A.C. Thompson

Here are the members of several well-known hate groups that were identified at the Capitol

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Members of the ultranationalist street gang known as the Proud Boys were easy to spot at the protests that flared across the United States throughout 2020, often in the middle of a brawl, typically clad in black and yellow outfits.

But in December, as the group's leaders planned to flood Washington to oppose the certification of the Electoral College vote this week for President-elect Joe Biden, they decided to do something different.

“The ProudBoys will turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist...," Henry “Enrique" Tarrio, the group's president, wrote in a late-December post on Parler, a social media platform that has become popular with right-wing activists and conservatives. “We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows....we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion."

The precise composition of the mob that forced its way into the Capitol on Wednesday, disrupting sessions of both houses of Congress and leaving a police officer and four others dead, remains unknown. But a review by a ProPublica-FRONTLINE team that has been tracking far-right movements for the past three years shows that the crowd included members of the Proud Boys and other groups with violent ideologies. Videos reveal the presence of several noted hardcore nativists and white nationalists who participated in the 2017 white power rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that President Donald Trump infamously refused to condemn.

Tarrio does not appear to have been present during the insurrection. Two days before members of the House and Senate gathered to certify the Electoral College results, Washington's Metropolitan Police Department arrested Tarrio and charged him with possessing high-capacity firearm magazines and destruction of property over the burning of a Black Lives Matter banner last month. A judge barred him from entering the city while he awaits trial.

But it appears that Tarrio's followers heeded his advice. A journalist working with ProPublica and FRONTLINE encountered members of the Proud Boys in dark clothes walking through Washington on the night before the attack. The four men posed for a photo and confirmed their membership in the group. Few participants involved in the Capitol siege were seen wearing Proud Boys colors or logos.

But since the incident, Proud Boys social media channels have flaunted their direct role in the attack and looting of the Capitol.

One prominent Proud Boys account encouraged rioters as the chaos was unfolding: “Hold your ground!!!... DO NOT GO HOME. WE ARE ON THE CUSP OF SAVING THE CONSTITUTION."

So far, police have arrested more than 80 people in connection with the attack, including at least one Proud Boy, Nick Ochs. They have seized pipe bombs and Molotov cocktails and arrested at least six people on illegal firearms charges, including one Maryland man who was captured in the visitors' center of the Capitol. More arrests are expected.

As the crowds ringing the Capitol swelled on Wednesday, a small group of men clad in body armor shuffled toward the doors at the center of the building's east-facing facade.

The eight men, whose movements were captured on video, were identified by ProPublica and FRONTLINE as members of the Oath Keepers, a long-standing militia group that has pledged to ignite a civil war on behalf of Trump. Members of the group joined the protesters and insurrectionists flooding into the Capitol. Footage from later in the day shows Oath Keepers dragging a wounded comrade out of the building.

Stewart Rhodes, a former soldier and Yale law school graduate, who founded the Oath Keepers in 2009 and built it into a nationwide network, was seen on video standing outside the Capitol building. While he was not seen entering the Capitol, he could be seen talking with his militia followers throughout the day.

Several other of the participants ProPublica and FRONTLINE identified from video have direct links to the white nationalist movement, which has seen a resurgence of activity during the Trump era.

One was Nick Fuentes, an internet personality who streams a daily talk show on DLive, an alternative social media platform. Fuentes, who marched in Charlottesville during the 2017 white power rally there, speaks frequently in anti-Semitic terms and pontificates on the need to protect America's white heritage from the ongoing shift in the nation's demographics. He has publicly denied believing in white nationalism but has said that he considers himself a “white majoritarian."

Fuentes, who spoke at pro-Trump rallies late last year in Michigan and Washington, D.C., said he was at the rally on Wednesday but didn't follow the mob into the Capitol. One group of Fuentes' supporters, who call themselves the Groyper Army, was filmed running through the Capitol carrying a large blue flag with the America First logo.

Days before the Capitol was stormed, Fuentes seemed to encourage his followers to kill state legislators in a bid to overturn Biden's electoral victory, as Megan Squire, a computer science professor at Elon University who follows online extremist communities, noted on Twitter.

“What can you and I do to a state legislator — besides kill him?" he said with a smirk. “We should not do that. I'm not advising that, but I mean, what else can you do, right?"

