By Masood Farivar
U.S. prosecutors aggressively pursuing the perpetrators of the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol have identified nearly 300 individuals suspected of involvement in the violent rampage that left five people dead, officials announced Friday.
The number of suspects under investigation – 275 as of Friday morning – was expected to top 300 by the end of the day and exponentially grow in the coming days, said Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.
Sherwin’s office is leading a wide-ranging investigation that includes hundreds of prosecutors and FBI agents trying to identify and charge supporters of President Donald Trump who stormed the Capitol last week. Complicating their work, all but a handful of the rioters were allowed to walk away from the Capitol on the day of the riots and are believed to have traveled back to their home states.
To date, Sherwin told reporters during a press call, prosecutors have filed 98 criminal cases in connection with the rioting, the majority of them for felony offenses.
Authorities in some cases relied initially on misdemeanor charges to arrest the rioters, but “as the investigation continues, as the days and weeks progress, we’re looking at more significant federal felony charges,” Sherwin said.
The felony charges range from assault on a law enforcement officer to seditious conspiracy, a charge that carries up to 20 years in prison.
Steven D’Antuono, assistant FBI director for the Washington field office, said more than 100 suspects have been taken into custody around the country. The FBI made more than 40 of those arrests, he said.
“We have methodically followed all the leads to identify those responsible and hold them accountable,” D’Antuono said.
Among the recently charged defendants, Sherwin cited Peter Francis Stager, an Arkansas man who was captured on video beating a police officer with a flagpole inside the Capitol. Stager was charged on Thursday with one count of obstructing, impeding and interfering with a police officer during a civil disorder.
“I think that’s really the height of hypocrisy, that [he] was beating [a Metropolitan Police Department] officer with a flagpole and at the other end of that flagpole was attached the American flag,” Sherwin said.
Several current and former members of law enforcement and the military have also been arrested on charges of rioting at the Capitol. On Wednesday, Jacob Fracker and Thomas Robertson – two off-duty officers from Rocky Mount, Virginia, who allegedly traveled 200 miles to take part in the event – were arrested and charged in federal court.
In the nine days since the attack, the FBI has received more than 140,000 videos and photographs of the riots from the public, D’Antuono said, adding that the tips proved critical in identifying some of the culprits.
Warnings by the FBI about armed protests in Washington as well as all 50 state capitals have led to unprecedented security measures in the nation’s capital ahead of Biden’s inauguration Wednesday.