Mitchell man proud to be present, even for five minutes, during Jan. 6 Capitol riot

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MITCHELL — When William Lance Wilkerson saw FBI agents and local police outside his home three weeks ago, guns drawn and pointed at the front door, he knew why they were there.

But the 39-year-old handyman was surprised. After all, it had nearly two and a half years since he'd driven his 1997 GMC Sierra dually pickup 16 hours straight to Washington, D.C., to protest the presidential election outcome.

"They caught up with me," Wilkerson said this week during an interview at the Wendy's in Mitchell, just a mile or so from his house.

William Lance Wilkerson
William Lance Wilkerson

And the FBI has charged him with four federal crimes for entering the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot. Court documents filed in his case include eight closed-circuit camera photos of him inside and outside the building.

Wilkerson acknowledges being there. He's proud, saying he drove all night in order represent people he knows who couldn't get to Washington but believe what he does: that Donald Trump won the 2020 election and should be president today.

"It was rigged," he said. "We all seen Trump was winning and somehow Biden ends up winning. How did that happen?"

Numerous inquiries at the federal and state levels have failed to find any evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

USA Today fact checks: Voter fraud and other false claims

He says rich, powerful liberals rigged the system and stole the presidency, "a slap in the face to the American people. The Democrats have weaponized the government against its people. The FBI watches you through Facebook."

False claims and conspiracy theories have abounded since Trump's initial run for the presidency, and the former president's statements after the 2020 election have been dubbed the "Big Lie."

Washington, D.C., bound

Back in January 2021, Wilkerson, who goes by Lance, borrowed $400 from his uncle. He didn't say what it was for, figuring that would lead to a sit-down discussion about why he shouldn't get involved.

Wilkerson didn't want to hear any of that. He set out about 10 p.m. the night of Jan. 5 and headed east toward the nation's Capitol. He said his girlfriend at the time was the only person he told about the trip. He suspects the FBI talked to her later about what she knew.

After 620 miles, his old farm truck overheated at the edge of the District of Columbia. "I can't believe I made it," the Mitchell man said. He topped off the antifreeze at an O'Reilly's Auto Parts store, then found a free place to park just a five-minute walk from the National Mall.

He arrived as protesters were surging into the building. His then-girlfriend called to say she was watching coverage of the chaos on TV. "They're getting in, they're getting in," she said.

Wilkerson ran toward the Capitol, pausing to take a picture at the Washington Monument obelisk. Smoke was rising from his destination, and he arrived in time to be part of the riot.

"I wanted to see what was happening," he said, to join "fellow patriots like me" in shouting at police and moving toward the entry doors.

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He wore a baseball cap and hooded camouflage jacket. He draped an American flag and a Confederate flag, attached with ropes, across his back like capes.

He was there to peacefully protest, he said, not cause damage or harm.

An image from a closed-circuit TV camera at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that the FBI says depicts Bedford man William Wilkerson.
An image from a closed-circuit TV camera at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, that the FBI says depicts Bedford man William Wilkerson.

Camera footage described in court documents tracks Wilkerson's movements inside the Capitol that afternoon. He enters through the Senate Wing door at 3:24, then turns south down a hallway at 3:25 walking toward the circular room beneath the rotunda. At 3:26, he turns around and walks back toward the door he came in through, waits three minutes, then leaves.

"Wilkerson’s total time spent inside the United States Capitol Building was approximately five minutes," the FBI affidavit in the case confirms.

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Years later come the charges

He's charged with four misdemeanor counts of unlawful entry into the Capitol. There are no claims he participated in the violence and vandalism that occurred. It's unclear why there are four charges; video footage shows him entering the Capitol one time.

Wilkerson said when he saw the demonstration had turned into a violent riot, he headed toward the door. "When I saw they were rioting and doing vandalism, I turned around and left. I waited three minutes for them to let me out and after that I got out of there."

He walked back to his truck and began the 16-hour drive back to Lawrence County. His first visit to the nation's Capitol had lasted about two hours.

He returned home and told friends and family via social media he was proud to have been part of the Jan. 6 event. Those posts, and a security camera image of him selling scrap metal at JB's Salvage in Bloomington that confirmed his identity, are part of the case against him.

FBI Special Agent John Miller's affidavit says Wilkerson violated a federal statute that makes it a crime to "knowingly enter or remain in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do ... with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of government business or official functions."

Police, FBI track him down

Miller and other FBI agents, joined by Mitchell police officers, descended on Wilkerson's Kelly Street house the morning of Thursday, June 8. His 3-year-old son, peering out the front window, said, "Daddy, there's a bunch of cars outside."

Wilkerson said police cars were parked several deep in front of the house when Miller, who he said had posed as a potential business client earlier in the day, called and ordered him to come out.

Wearing just pajama pants, Wilkerson exited the front door with his hands up, he said, his son at his side. He had the boy's mother on the phone and handed it to the FBI agent to arrange for the child to be picked up.

Wilkerson said he rode in an FBI car to the federal courthouse in Indianapolis, where officers confiscated his Samsung cell phone and asked him questions before he appeared before a judge, who released him on pretrial detention.

He had no money and no phone. His public defender handed him a $20 bill, so he went to a downtown hamburger restaurant and called his mom to come and pick him up.

'Trump should have won'

The next hearing in the case is two months out. Wilkinson's public defender assured him he likely won't go to jail, but the possibility looms. He's been arrested for possession of marijuana and has some speeding tickets, but has no serious crimes on his record.

Wilkinson said he'd fallen on hard times during the past few years, including 11 months — most of 2022 — living homeless in Bloomington.

He was rebuilding his life, buying the Mitchell house on contract, when police came to his door this month. He'd heard the FBI had gone to his grandmother's Greene County farm awhile back asking about him, but didn't give it much thought until the FBI was at his door.

He said concerns his home repair business would suffer from his notoriety haven't proven true. He claims many of his recent customers know about his arrest and support his protest effort.

"I've picked up customers. They thank me, and congratulate me," Wilkinson said. "They say Trump should have won."

Wilkinson lives in a sea of conservatism where support for Trump reigns. Seventy-four percent of Lawrence County voters, three out of four, cast their ballots for Trump in 2020.

Wilkinson predicts his children will be proud of him in the future when the family looks back on those five minutes in Washington, D.C., that brought him national attention.

"Twenty years from now, they'll say your dad went to the Capitol building on Jan. 6 to fight for your rights."

Contact Herald-Times reporter Laura Lane at or 812-318-5967.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Mitchell man proud to be present during Jan. 6 Capitol riot