Squire fears that Fuentes' incendiary rhetoric will inspire his followers to engage in more drastic — even lethal — acts of political violence. “Instead of trying to appear democratic he's making an argument for fascism, for monarchism," she said. “He's criticizing democracy at every turn. He doesn't believe in democracy and it's scary because his fans find him fascinating."

DLive recently announced that it has booted Fuentes from its platform.

Another figure inside the Capitol with ties to white nationalists was Tim Gionet, a livestreamer who uses the handle Baked Alaska and who participated in the Charlottesville rally, which left one woman dead. Gionet was photographed within the Capitol and apparently used DLive to stream from within the building as events unfolded. Part of his video appeared to show him in Nancy Pelosi's office, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.

Other extremist figures present either at the rally or within the Capitol included Vincent James Foxx, an online propagandist for the Rise Above Movement, a now-defunct Southern California white supremacist group.

Also on scene: Gabe Brown, a New Englander who helped create Anticom, a now-defunct organization devoted to physically combating leftists. In 2017, Anticom members posted a vast trove of bomb-making manuals to a private online chatroom.

The militant group members joined with scores of others who rampaged inside the Capitol.

Rep. André Carson, a Democrat from Indiana, said the scene reminded him of a Ku Klux Klan rally. Photos from within the Capitol showed one unidentified man carrying a Confederate battle flag and another wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a skull and the words “Camp Auschwitz," a reference to the infamous Nazi death camp.

Carson and other House members who spoke to ProPublica and FRONTLINE said the body would be launching an extensive investigation of the Capitol Police force and its mishandling of Wednesday's events.

The rioters, said Carson, who is Black, “were hostile. They were venomous. And I think there was a sense of entitlement that they carried that somehow their country was being taken away from them."

After the siege, a Boogaloo Bois group called the Last Sons of Liberty, which includes militants from Virginia, posted a video to Parler purporting to document their role in the incident — a clip that shows members inside the Capitol. A loose-knit confederation of anti-government militants, the Boogaloo Bois have been tied to a plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and to the murder of two law enforcement officers in California. ProPublica and FRONTLINE have been unable to independently confirm their involvement.

Some far-right activists are already calling for retribution over the death of Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran from California who was shot and killed by a security officer. “We've got a girl that's dead. She's shot, laying on the ground in there," said Damon Beckley, leader of a group called DC Under Siege, in an interview just outside the Capitol while the riot was ongoing. “We're not putting up with this tyrannical rule. ... If we gotta come back here and start a revolution and take all these traitors out — which is what should happen — then we will."

Another person took to Parler to say that they were planning to show up, armed, in Washington for Inauguration Day. “Many of us will return on January 19, 2021 carrying Our weapons," wrote the Parler user, who goes by the handle Colonel007. “We will come in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match."

The Proud Boys also celebrated on social media. On Parler, one Proud Boys leader posted a photo of members of Congress cowering in fear and captioned it with a menacing statement: “Today you found out. The power of the people will not be denied."

House committee to subpoena records on Border Patrol agents disciplined for offensive secret Facebook group posts

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In a blistering 17-page letter, the head of a congressional committee on Friday accused federal officials of improperly withholding information on Border Patrol agents' misconduct in a secret Facebook group from congressional investigators.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said in the letter that she plans to subpoena internal Border Patrol documents detailing misconduct related to the Facebook group, which included some 9,500 current and former agents. First exposed by ProPublica in July 2019, the social media community called “I'm 10-15" was rife with dehumanizing and misogynistic postings, including an image of President Donald Trump sexually assaulting Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The dispute that prompted Maloney's letter centers on the refusal of the Border Patrol's parent organization, Customs and Border Protection, to turn over documents identifying by name, rank .and geographic location the agents who were disciplined or fired for making offensive posts in the Facebook group. CBP has also failed to provide congressional investigators with any details about specific incidents that led to agents being punished or fired. The records that CBP has provided to the committee are heavily redacted, according to Maloney.

“While I did not come to the decision to subpoena the CBP lightly, it is necessary," said Maloney, a New York Democrat, in a statement to ProPublica. “The Committee needs these unredacted documents to oversee whether CBP is properly disciplining its employees and whether employees who CBP found to have committed misconduct are still working directly with immigrant women, children, and babies."

CBP has long insisted that it is barred by federal law from disclosing key details about its disciplinary process, including the names of employees who've faced discipline for violating the agency's policies.

In the letter, however, Maloney called CBP's refusal to turn over the unredacted disciplinary records as “legally baseless" and asserted that her committee “has direct jurisdiction over federal employees and agency disciplinary procedures."

