Active military personnel and veterans are over-represented among the first 150 people to be arrested and have records released for federal offenses in the violence and insurrection at the US Capitol.
Analysis by CNN of Pentagon records and court proceedings show 21 of the 150, or 14%, are current or former members of the US military. That is more than double the proportion of servicemen and women and veterans in the adult US population, calculated from Census Bureau and Department of Defense statistics. In 2018, there were 1.3 million active-duty members of the services and 18 million veterans. Together, they comprised just 5.9% of the overall 327 million US population at the end of 2018.
Two of the people arrested are in the Army Reserve, and one is an Army National Guardsman. Of the 19 veterans, seven are former Army, eight are former Marines, two served in the Navy, one was in the Air Force, and one served in the Army National Guard. Their service records show at least one served in Vietnam; others were deployed in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. At least one earned a Purple Heart. They were discharged with a variety of ranks and included officers – a captain and a lieutenant colonel.
And on January 6, the active and former military personnel are accused of declaring a war at home – attacking the Constitution they once swore to defend, some even equipped with military gear and weapons.
The world watched as hundreds of rioters stormed the US Capitol in what became a deadly insurrection. Five people died due to the events at the Capitol that day, including a police officer hit in the head with a fire extinguisher and a woman trampled to death.
Analysis of the charges faced by some of the veterans show prosecutors say they led the violence and lawlessness that disrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s election win.
There are also alleged links between some of the veterans and extremist groups.
Veterans and Proud Boys
CNN tracked down nine of the accused veterans.
The most well-known of those arrested so far is Joseph Randall Biggs. The 37-year-old is an Army combat veteran. He is also one of the leaders of the far-right Proud Boys group that is known for violent clashes with anti-fascists or Antifa during protests from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, DC.
Biggs became an online personality of the far-right, spouting bombastic and sometimes violent rhetoric toward women and Antifa.
As far back as 2012, there were a plethora of tweets mentioning sexual violence on his @RamboBiggs account, which has been archived by the Media Matters For America group.
One said: “Every Kiss begins with … Roofies.” – a reference to Rohypnol, the “date rape drug.”
Biggs tweeted a rallying cry of “DEATH TO ANTIFA” and called on others to get guns and ammunition to take to a rally in Portland. His account was suspended by Twitter in 2019 for repeatedly violating the terms of service.
One of his self-titled online shows was still being featured on a right-wing subscription website a week after his arrest. It began with computer-generated explosions, and a tank firing out the letters B-I-G-G-S.
On January 6, Biggs is accused of going far beyond rhetoric.
In video CNN has reviewed from January 6, Biggs is seen commanding his Proud Boy troops and guiding them to the Capitol steps.
Federal prosecutors say he “did aid, abet, counsel, command, induce, or procure others to unlawfully enter the US Capitol by means of destruction of federal property.”
He is charged with unlawful entry, disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and obstructing an official proceeding of Congress.
In the criminal complaint, federal agents say Biggs was among the first to enter the Capitol during the mob attack.
One of Biggs’ Proud Boys, Dominic Pezzola, who has been charged with several crimes including conspiracy, is shown on video smashing a window of the Capitol with a plastic shield, which several people climb through before a door was opened.
Pezzola’s lawyer said he was “denied contact” with his jailed client, which, he said, undercut his ability to mount a “meaningful legal defense.”
“Hey Biggs, what do you gotta say,” a voice off camera says in a video reviewed by the FBI. “This is awesome.” Biggs replies on camera before walking into the Capitol building within 20 seconds of the door opening, the FBI agent alleged in court documents.
CNN visited Biggs’ home in Ormond Beach, Florida, just north of the Daytona International Speedway, to hear what he had to say now that he is out on bail and on house arrest.
He peeked through a curtain on his door when we identified ourselves, but stayed mostly hidden.
When asked if he was an insurrectionist, Biggs replied, “Oh God no.”
But as we pressed for why he was inside the Capitol building, he threatened to call police.
“If you don’t get the f**k out of here, I’m calling the police right now,” he said, pushing his phone around the curtain to take video.
Proud Boy and would-be politician
A four-hour drive south from Biggs is the Miami home of Gabriel Garcia, a former Army captain, now an alleged Proud Boy extremist who is also accused of involvement in the insurrection.
Last year he ran for the Florida House of Representatives as a Republican, though he told CNN affiliate WPLG at the time there were questions about the election system. “There’s people starting to doubt this process,” he said then. Garcia lost in the Republican primary.
Now he is charged with “certain acts during civil disorder, aiding and abetting; knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority; violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.”
According to the federal complaint, Garcia was inside the Capitol when he said on a video: “We just went ahead and stormed the Capitol. It’s about to get ugly.”
The affidavit says he called police who were trying to stop the siege “f**king traitors.”
Garcia’s lawyer, Aubrey Webb, told CNN his client “does not want anything to do with the Proud Boys or any extremist group.” He also said his client did not commit any violence or destroy any property during the Capitol riot.
