U.S.A. (NBC) (01/08/21)— As investigators were poring over surveillance footage and social media posts of the Capitol invasion Thursday afternoon, one of the most recognizable participants was in a car cruising out of Washington, D.C.
“The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win,” Jake Angeli, age 33, said in an interview with NBC News near the start of his cross-country journey to his native Arizona.
Angeli, who stormed the Capitol bare chested and wearing a fur headdress with horns, is among hundreds of Trump supporters who are now in the crosshairs of local and federal law enforcement.
Because the vast majority of the Capitol mob was allowed to leave the building free of arrest, investigators now face the massive undertaking of identifying and tracking down hundreds of people from all over the country.
In a conference call with reporters, Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, acknowledged the challenges brought on by the U.S. Capitol Police’s failure to corral the demonstrators.
“I’m not going to play Monday morning quarterback to see when or why they didn’t do it,” Sherwin said. “But the scenario has made our job difficult because we now have to go through the process – cell site orders, video – to try to identify people and charge them and then try to execute their arrest.”
“That has made things challenging,” Sherwin added. “But I can’t answer why or why not those people weren’t zip-tied as they were leaving the building.”
Calls to the Capitol Police were not returned but a spokesperson announced late Thursday that Chief Steven Sund was resigning amid growing criticism.
The images of the Capitol incursion – broadcast on national television Wednesday afternoon – were jarring.
Windows were smashed. Offices were ransacked. Members of the mob manhandled Capitol police officers.
That the vast majority were allowed to leave the building and carry on demonstrating marked a stark contrast to the massive law enforcement response that greeted Black Lives Matter protesters during the summer.
District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine lamented what he described as the disparate deployment of assets “the federal government put forward with overwhelmingly peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters versus that which we saw yesterday.”
A total of 41 people were arrested on the Capitol grounds late Wednesday and early Thursday, according to Washington D.C. police chief Robert Contee. Some 27 others were arrested for offenses not linked to the Capitol breach, Contee said.
Sherwin’s office has charged a total of 55 people following the riot. One of them was arrested near the building with a semi automatic rifle and 11 Molotov cocktails, according to prosecutors.
One demonstrator, an Air Force veteran from California named Ashlii Babbit, was shot dead by Capitol police. Three other people died of medical issues amid the violent protests, authorities said.
In his press briefing, Sherwin emphasized that prosecutors have moved at a rapid clip to bring charges and more are on the way.
But questions still lingered as to why authorities weren’t better prepared to seal off the Capitol – and why more wasn’t done to arrest members of the pro-Trump mob as they left the building.
“Clearly there’s failures,” former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday. “There has to be a lot of questions asked and answers given. What is very clear is the police underestimated the violent crowd and the size of it, and they overestimated their ability to control it.”
In a statement released prior to word of his resignation, Capitol Police Chief Sund praised his officers for their “heroic” actions but did not address why his department wasn’t better prepared.
“United States Capitol Police officers and our law enforcement partners responded valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions as they stormed the United States Capitol Building,” he said. “The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.”
The FBI said Thursday that its Washington Field Office has received more than 4,000 online tips, including photos and videos of suspects rioting at the Capitol.
Intelligence analysts were sorting through the information and forwarding credible leads to teams of agents working the case, the FBI said. Investigators were also employing facial recognition software to identify suspects.
E.J. Hilbert, a former FBI agent who focused on cybercrime and terrorism, said the approach is likely similar to that used in the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombers.
“They’re going to look at every piece of footage that’s out there,” he said.
Hilbert said he would expect that the investigation will also lead to a flood of subpoenas to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter as authorities work to track down the people who posted online footage inside the Capitol.
“It’s not going to happen tomorrow, but over the next week, internet service providers are going to be overworked responding to these requests,” he said.
Angeli, meanwhile, said he was unconcerned with the investigation. A QAnon conspiracy theorist who posts regularly on YouTube, he compared himself to Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
“What I was doing was civil disobedience,” he said.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Angeli added. “I walked through an open door, dude.”
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