CBP has said publicly that it investigated 136 employees in connection to the “I'm 10-15" group and another Facebook group, and that the probe led to the firing of four agents and the suspension of more than three dozen others. Still, the agency has kept most other facts about the investigation confidential, declining to share information with the committee or issue a public report.

“To date, CBP has provided a significant volume of documents on the matter, some of which were publicly released by the Committee without CBP's consent, in addition to providing numerous briefings on the matter," a CBP official said in an emailed statement. “Since the beginning of this investigation, CBP's primary goal has been to provide transparency while still protecting the health and safety of our personnel, given the high degree of social unrest and the potential hostile targeting of employees for the nature of their employment." The official said the agency is aware of Maloney's intent to subpoena the documents.

Her letter states that the documents CBP has already turned over show that the agency “reduced penalties for numerous employees" who engaged in misconduct; three agents who were slated to be fired had their punishments reduced to suspensions from work, while 19 others had the length of their suspensions cut down.

The committee is seeking further information about an agent identified only as “Fired Agent #1" in the letter. ProPublica's reporting indicates that this is Thomas Hendricks, who served as a supervisory agent in Calexico, California, until he was ousted from the Border Patrol in October 2019 because of his offensive posts in the Facebook group. It was Hendricks who posted the image of Ocasio-Cortez being assaulted.

According to Maloney's letter, Hendricks told internal affairs investigators that his postings were “just having fun" and later described them as “good natured."

Hendricks appealed his firing, but in a decision handed down last month a federal appeals board denied his request to be reinstated. The decision shows that the agent made offensive Facebook posts demeaning women and gay men while working. “It's not a big deal to post a meme on duty," Hendricks told investigators.

His attorney, Joel Kirkpatrick, did not return requests for comment.

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'Enemy Combatant' Languishes in a South Carolina Brig

How to describe Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri? The basic bio is easy. He’s a native of Qatar, a member of a prominent Arab tribe. Forty-one-years-old with a mess of coal hair and a beard speckled with gray. Married with five children. Holds a degree in business administration from a small university in Illinois.

And since 2001, when U.S. government agents grabbed al-Marri and accused him of plotting heinous crimes against America, he’s been one of the Bush Administration’s prize prisoners, a trophy captured during the War on Terror.

After reciting these facts, rendering a portrait of the man becomes a challenge -- the U.S. government has thrust him into a vortex, a place from which only minuscule fragments of information dribble out.

Some three-and-a-half years ago, the Pentagon effectively disappeared al-Marri, dubbing him an "enemy combatant," confining him to a solitary cell in the military brig at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station in South Carolina. For seventeen interrogation-heavy months, they barred him even from talking to his attorneys. Now they are the only ones he can talk to.

Citing security concerns, the Defense Department refused to let this reporter interview al-Marri, or even visit the brig to get a sense of how the facility operates. "There are no media visits due to the unique circumstance that an alleged Al Qaeda operative is being held there," says Defense spokesman Navy Lieutenant Commander J. D. Gordon. "There are a wide variety of operational security concerns."

Thus we know very, very little about al-Marri. What does his voice sound like? Is it smooth or raspy? Is it a deep baritone or whiny and high-pitched or somewhere in between? What about his eyes? Do they flit around anxiously? Do they lock onto the person he’s conversing with? Does he cast them sullenly towards the floor?

We can’t tell you.

Is he, as the government contends, an Al Qaeda operative connected to the 9/11 attacks, a guy who surreptitiously moved around money for jihadists and cooked up chemical warfare recipes on his home computer?

We can’t tell you.

Could he be innocent, a victim of this paranoid age?

We can’t tell you.

Despite the informational blackout, we can tell you this: Experts outside the armed forces characterize the conditions of al-Marri’s incarceration -- along with those of a handful of better known prisoners, including alleged dirty-bomb schemer Jose Padilla -- as a subtle brand of torture. Pentagon investigators found problems with the treatment of enemy combatants at the South Carolina brig, according to an internal report obtained by The Progressive.

Now, thanks to recent moves by the administration of George W. Bush -- moves that reflect a drastic restructuring of the American justice system -- al-Marri could languish in this purgatory for decades to come without facing any sort of trial.

The Defense Department has "never admitted that he has any rights, including the right not to be tortured," says Jonathan Hafetz, one of al-Marri’s lawyers. "They’ve created a black hole where he has no rights."

