The following article was originally published in the Ohio Capital Journal and published on News5Cleveland.com under a content-sharing agreement.
In the big picture of the insurrection, the criminal charges against Alexander Sheppard are unremarkable.
Federal prosecutors say Sheppard arrived in Washington D.C. from Powell, Ohio after posting on Facebook that the election was “RIGGED.” He faces five charges, including disorderly conduct in a Capitol building. He wasn’t accused of violence or destruction, but of joining the throngs of about 2,000 people who comprised a mob that stormed the Capitol in an attempt to forcefully block the U.S. Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win.
Then-President Donald Trump and his allies hosted the Jan. 6, 2021 event, based on the central lie the election was fraudulently stolen from the incumbent. Trump said in a speech that day the attendees should “stop the steal” and “fight like hell” because they’re “not going to have a country anymore” if they don’t.
Sheppard, 21 at the time, was spotted in footage outside the House Speaker’s lobby just before a Capitol Police officer shot and killed Ashli Babbitt as she tried to climb through a transom window toward members of Congress.
In charging documents, prosecutors included a still photo from raw footage from a man named John Sullivan, who also breached the Capitol that day. About 80 seconds after the camera shows the included still frame of Sheppard — wearing a Trump red “Keep America Great” hat and navy blue hoodie, yelling at police officers blocking the door — Babbitt gets shot some 10 feet away.
A public defender representing Sheppard, who has pleaded not guilty, did not respond to inquiries, including whether Sheppard witnessed Babbitt’s shooting. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia declined comment.
Babbitt is one of five people present who died that day or shortly thereafter. Others include a trampled Trump supporter and a Capitol Police officer who suffered two strokes and died of natural causes after defending the building. Four officers who responded to the attack have died by suicide, according to Reuters.
The episode is a reminder of the way Ohioans pockmarked events around the Capitol on an infamously seditious, chaotic and politically violent day of American history. At least 38 Ohioans were accused of crimes in connection with the riots. Six have pleaded guilty, mostly for comparatively minor offenses.
The Ohio cohort’s alleged conduct ranges from conspiring to plan the event with the Oathkeepers (a paramilitary group), to waging hand-to-hand combat with police officers and wrestling down barricades outside, to smoking joints and carrying a bottle of bourbon around the seat of government.
Many of the suspects filmed and photographed themselves throughout the day, which prosecutors relied on heavily in bringing charges against the defendants. Several signaled allegiances to QAnon, a sprawling, online conspiracy theory whose believers essentially say the Democratic Party runs a massive, Satan-worshipping child sex trafficking ring that only Trump can thwart.
A review of court documents, raw footage and news coverage shows the range of conduct Ohioans took part in that day.
Oathkeepers and the ‘stack’
Some of the most serious charges of the day accuse several Ohioans who are Oathkeepers of conspiring to plan the events of Jan. 6. The Oathkeepers are a right-wing, anti-government extremist group within the militia movement comprised mostly of former law enforcement and military members. Seventeen members from multiple states were charged with various offenses.
They were seen in matching combat gear in a “stack” formation (hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them) moving up the stairs toward the east side entrance of the Capitol. Prosecutors have accused them of conspiring to plan a Capitol raid as far back as November 2020. On Jan. 6, they wore matching combat fatigues and ballistic helmets. They were unarmed, but prosecutors have alleged they had a “quick reaction force” at the ready to deliver guns if needed. A lawyer representing one defendant, however, said in court filings the ‘force’ was one overweight, old man and called the government’s claim a gross overstatement.
Jessica Watkins, a Champaign County bartender, ran a small group she called the “Ohio State Regular Militia” — a subset of the Oathkeepers that folded in with the larger unit that day.
“To me, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw until we started hearing glass smash,” she said of the raid in a January 2021 interview with the Ohio Capital Journal “That’s when we knew things had gotten really bad.”’
Watkins characterized her participation as non-violent. Footage has since emerged, identified by amateur internet sleuths “Capitol Terrorists Exposers” and later published by The New York Times, showing her and other Oathkeepers in a crowd trying to push past the Capitol Police into the U.S. Senate.
“Get in there! They can’t hold us!” Watkins yells in the footage.
Also in the clash were Ohioans Donovan Crowl and Sandra Parker, according to prosecutors. Bennie Parker, Sandra’s husband, stayed in communication from outside the building. All have pleaded not guilty.
“So can I bring my gun?” Bennie Parker allegedly texted Watkins before the riot, charging documents state.
‘Kill the tyrannical government’
David Mehaffie, of Kettering, Ohio, acted as a quasi-commander during one of the most brutal clashes between rioters and police during the siege, according to federal prosecutors. Police had formed a human barricade against a door at an exterior terrace at the Capitol complex.
According to prosecutors, he left the scrum and spent 26 minutes above the fray “to coordinate the mob’s actions” by directing efforts and passing weapons around like stolen police shields.
“If you are going in, get on this side,” he yelled to rioters, according to footage obtained by prosecutors. “Push! Push!”
Capitol Police Officer Michael Fanone would later say he was electroshocked in the fracas involving Mehaffie. A woman named Rosanne Boyland, a pro-Trump member of the mob, died after she was trampled amid the chaos, according to the Huffington Post.
