. Their values have been widely described as racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant and hateful against other minority groups.

At least 21 of the defendants have alleged ties to the Oath Keepers, which the Anti-Defamation League calls an "anti-government right-wing fringe organization."

And at least 12 defendants have alleged associations with the Three Percenters, a part of the anti-government militia movement that has grown over the last decade. The Anti-Defamation League says that the group has "a track record of criminal activity ranging from weapons violations to terrorist plots and attacks."

But a large majority of those charged have no known connections to established extremist groups. That has led researchers to raise concerns about how extremist ideologies have moved increasingly into the mainstream.

The presence of current and former law enforcement officers, as well as military service members and veterans, has especially alarmed government officials. NPR found at least 13% of those charged had possible ties to the military or to law enforcement.

An analysis from West Point and George Washington University found that the Capitol riot defendants included current or former service members from every military branch except the Coast Guard. That analysis also found that less than half (44%) of the defendants with military history had deployed overseas.

Experts say there's little evidence that current or former members of the military are more susceptible to radicalization than the general population. Still, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has called combating extremism in the ranks a top priority.

Lawmakers who supported impeaching former President Donald Trump argue that he "incited a violent mob to attack the United States Capitol." There is some evidence of that in court documents: Some who allegedly stormed the Capitol - at least 10% - explicitly said they were inspired by Trump.

"IF TRUMP TELLS US TO STORM THE F***IN CAPITAL IMA DO THAT THEN!" one defendant wrote. "I thought I was following my President," said yet another.

Most of those charged in the riot come from areas of the country that are not dominated by Trump supporters. According to an analysis from the Chicago Project on Security & Threats, a majority of the alleged rioters came from counties that President Joe Biden won in the 2020 election.

Most of the people charged in connection with the storming of the Capitol face allegations primarily related to breaching the building. But a smaller number face more serious charges and a greater threat of prison time if convicted.

At least 48 are accused of committing conspiracy, one of the most serious charges brought. At least 144 are accused of committing acts of violence, particularly against police. At least 51 are suspected of causing property damage, like breaking windows or doors to gain entry to the building. At least 40 are accused of theft, like the man photographed carrying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's lectern or one woman who allegedly took a laptop from Pelosi's office.

Explore the database below.

: 2/20/21

In an earlier version of this database, the summary for Vitali GossJankowski was mistakenly entered twice and appeared incorrectly for Cindy Sue Fitchett.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Investigators are still trying to answer some key questions about the January 6 assault on the Capitol, like exactly who stormed the building that day? And what motivated them to be there? An NPR team has been analyzing the more than 200 cases the Justice Department has brought so far. The defendants include military men, extremists and hardcore Trump supporters. One thing they had in common - they were nearly all men. As Dina Temple-Raston of NPR's Investigations team explains, experts say gender likely played an outsized role in the way the day played out.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: When we look at the video of what happened that day, it's easy to focus on the violence.

(SOUNDBITE OF RIOT AMBIENCE)

TEMPLE-RASTON: The smashing of windows, the tear gas, the five people who lost their lives in the chaos. But Michael Kimmel, a distinguished professor emeritus at Stony Brook University, sees something a little different.

MICHAEL KIMMEL: A lot of the guys that I watched on January 6 and subsequently in all of the videos that have surfaced is these guys look familiar to me.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Kimmel wrote a book about angry white men and what drives them to embrace extremism. And he thinks traditional gender roles - the notions of being a man - played a part in the violence at the Capitol.

KIMMEL: They grew up believing that if they worked hard, paid their taxes, were good guys, that they would be able to live the lives that their grandfathers lived.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Kimmel said that when that doesn't happen, a kind of aggrieved entitlement takes hold. And that's the kind of dissatisfaction that drew people to former President Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP: Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore. And that's what this is all about.

JESSICA STERN: We often see this notion of a band of brothers. We often see people getting drawn into joining extremist groups at moments when they're feeling confused about their identity or they've experienced a status loss.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Jessica Stern, a professor at Boston University. She's been studying extremist groups for decades. And she said that people who were there on January 6 were familiar to her, too. Consider Barton Wade Shively, a burly ex-Marine who was charged with striking police officers as he rushed the Capitol that day. He spoke with CNN outside the day of the protest.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARTON WADE SHIVELY: Tried to push them back a little bit until finally, they started getting rough with us. So we kind of pushed them back. So that's what we did. We pushed them back.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Shively seemed angry.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHIVELY: That's what we're doing - fighting back.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And what's the point? What's the endgame?

SHIVELY: What's the point?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yeah.

SHIVELY: We're losing our freedoms. What do you mean what's the point?

TEMPLE-RASTON: According to court records, Shively allegedly surrendered to authorities and said he got caught up in the moment. His lawyer did not respond to NPR requests for comment.

Shively wasn't alone in thinking that a greater purpose had brought him to the Capitol. Felipe Marquez of Florida saw himself in much the same way.

FELIPE MARQUEZ: I went to - on the 6 in D.C. to protest against communism and prostitution. This is, like, a Rosa Parks, like, Martin Luther King moment for me.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Marquez, according to court documents, is accused of not only storming the Capitol, but also breaking into the office of an Oregon senator. NPR has examined the affidavits in each case related to the Capitol riot so far. And the words of Shively and Marquez were echoed in dozens and dozens of them.

Diana Mutz is a professor of political science at University of Pennsylvania, and she's studied Trump supporters. And one of the things that animates them, she said, is the desire to return to a simpler time.

DIANA MUTZ: I think it's important to realize that, yes, they're experiencing change and that this is threatening. The advantages that these groups enjoyed aren't there to the same extent.

TEMPLE-RASTON: They have jobs. They have families. But they don't have a sense they're doing really well. To be sure, a group this large defies generalization. There was someone in a Camp Auschwitz T-shirt, and there was a rabbi from Florida. There were far-right militia members and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. Still, an NPR analysis of the records collected on the more than 200 people charged provided some common threads. For example, almost 15% of the people charged so far are either current or former military. About 17% of those charged have an avowed connection to an extremist group. And nearly 11% of the Justice Department's cases included someone who spoke specifically about being inspired to storm the Capitol by former President Trump.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Treason. Treason. Treason. Treason.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's from a New Yorker video inside the Capitol that captures a sense of the crowd's purpose - that they were there for a bigger reason than themselves. Now, more than a month after the siege, people are starting to ask the next obvious question - where do we go from here? Mutz says one remedy may be just a return to the kind of politics that doesn't require our full, undivided attention.

MUTZ: The fact is when we live and breathe politics 24/7 and it's the first thing you see when you turn on the TV and so forth, it elevates the salience of politics in people's lives in a way that may not actually be healthy for the nation as a whole.

TEMPLE-RASTON: In this case, she said, boring may be a good thing.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.