Some Rioters Could Face Prison Terms of 20 Years or More, Officials Say

Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol.
Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol, Wednesday, Jan 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The FBI has now opened up nearly 160 cases into those involved in last week's siege at the U.S. Capitol.

Acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin and FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director in Charge Steven D'Antuono announced Tuesday that federal charges brought so far against dozens of defendants are "only the beginning."

"We're looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy," Sherwin said during a news conference. Some of the felonies the Justice Department is considering have prison terms of up to 20 years, he added.

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The misdemeanor charges that currently apply to "the zip-tie guys ... 'the Brocks' that were arrested" will likely be elevated over the next few months as part of the extensive investigation, which will probably take years, he said.

Sherwin was referring to Larry Rendall Brock Jr., an Air Force veteran seen brandishing zip-tie handcuffs in the Senate chamber. Brock was arrested Sunday in Texas and charged with knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority, along with one count of "violent entry and disorderly conduct," according to the DOJ.

Brock retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel, the service has said. While he faces civilian charges, he is unlikely to be recalled to go through the military justice system, experts say.

But should the charges against Brock be elevated to sedition or certain other serious offenses and he is convicted, he would be subject to the Hiss Act. While the provision applies mostly to lawmakers, it strips pensions or pay from federal and former federal employees convicted of some offenses. As someone who is presumably collecting military pay and benefits, the Hiss Act would apply to Brock under those circumstances, said Gary Solis, who served as a Marine judge advocate general and taught military law at West Point and Georgetown University.

"They've already got that train in motion," Solis said, referring to the DOJ handling the case instead of turning it over to the military.

As Solis and other experts told on Monday, the Uniform Code of Military Justice applies differently to different retiree groups, and calling Brock -- who left as a reservist -- back under the military's law would be difficult.

"The chances that the military would want to step in, and the chances that the government would allow them to step in, are slim to none," Solis said Tuesday.

Sherwin said the FBI is coordinating with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Metro Police to find the individual or individuals who planted suspected explosive devices outside the D.C. headquarters of both the Republican and Democratic National Committees.

When asked whether those responsible for the pipe bombs could be brought up on domestic terror charges, Sherwin demurred, saying he did not like to use "this tyranny of labels."

"We have plenty of federal resources at our disposal, plenty of federal charges to address all of this conduct -- from felony murder related to the possession and use of destructive devices to seditious conspiracy," he said.

At least a handful of veterans have been identified as taking part in the riots. Lawmakers have called on the Pentagon to open investigations into whether any active-duty members might have also been present.

Kristofer Goldsmith, an Army veteran who has studied disinformation and propaganda campaigns targeted at military personnel and veterans, and has lobbied Congress to address misuse of social media platforms by criminals, terrorist groups and foreign entities, said Tuesday that he was not surprised that veterans were involved, given that they are actively recruited by extremist groups.

"The fact that this happened on a Wednesday probably saved a lot of careers," he said. "If it had happened on a weekend where people could have taken leave, I think a lot of active-duty people would have been involved."

Goldsmith said the riot at the Capitol should serve as a wake-up call to the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs to institute classes on media awareness and provide antivirus software and credit monitoring to members and veterans. He added that social media platforms need to do more to protect users, saying he is glad that the major platforms are finally tamping down on extremists and others who use public forums to commit crime and recruit.

"I wish some of the steps they'd taken happened three years ago when I first started ringing the alarm bells about the fake Vietnam Veterans of America page on Facebook that came out of Bulgaria," he said.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.

Related: Active-Duty Troops Who Participated in the Capitol Siege Could Face These Penalties

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