Mehaffie pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. His lawyer did not respond to inquiries. Other Ohioans were accused of violence elsewhere on the Capitol grounds.
Cliff Mackrell pushed, shoved, struck at, and peeled a gas mask from the face of a Capitol Police officer outside the building to expose him to various chemical irritants like tear gas in the air, according to footage obtained by prosecutors.
“Whatever it takes take for my country,” he said in the footage, per the DOJ. He posted on Facebook later that day that it’s our “literal jobs as Americans to kill the tyrannical government.”
Facebook messages later obtained by law enforcement quote Mackrell, a Wellington, Ohio man, as saying his head hurts because he was hit 10 to 15 times with a baton.
Mackrell has pleaded not guilty and awaits trial. His lawyer did not respond to an email.
John Douglas Wright, from Stark County, Ohio, has pleaded not guilty to charges, but told The Canton Repository he was “beaten up by the cops” on Jan. 6 at the Capitol.
“Yesterday wasn’t the end,” he said to the newspaper. “Yesterday was the first battle of the war. I promise you.”
In charging documents, prosecutors included a photo of him and other rioters with their hands on a metal barricade, seeking to overpower Capitol Police officers on the other side. In Facebook posts prosecutors say they obtained, Wright seemed to have foreseen clashes with law enforcement.
“WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO FIGHT THE BLUE TOMORROW,” one message states (capitalization in the original).
“FROM WHAT I SEEN TONIGHT THE TEMPERS WILL BE UP TOMORROW AND POLICE LINES WILL BE BREACHED,” reads another.
Wright pleaded not guilty. His attorney did not respond to an inquiry.
Jared Hunter Adams, a Plain City, Ohio man, was accused of entering the building. Prosecutors say he brought two hunting knives to Washington D.C., but did not bring them with him into the building. They cited alleged comments from Hunter captured in footage as evidence to successfully quash a motion from Hunter to allow him to possess firearms while he awaits trial.
“Next time we won’t leave our guns at home,” he said on Jan. 6, per court documents.
Adams has pleaded not guilty. His lawyer, Joseph Roll Conte, declined to comment.
QAnon: Where we go one, we go all
Some Ohioans publicly signaled their adherence to QAnon, the online conspiracy theory that exploded in popularity during the pandemic
A Piqua, Ohio woman named Therese Borgerding was photographed holding a large “Q” (in the theory, Q is a high ranking anonymous government official who leaves cryptic messages for followers about Trump’s looming purge of detractors from the federal government) sign. She has pleaded not guilty. Her lawyer did not respond to an inquiry.
Timothy Allen Hart, a Dayton man, was photographed wearing a “Q” sweatshirt inside the building. Another, Ethan Seitz, saw a “militia” that “wants to storm the Capitol and take the building after Trump’s speech,” according to Facebook messages obtained by law enforcement included in charging documents. Along with posts stating that the people “will not allow our country to be stolen! #stopthesteal,” he posted a photo of himself the night before the riot from his hotel room.
The post states he’s in Washington D.C. and ends with QAnon’s unofficial mantra: “Where we go one, we go all.”
Another woman named Chrstine Priola was one of a smaller group of rioters who allegedly made it onto the floor of the U.S. Senate. Prosecutors say she wielded a sign reading “THE CHILDREN CRY OUT FOR JUSTICE” — QAnon followers often use vague references to protecting children as a coded means of attracting new followers. Shortly after the riot, Priola resigned from her role as a school therapist for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, according to Cleveland.com. She resigned in a QAnon-tinged letter stating she was “switching paths to expose the global evil of human trafficking and pedophilia, including in our government agencies and children’s services agencies.”
Priola has pleaded not guilty. Her attorney, Charles Langmack, noted that discovery (the trading of evidence between the defense and prosecution) is ongoing and declined further comment.
James Matthew Horning smoking what prosecutors say is a marijuana cigarette. He was also photographed inside the Capitol. Source: DOJ.
The Jan. 6 mob contained violent extremists, Trump zealots, an Olympic swimmer, men in costume, and a number of people who seemingly flowed into the building with a crowd.
However, there’s some evidence that people used the mayhem simply to catch a buzz in a government building.
“F**k it, smoking a joint on the Capitol steps right now,” wrote James Matthew Horning, who attended the protests with his daughter, according to prosecutors.
In a Facebook comment thread provided by a tipster to the FBI, a person asked Horning why he attended the protests. Horning listed three reasons.
“To participate in anarchy, to smoke weed in government buildings, [but] the real reason was to intimidate congress,” he wrote in a post detailed in the documents. “They have a 9% approval rating. We accomplished that. Maybe they will work on that because they know we could have got them and have mercy”
Columbus men Robert Anthony Lyon and Dustin Thompson attended the event, the latter of whom was accused of trying to steal a coat rack on his way out the door. Thompson bailed on the coat rack and fled when confronted by police, according to prosecutors.
Lyon was allegedly found to have marijuana, pipes, and bourbon in his bag — he was charged with crimes related to the insurrection, not the substances.
In another case, prosecutors alleged an Instagram video from an account called “brotunda” that appeared to show Hart smoking marijuana in the rotunda of the Capitol building.
“It can be inferred that Hart was smoking marijuana in the video due to the fact that the induvial who was taking the video was counting how many ‘joints’ were in the video and asked another individual if he smoked weed,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit.