Federal official walks back allegation rioters intended to 'capture and assassinate'

Pete Williams and Adam Edelman and Dennis Romero
·3 min read

A U.S. Department of Justice official on Friday walked back a federal claim that Capitol rioters "intended capture and assassinate elected officials."

Washington's acting U.S. Attorney, Michael Sherwin, said in a telephone briefing, "There is no direct evidence at this point of kill-capture teams and assassination."

The statement of alleged violent intent came in a motion filed by federal prosecutors in Arizona seeking to have Jacob Chansley detained pending trial. Chansley, also known as Jake Angeli, was seen wearing horns, a fur headdress and face paint during the riot.

The motion, filed in federal court in Phoenix, said Chansley should be detained because he wants to return to Washington for the inauguration.

“Strong evidence, including Chansley’s own words and actions at the Capitol, supports that the intent of the Capitol rioters was to capture and assassinate elected officials of the United States government,” the document said.

The filing, though, did not specify what statements by Chansley indicate that intent, nor do the actual charges against him make any reference to that intent.

Sherwin said the complexity of the Capitol riots cases paired with their geographic expanse, with cases filed in the District of Columbia and others elsewhere, could have contributed to the walked-back description of suspects.

"There were appearances in two districts, Texas and Arizona, and at some of those hearings, there were other prosecutors," he said. "That may be a disconnect that may be adding information that's not directly related to what we have."

The filing from prosecutors in Arizona also says Chansley left a note on the Senate chamber dais, where Vice President Mike Pence had been presiding over the count of the electoral votes just a short time earlier, warning, "it's only a matter of time, justice is coming."

Chansley is charged with interfering with police, interrupting the proceedings, entering the Capitol without authority, disorderly conduct, and entering restricted areas. He was ordered to be detained pending trial.

The charging document describes Chansley as an unemployed persistent drug user with mental problems.

“Chansley has spoken openly about his belief that he is an alien, a higher being, and he is here on Earth to ascent to another reality,” the document says. It quotes him saying in a YouTube video as saying, “I am able to perceive multiple different frequencies of light beyond my five senses and it allows me to see into these other higher dimensions.”

Chansley was among the people whose images became the public faces of the riot. Donning a fur hat with horns and American-flag inspired face paint, Angeli stormed the Capitol bare-chested and gloated in the aftermath.

"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," Chansley, 33, said last week.

Chansley is a QAnon-supporting YouTuber who also was among the pro-Trump protesters who gathered outside the Maricopa County Elections Department in Phoenix on Nov. 5, claiming that the election was stolen.

Sherwin said Friday that prosecutors have 175 opened criminal investigations stemming from the Capitol riot, including violence on the grounds. Sherwin said that number would likely grow past 300 by the end of the day.

Ninety-eight criminal cases have been opened so far, mostly federal felonies, he said, adding, "We're trying to focus on the violent offenders."

The FBI said it is getting an extraordinary amount of information about people involved in the riot. More than 140,000 photos and videos have been sent in the past week. People are also sending tips about their own friends and family members. And some of those who are arrested or who turn themselves in are also providing information that is leading to other arrests.

A top priority of the investigation is determining whether the rioters were organized with a command-and-control structure. Sherwin said it could take “weeks if not months” to answer that question.