“By the time he went in, the police were letting people in. And he did not go into any of the chambers, like others did. Any comments he made are protected speech, as he did not threaten anyone or intend to incite violence,” Webb said in a statement.
‘Revolution’ call allegedly from dog rescuer
In the Texas city of Longview, between Dallas and the Louisiana border, Ryan Nichols lives in a gated community with large homes and big lawns.
A neighbor called police to try to stop us from approaching Nichols’ house. Down the street at Nichols’ wholesale business, a man refused to say if he was inside and threatened to call 911.
Nichols, 30, says in an ad that he has made “millions of dollars here on the e-commerce platforms” and claims he can help others do the same.
A former Marine, Nichols was once featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in 2018 after video of his work rescuing dogs during Hurricane Florence was shared widely over the internet.
On January 6, federal prosecutors say Nichols was at the Capitol with a Texas buddy called Alex Harkrider, who is also a former Marine.
The FBI says Nichols can be seen on video yelling through a bullhorn towards the large crowd, “If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!”
The complaint says another video shows Nichols shouting, “This is the second revolution right here folks! […] This is not a peaceful protest.”
A person who recognized the men told the FBI according to court documents: “I have photo screen shots from their social media pages showing they were there and showing Alex stated they were planning a civil war.”
The complaint says Nichols had a canister of OC/pepper spray and a crowbar with him and sprayed what is believed to be pepper spray toward the Capitol entrance where federal agents were trying to stop the attack.
Federal agents obtained a Snapchat photo they said was “apparently shared by Harkrider.”
“We’re in. 2 people killed already. We need all the patriots of this country to rally the f**k up and fight for our freedom or it’s gone forever. Give us liberty, or give us death,” the caption read.
He and Nichols are charged with conspiracy and unlawful entry with a dangerous weapon, violent entry or disorderly conduct, civil disorder, assaulting a federal officer using a deadly or dangerous weapon, and aiding and abetting, according to a federal complaint.
They both remain in jail.
Purple Heart recipient lives with parents
Three hours south, in the Houston suburb of Spring, Texas, Army veteran Joshua Lollar is staying with his parents as part of his bond requirements.
The home is part of a planned community with tree-lined streets and large brick homes at the ends of long driveways.
It’s a far cry from Iraq, where Lollar was deployed, and from Washington, DC, on January 6.
A screen capture of Lollar’s Facebook account shows a picture of people wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats entering the Capitol, with a caption saying “busting in.”
The complaint against him said he was livestreaming on Facebook while taking part in the siege. He is also captured on police body camera video admitting to violence against officers, the affidavit says.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just got gassed and fought with cops that I never thought would happen,” Lollar posted on Facebook, the affidavit said.
Lollar’s father came out of his home, holding a small fluffy dog. After greeting CNN in a soft voice, he said, “I can’t tell you anything.”
He did confirm his son was an Iraq war veteran, awarded a Purple Heart.
Lollar told a federal court hearing he lives with his parents, is being treated for PTSD, and has been receiving disability since 2009, according to CNN affiliate KPRC, which attended the hearing. He has been charged with numerous offenses including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, obstructing or impeding law enforcement officer during civil disorder and obstructing federally protected functions.
Lollar was released on bond. The court ordered that guns, body armor and gas masks be secured by Lollar’s father.
“He will have no knowledge of where they are,” Grover Lollar told the judge, according to KPRC.
More veterans accused of conspiracy
The first people to be charged by federal officials with conspiracy in connection with the insurrection are all veterans. Jessica Watkins, who served in the Army under another name, is also accused of being part of the far-right Oath Keepers.
The complaint against her says she conspired with former Marine Donovan Crowl and Navy veteran Thomas Caldwell.
CNN has reached out to the arrested veterans mentioned in this story and any lawyers listed on their court documents. Most did not respond. Lollar’s representative said his client had no comment at this time.
CNN is continuing to keep count of the number of military members arrested in connection to the insurrection, as well as police officers and others who have been trained or prepared for combat in the name of the United States.
“What we’ve seen too often is that this kind of ideological militancy is allowed to exist in the military,” said former FBI agent Michael German who spent years undercover in White supremacist and domestic extremist groups and is now a fellow at the Brennan Center For Justice. “And there isn’t enough effort to root it out and to actually paint it as what it is: an anti-democratic movement that’s a threat to our security within our security forces.”
But he added that the threat extended outside the armed forces and law agencies.
“It’s not just the military veterans and the police officers who were involved in the violent and illegal activities, but the fact that these groups that have been engaged in militant violence across the country over the last four years and beyond have support among elected politicians.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story overstated the number of active military personnel arrested and understated the number of veterans arrested. At the time of publication, those arrested included two active military personnel and 19 veterans. Additionally, this story has been updated to reflect that those arrested were members of the Army Reserve and Army National Guard
CNN’s Paul P. Murphy, Katelyn Polantz and Nicky Robertson contributed to this story.