They came prepared for war. Leroy Coffman parked his Red GMC Sierra pickup truck a stone’s throw from the US Capitol building at 9:15 am on January 6. Inside the truck, legal documents allege, were 11 Molotov cocktails containing a napalm substance, a handgun, shotgun, rifle, crossbow with bolts, several machetes, camouflage smoke devices, and a stun gun. Coffman also reportedly had two other guns on his person.
Also in his car, the documents claim, were handwritten notes about elected officials and what was believed to be contact information for talk show hosts and other politicians. “The handwritten messages in the defendant’s pickup truck raise grave concerns about his intentions, and suggest that these weapons were intended to be used in an effort to violently attack our elected representatives,” the legal document states. It adds that law enforcement officials believe there could have been intent to share the weapons with others.
Coffman was not alone on January 6. Amongst the mob that stormed the US Capitol were individuals who were armed and ready for violence. In the days that followed the attack, open source intelligence researchers, journalists, and law enforcement have begun the painstaking task of trying to track down these individuals. Among the steadfast Republicans, QAnon conspiracy theorists, and elected officials, one group stood out: highly organized, armed, and seemingly specially trained to not just storm the Capitol but also to commit acts of violence. Their behavior has sparked fears that extreme right-wing groups and others intent on causing violence may target the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on January 20. Or even before. As time runs out, the race is on to identify and disrupt those who may take action.
Early legal documents and charge sheets collated by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism give a glimpse of what could have unfolded at the Capitol. So far there are 20 charges related to firearms and a handful of others for theft, assault, threats, and civil disorder, according to the Program on Extremism. Cleveland Grower Meredith, Jr., who travelled to Washington, DC, but was too late for the protests, is alleged to have had an assault rifle, a Glock firearm emblazoned with a US flag, and 2,500 rounds of ammunition. Text messages allegedly found on his phone included threats to shoot House speaker Nancy Pelosi. “War time,” one message said.
The legal documents made publicly available so far do not reveal any coordination between those they name and, of course, all are innocent until proven guilty. (In early legal proceedings, Coffman did not enter a plea and his attorney argued he had no previous criminal record. Legal representatives did not return a request for comment.) At the time of writing the FBI has charged more than 70 people, has more than 170 open case files, and has been sent more than 100,000 photos, videos, and other digital media. More arrests will inevitably follow.
In the days following the attack, evidence has emerged on social media showing some of those inside the Capitol building talking about the building’s layout and how to move around its labyrinth of corridors. Another video shows an organized line of individuals dressed in camo gear passing through crowds and heading up the steps to the Capitol. Individuals alleged to be carrying zip-tie handcuffs have also been identified, while another person is said to have packed a military ready-meal.