While driving to Washington, D.C., on January 6, Cleveland Meredith sent a text that said, “Hauling ass, 3.5 hours from target practice.”
The day after the Capitol siege, prosecutors said, Meredith was arrested in D.C. with an assault-style rifle equipped with a telescopic sight, a Glock firearm with several high capacity magazines and over 2,500 rounds of ammunition — including at least 320 “armor-piercing” rounds. He arrived too late to attend the rally, but the following day, authorities said he sent a text threatening to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the head.
Some Republican lawmakers have downplayed the riot on January 6. Congressman Andrew Clyde compared it to “a normal tourist visit” and Senator Ron Johnson said it “didn’t seem like an armed insurrection” to him. Congressman Louie Gohmert said “there have been things worse than people without any firearms coming into a building.”
A small number of Capitol riot defendants — at least three charged in the federal criminal investigation — have been accused of carrying firearms. But guns weren’t the only threat. According to court documents reviewed by CBS News, 39 defendants have been accused of wielding “deadly or dangerous” weapons that weren’t firearms, including Tasers, tomahawk axes, crowbars, flagpoles, a knife, an ice axe, a firecracker, a stun gun, baseball bats, fire extinguishers, a wooden club and chemical spray.
Three are facing federal firearms charges in connection with the riot
It is not clear how many may have carried firearms during the siege because the majority of riot defendants were not arrested the day of the attack, but rather, were tracked down at their homes or businesses weeks or months later.
In addition to Meredith, who has argued in court that his text messages were not meant to be taken seriously, two other defendants are facing federal firearm charges in connection with the unrest at the Capitol. All three were arrested while they were still in D.C. and, according to the criminal complaints against them, all were found with firearms in their possession.
Police said in a criminal charging document that during the evening of January 6, as authorities were clearing the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, 33-year-old Christopher Alberts was slow to respond to police orders. An officer noticed a bulge on his hip and Alberts attempted to flee, but was ultimately caught with a loaded handgun and a spare magazine, along with a gas mask, pocket knife, a packaged military meal and a first aid kit. Authorities said there was one round in the handgun’s chamber. Alberts has pleaded not guilty.
Another man arrested that day was Lonnie Coffman, a 70-year-old from Alabama who parked his truck near where pipe bombs had been discovered. Coffman has not been accused of planting the pipe bombs, but authorities said in an affidavit they noticed the handle of a firearm on the seat of Coffman’s truck.
Searching the car, they said they found a “large and unlawful” trove of weapons, including a loaded handgun, rifle, shotgun, several large-capacity ammunition feeding devices, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a crossbow with bolts, several machetes, a stun gun and molotov cocktails.
When Coffman returned to his truck the evening of January 6, authorities said they found he had also been carrying two additional loaded firearms, and a judge said in a recent court ruling that there was evidence he was armed while participating in riots near the Capitol. Coffman has not been charged with carrying firearms during the riot. He pleaded not guilty to the charges he faces for unlawful possession of firearms, high-capacity magazines and ammunition.
In addition to those charged federally, at least five people were arrested in downtown D.C. on January 5 and 6 in what Metropolitan Police designated as “unrest-related” arrests. They were all charged locally with carrying pistols and large capacity ammunition feeding devices, though the Metropolitan Police Department would not connect them directly to the events at the Capitol because they were arrested before the riot began.
Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio was arrested in D.C. January 4 on an outstanding warrant, and was charged with carrying two large capacity ammunition feeding devices.
Other riot defendants said they refrained from bringing firearms to the city that day, citing D.C.’s strict gun laws. Two days before the siege, city officials warned protesters not to bring guns to the upcoming Trump rally.
Some members of the Oath Keepers, who are now facing criminal conspiracy charges, decided to leave their guns outside of the city, according to court documents.
“Dc is no guns,” wrote alleged Oath Keepers member Kelly Meggs in a Facebook message, “So mace and gas masks, some batons. If you have armor that’s good.”
Prosecutors claimed another Oath Keepers member, Jessica Watkins, brought with her mace, tasers and night sticks, but planned to station heavier arms outside the city, a system prosecutors said was designed to provide access during operations. Meggs and Watkins have not been charged with carrying weapons at the Capitol; they pleaded not guilty to charges that include conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and the destruction of government property.
At least 39 wielded “deadly or dangerous” weapons
Although some rioters decided to bring less lethal weapons instead of guns, the violence inflicted that day was severe. The Justice Department said that during the Capitol siege, around 140 police officers were assaulted, and some sustained serious injuries. Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said that even more D.C. police officers sustained injuries they “did not even bother to report,” including scratches, bruises and eyes burned from chemical spray.
Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement in February that during the riot, officers sustained brain injuries and cracked ribs, one officer was expected to lose an eye and another had been stabbed with a metal fence stake. So far, the Department of Justice has charged over 125 people with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.
Outside the building that day, prosecutors said a man named Ryan Nichols stood before a crowd on the ledge of a broken Capitol window, clutched a crowbar and yelled into a bullhorn, “If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!” In another video, prosecutors said he yelled, “This is not a peaceful protest.”
Prosecutors indicted Nichols on eight different charges and accused him of spraying an officer with a chemical irritant. He has pleaded not guilty.
Nichols was indicted along with Alex Harkrider, who faces charges including carrying “a deadly and dangerous weapon, that is, a tomahawk axe.”
Riot defendant and former Green Beret Jeffrey McKellop allegedly assaulted four officers, shoving a flagpole into an officer’s face and then throwing it like a “spear,” causing a laceration near the officer’s left eye, prosecutors said. McKellop has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
One retired Pennsylvania firefighter was filmed during the riot as prosecutors said he hurled a fire extinguisher at a group of police, hitting three officers in the head, prosecutors said.
Another alleged rioter, David Blair, was found carrying a knife after authorities say he shoved an officer with a lacrosse stick that was attached to a Confederate flag. As he squared up to the officer, prosecutors said he shouted, “What’s up motherf***er, what’s up, what’s up b***h?” Blair has pleaded not guilty.
Inside the Capitol, prosecutors say Richard Barnett, the man photographed sitting with his feet up in the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, carried a holstered stun gun. Barnett has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
Near the West Terrace entrance, where officers experienced some of the worst attacks, a Marine veteran named Michael Foy brought a hockey stick and used it to “aggressively” strike law enforcement officers in the face, head and neck, prosecutors said. One man, Shane Jenkins, attacked officers guarding the doorway by throwing a series of different items, including a flagpole and a desk drawer, the government said. And another alleged rioter, Emmanuel Jackson, struck a group of officers with a metal baseball bat, prosecutors said. Foy and Jenkins have pleaded not guilty, and an attorney for Jackson has argued there is no evidence he injured any officers during the encounter.
Other rioters, who have yet to be identified, were caught on body camera footage beating officers with metal knuckles and with a tactical baton.
In at least one case, when rioters nearly stole a police firearm, the threat of gun violence loomed large. Officer Mike Fanone was pulled into the crowd alone, Tased and beaten until he lost consciousness. During the attack, he said rioters began to grab for his service weapon and shouted, “Kill him with his own gun.”
One man, Kyle Young, was charged last month with attempting to take Fanone’s department-issued firearm. Prosecutors said that at one point, Young’s hand was on top of Fanone’s gun, but Fanone was then “swept away into the crowd.”
Other rioters eventually helped escort Fanone back inside the building after he pleaded to be let go, telling the crowd, “I have kids.”