After Chris Ortiz posted a series of Instagram stories from inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, authorities say he got an Instagram message from a high school friend.
“CHRIS WHAT ARE YOU DOING,” the message said, according to court documents.
Many tipsters described watching someone they knew or loved develop increasingly extreme beliefs in the time leading up to the riot, with some even messaging the person on January 6 to debate the beliefs that led them to the Capitol.
Richard Michetti messaged with his ex-girlfriend throughout the siege, texting her when he arrived in D.C. and sending videos of rioters yelling inside the building. Throughout the day, he tried to explain to her why he was there. “Gotta stop the vote,” he said, telling her he believed Donald Trump had won the election.
Department of Justice
“I understand your point,” he said to her, “but what I’m saying is [ex’s name] the election was rigged and everyone knows it.” In another message, he wrote, “If you can’t see the election was stolen you’re a moron.”
She reported him to law enforcement the next day.
Kevin Strong, who works for the Federal Aviation Administration in California, was reported to authorities by his employer’s Internal Investigations Branch after he was seen walking through the Capitol on a news broadcast. Another tipster said that someone had sent them a video of Strong in the U.S. Capitol with the message, “Kevin’s on TV!”
Another person who knew Strong told authorities his behavior had changed over the prior few months. He’d begun stockpiling items and telling others to get ready for martial law, messaging one person that World War III would occur on January 6, the tipster said. He was an adherent of
, the tipster said, and was known to declare he had “Q clearance” and was part of a “movement” greater than himself. Strong had recently purchased a new truck, believing QAnon would cover the debt, the tipster said. QAnon conspiracy theories
For some, their loved ones’ increasingly divergent political views posed a danger. Guy Reffitt was not initially turned in by his family, but he threatened his son and daughter after his son participated in an interview with the FBI.
According to Reffitt’s son, Reffitt told his kids that if they turned him in, they would be traitors, “and you know what happens to traitors… traitors get shot,” he allegedly said. Reffitt’s son told authorities that his father had threatened to “put a bullet through” his sister’s phone if she was recording him or putting comments on social media. Reffitt’s spouse told authorities their kids were “disturbed” by Reffitt’s “extreme” statements.
Other alleged rioters confided in family members who would later report them to the FBI. Zachary Alam was seen in a video using a helmet to break through glass in the doorway to the Speaker’s Lobby — the same doorway where Ashli Babbitt was later fatally shot by police. After a video went viral that showed Alam smashing the glass, his relatives watched it “approximately 20 times” and confirmed that it was him, prosecutors said.
Department of Justice
According to the government, after the riot, Alam called a family member from a phone number he’d never used before, saying that he was sorry for what he’d done at the Capitol but that he would not turn himself in. Alam’s family member told prosecutors that after the riot, Alam had said the FBI was looking for him and asked relatives if he could stay with them. The relative gave the FBI the new phone number Alam used to call him, and he was arrested weeks later.
The FBI identified another rioter, Thomas Fee, after he was reported by his girlfriend’s sibling — who happened to be a special agent with the United States Diplomatic Security Service. The agent first learned Fee was at the rally through Fee’s girlfriend’s social media posts. The agent texted to ask Fee if he was in D.C. and Fee responded affirmatively, texting him a selfie from inside the Capitol Rotunda and a video of a crowd yelling “tyranny” and “Pelosi.” The agent initially deleted the photo and video Fee sent, but later recovered the media and reported him to his employer, the Diplomatic Security Service.
Some who turned in rioters expressed shock that they knew someone who participated in the attack. After Adam Johnson was photographed carrying a lectern through the U.S. Capitol, an acquaintance from his hometown reported him to the FBI. The tipster, Allan Mestel,
told WFLA, “I felt a little disassociated for a minute,” he said. “Couldn’t believe it. The fact that I recognize somebody from our hometown, was— I was floored.”
At least seven rioters were identified by current or former coworkers — including Danielle Doyle, a former account manager for the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. Prosecutors say two former colleagues turned her in after employees circulated a CNN clip which appeared to show her inside the Capitol.
Another rioter, Brian McReary was near the Speaker’s Lobby when Ashli Babbitt was fatally shot, prosecutors say. He was turned in by his coworkers at Domino’s Pizza, who said he expressed his political beliefs multiple times at work, including his belief that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election. After the riot, McCreary sent his co-worker videos of the mob at the Capitol attempting to breach a door, confronting police officers. Toward the end of the video, authorities said, a gunshot can be heard.
Similarly, prosecutors say Dennis Sidorski — who was seen at the Capitol wearing a sweatshirt that said “American Supremacist” — was turned in by his former coworker and his former employee at the vehicle auction where he worked. And William Pepe — a Proud Boy indicted on conspiracy charges — was identified by his coworkers at the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority after he used sick leave to travel to D.C. and participate in the riot.
At least three rioters were reported by former romantic partners, including
Larry Brock, a retired Air Force officer who was seen in photos carrying zip-tie handcuffs in the Senate chamber.
Win McNamee / Getty Images
“I just know that when I saw this was happening I was afraid he would be there,” said Brock’s ex-wife when she called the FBI to identify him. “I think you already know he was there,” she added. His ex-wife told the FBI she was married to him for 18 years and that she recognized his military-style clothing and a patch from his prior military service.
Riley June Williams‘ ex-boyfriend called the FBI multiple times in the days after the riot, after he saw videos that appeared to show her directing crowds. The ex-boyfriend also alerted the FBI to videos that appeared to show Williams stealing a computer from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office.
Williams’ attorney said that some accusations against her client were “overstated” and that the ex-boyfriend who turned her in had been abusive. The online investigative collective Bellingcat released an
investigation last week that suggested Williams has a history of posting extremist anti-Semitic content.
Douglas Sweet, a Florida man indicted for his conduct at the riot, was arrested at the Capitol before his daughter, Robyn Sweet, could get in touch with him. His daughter didn’t report her father to authorities, but
told CBS News last month that her father had found a new home in far-right politics, much of it online. She said she still loves her dad, and is hopeful they can mend their relationship.
“At the end of the day,” she said, “they’re your family. I feel like he really has been almost kind of brainwashed in a way.”
Clare Hymes contributed to this report.