The Arrest

With the government gagging al-Marri and disseminating little information about him, we've got to rely heavily on the court record -- hundreds of pages of paperwork filed in four different federal courthouses -- to tell his story.

One key document is an affidavit written up days after September 11, 2001, by Nichols Zambeck, a special agent with the FBI. That document makes for chilling reading, accusing al-Marri of running a sophisticated credit card fraud operation, and implying he may have somehow been involved in raising or circulating money for the world’s most notorious terrorist group.

At the time in question, al-Marri was dwelling in Peoria, Illinois, and working on a master’s in computer science at Bradley University, the same school he’d attended while earning a BA in business in the 1991.

While he claimed to be studying, al-Marri was actually living in a motel and using a fake name to open a trio of bank accounts for a fake company called AAA Carpet, according to Zambeck and the FBI. The bureau also alleges that al-Marri opened an account with a credit card processing firm, allowing AAA Carpet to conduct credit card transactions. That account was purportedly used to siphon money from twelve stolen credit cards, although agents reportedly discovered evidence of a much larger scam -- more than 1,000 credit card numbers on al-Marri's laptop computer.

When digital analysts with the FBI scrolled through the files on al-Marri’s computer they came across a host of unsettling material, according to Zambeck: audio lectures by Osama bin Laden and his fellow jihadists; photos of the 9/11 attacks; a folder marked "chem" filled with data on deadly chemicals; bookmarked websites about weaponry, computer hacking, phony IDs, and satellite equipment.

What Zambeck and company portray as a direct connection to Al Qaeda comes in the form of several phone calls allegedly made by al-Marri to a phone number in the United Arab Emirates.

The phone number in the Emirates allegedly belonged to Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi. The 9/11 Commission describes al-Hawsawi as an "Al Qaeda media committee member" and "financial and travel" planner for the attacks on Manhattan, and when federal prosecutors tried 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, they labeled him a "co-conspirator." Allegedly, al-Hawsawi helped the hijackers travel from Pakistan to the Emirates and on to the U.S. in preparation for the attacks.

After the FBI arrested al-Marri in December 2001, prosecutors charged him with seven criminal offenses, including unauthorized possession of credit card numbers, making false statements to a bank, and using a phony ID to scam a bank.

His lawyers insist the government has hyped the case against him. "There’s been no evidence presented" that al-Marri is an Al Qaeda operative or ally, says Hafetz, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and one of several lawyers working on al-Marri’s case. Hafetz adds, "He’s asserted his innocence."

Under normal circumstances, a jury would have considered his guilt or innocence, by now, a half-decade later, and rendered a verdict, pushing al-Marri into a prison sentence or cutting him loose. But these are not normal times.

The shift and the treatment

After a string of court hearings in the United States of America v. Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, the Bush Administration, in 2003, switched tacks. A month before al-Marri was to stand trial in Illinois, the President, with a stroke of the executive pen, wiped the case out of existence. Saying al-Marri "represents a continuing, present, and grave danger" to the country, Bush labeled al-Marri an "enemy combatant" and turned him over to the Defense Department. Instantly, the strictures of the criminal justice system no longer applied. Fundamental rights were out the window: al-Marri could now be held indefinitely without charge in a military prison, could be denied a lawyer, could be denied not only a speedy trial but any trial. Thus began his habitation of a 9’ by 6’ concrete cell in the naval brig in Charleston.

While progressives and liberals raised concerns about the hundreds shipped from the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq to the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, few realized that right here on American soil al-Marri was facing a similar fate -- jailed without charge.

For the first seventeen months of al-Marri’s incarceration in Charleston, the Defense Department did not allow Hafetz and al-Marri’s other attorneys to communicate with him in any way. He had no contact with family, friends, or anyone other than government personnel.

After many months of interrogation, al-Marri finally got to see his lawyers. He quickly filed a lawsuit alleging that he’d been subjected to torturous living conditions. According to the suit, al-Marri "has suffered inhumane, degrading, and physically and psychologically abusive treatment at the brig in violation of this country’s most basic laws and fundamental norms."

Hafetz says aside from some sporadic recreation periods, his client is kept caged in his cell 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and surveilled constantly by a video camera. For much of his time, al-Marri had nothing in his cell but a thin mattress and blanket, although at times he didn’t even have those items. When he leaves his cell now, the isolation continues, Hafetz says. He’s cuffed and shackled, his ears covered with noise-diffusing headphones, his eyes shielded by opaque goggles.

"He had no books, no magazines, nothing. He was in a black box," recalls Hafetz. "The isolation is very, very detrimental to him and clearly unconstitutional. He has not had any contact with anyone but his attorneys for the past three years. He hasn’t been able to talk to his wife and five children."

Lieutenant Commander Gordon gives this response. "The government in the strongest terms denies allegations of torture, allegations made without support and without citing a shred of record evidence," he says. "It is our policy to treat all detainees humanely."

After the lawyers started agitating over his conditions, al-Marri began to get letters from his wife and children in Qatar, although the missives are thoroughly redacted. He’s now able to read newspapers, as well, but those, too, are heavily censored.

The report

A high-level Pentagon report obtained by The Progressive reveals that all has not been right at the South Carolina brig. The report, dated May 11, 2004, is entitled: "Brief to the Secretary of Defense on Treatment of Enemy Combatants Detained at Naval Station Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Naval Consolidated Brig Charleston." It was written by Naval Vice Admiral A. T. Church III and by Marine Brigadier General D. D. Thiessen. Its task: "Ensure Department of Defense orders concerning proper treatment of enemy combatants."

They found numerous problems at both facilities. At Charleston, where al-Marri was held, these included the following citations:

"One detainee has Koran removed from cell as part of JFCOM [Joint Forces Command] interrogation plan. Muslim chaplain not available."

"One detainee in Charleston has mattress removed as part of JFCOM-approved interrogation plan."

"One detainee in each location currently not authorized ICRC [Red Cross] visits due to interrogation plans in progress."

"One detainee in Charleston has Koran, mattress, and pillow removed and is fed cold MREs as part of interrogation plan.” (This citation had a footnote that added: “After completion of current interrogation," removal of the Koran as an incentive "will no longer be used at Charleston.")

"Limited number and unique status of detainees in Charleston precludes interaction with other detainees. Argument could be made that this constitutes isolation."

In the "Summary of Findings," it added about Charleston: 'Christian chaplain used to provide socialization, but could be perceived as forced proselytization."

For all these problems, the report nevertheless concluded: "No evidence of noncompliance with DoD orders at either facility." The authors did take as an assumption, they wrote, that "treatment provided for in Presidential and SECDEF orders constitutes ‘humane treatment.’ "

The law

After President Bush shipped al-Marri to South Carolina, his plan to try al-Marri and other detainees in military commissions hit a serious snag. In a series of decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the commissions, saying they trampled on basic legal protections and military justice rules, and violated the 1949 Geneva Convention. This fall, Congress passed -- and Bush signed -- the Military Commissions Act, a legal rewrite intended to appease the high court.

In the view of many legal scholars, the Military Commissions Act throws open the door for the use of secret evidence, coercive and even torturous interrogation tactics, and, perhaps most seriously, suspends habeas corpus for noncitizens, including legal residents. A cornerstone of the American justice system, habeas corpus is the legal doctrine allowing prisoners to challenge their confinement in court.

Even though al-Marri could now be tried by a military commission, there’s no guarantee of that actually happening. And it’s not clear that a military commission would try al-Marri in a transparent, public process.

The problem, says Hillman, the Rutgers professor, is that the Military Commissions Act, in contrast to the rules governing criminal prosecutions, sets no timeline for bringing charges. "If the MCA stands as written, the U.S. government has little motivation to move forward in pressing charges," argues Hillman. "I hope that political pressure will intervene and force a solution, but the legal situation under the MCA gives detainees like al-Marri no reason to hope for either release or trial."

There are two ways to look at the al-Marri narrative. He may truly be the cunning, ruthless character the government has made him out to be. Or he may not. Without an open, public trial, we’ll never know whether al-Marri really is a terrorist, whether he truly was collaborating with Bin Laden’s minions when the towers dropped.

Hafetz says his client is eager to have his day in criminal court. "If they have evidence to prove these guys are who they say there, why are they so afraid to go in front of a judge? They’re running scared of having a court hearing. To me that speaks volumes," he says. 'Part of the purpose of a trial is to get the truth out, to expose what happened."

The case "raises fundamental questions about America and how it values its traditions," Hafetz continues. 'Since the nation’s founding, we’ve held that people accused of a crime deserve a trial."

When Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri closes his eyes in his blank-walled cell, under the surveillance camera, what does he dream about?

We can’t tell you.