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Feds probing whether Michigan residents engaged in D.C. violence

Robert Snell Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Detroit — At least six people from Michigan were among those arrested in and around the U.S. Capitol building during a historic insurrection Wednesday, according to the police who arrested and charged them with crimes varying from illegal entry to carrying a firearm without a license. 

Now, federal investigators in southeast Michigan are searching for more. 

The six arrested from Michigan make up a small portion of the hundreds of people who stormed the nation's Capitol Wednesday while Congress began certifying President-elect Joe Biden's win. Around 84 people from across the country were arrested in connection with the event, which resulted in one woman being fatally shot.

The breach came after months of rising tensions spurred on by President Donald Trump, who has persistently made false claims of widespread voter fraud. Protesters who gathered in Washington Wednesday said they were there to support the president and object to the finalization of a grueling campaign season they say was wrongfully decided in Biden's favor. 

Four people from Michigan were arrested for violating the 6 p.m. Wednesday curfew imposed by Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser as the overrunning of security barriers began at the Capitol building. One was arrested for a curfew violation as well as unlawful entry.

Another, 25-year-old Logan Grimes, was arrested for carrying a pistol without a license, carrying unregistered ammunition, and carrying a large capacity ammunition feeding device —  which Washington, D.C., law describes as a "magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device" that's capable of accepting more than 10 rounds of ammunition. 

If convicted, Grimes' charges could put him behind bars for up to nine years or cost him more than $27,000 in fines. Those arrested ranged in age from Grimes, the youngest, to 65 years old.

Those charged in Washington would be tried locally, should prosecutors choose to seek conviction, the Washington Metropolitan Police Department said Thursday. 

Meanwhile, federal investigators in southeast Michigan said Thursday they are reviewing tips and evidence collected during the siege to determine if additional area residents were involved, U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider said.

"We have to separate the people who traveled to Washington, D.C., to express their First Amendment rights versus the people who crossed state lines to engage in violence," Schneider told The Detroit News on Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider

Schneider spoke amid reports by The Detroit News and others that buses full of Michigan residents traveled to the nation's capitol for a rally Wednesday that ended with protesters and rioters who support President Donald Trump storming the building, breaking windows and infiltrating and looting offices.

"It was one of the most disgusting and horrifying things I've seen," Schneider said. "It was unbelievable. I'm all for peaceful protest but that was not it. That is just not the way you act in America.

"We have received reports that people from Michigan went to D.C. but that's not the issue," he added. "The issue is whether or not violence was committed by those people. That's why we have the legal system, so people who do this are charged and get brought that the legal system."

Supporters of President Donald Trump are confronted by Capitol Police officers outside the Senate Chamber at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington.

The siege came amid a rise in violent extremism involving Michigan residents in recent months.

In December, federal prosecutors charged a New Hampshire woman who was accused of texting threats to the chairwoman of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers following the presidential election and sending photos of a bloody mutilated female body. 

In October, FBI investigators said they thwarted a plot to violently overthrow the government as well as kidnap and harm Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. In all, 14 people have been arrested and charged in state and federal courts.

A few weeks later, state investigators arrested two men, including the self-proclaimed leader of the Base, a white supremacist group, as part of a continuing crackdown on extremism.

In addition to the six Michiganians and 70 others who were arrested by city police Wednesday, another 14 were arrested by U.S. Capitol Police, most for unlawful entry, two for assaulting a police office and two for carrying a pistol without a license, among other charges. None of those arrested by Capitol police were from Michigan. 

The dozens of arrests pale in comparison with the hundreds of people who stormed the building Wednesday, and come months after police were criticized for their response to protests against police brutality and racial inequity. In comparison, Metropolitan Police records show the agency arrested 317 people on June 1 alone, when Black Lives Matter protesters demonstrated in the city. 

The vast majority of the mob that broke into the building Wednesday were allowed to politely leave when the chaos ended. One online video even showed an officer holding the door for a stream of angry individuals, including one who triumphantly shouted: "We stopped the vote!"

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund released a statement Thursday saying law enforcement officers were responding to two bomb threats and a report of a "suspicious vehicle" at the same time the mob stormed the Capitol. 

"Maintaining public safety in an open environment - specifically for First Amendment activities - has long been a challenge," he said. "But make no mistake - these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior. The actions of the USCP officers were heroic given the situation they faced."

The House Sergeant at Arms resigned from his position Thursday and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi of California called for Sund to resign. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York also pledged to fire the Senate sergeant-at-arms when Democrats become the majority party in the chamber, Politico reported. 

Schneider said it is premature to determine whether any additional residents from the eastern district of Michigan, which includes 6.5 million people in 34 counties, a territory stretching from the Ohio border to the Mackinac Bridge, committed crimes during the Capitol siege.

"It's been less than 24 hours so it is difficult for us to say," Schneider said. "But we are in the investigative stage and are looking at everything. We need to go back and review the videotape and tape from the surveillance cameras and interview people."

Schneider encouraged anyone with information about the violence in the nation's capitol to call the FBI tipline at 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324) or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.

Potential federal charges

The top federal prosecutor for Washington, D.C. said Thursday that "all options are on the table" for charging members of the violent pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol. 

Michael Sherwin, acting U.S. attorney for D.C., said prosecutors plan to file 15 federal cases on Thursday for crimes including unauthorized access and theft of property, and investigators are combing through reams of evidence to bring additional charges.

“All of those charges are on the table. … We will bring the most maximum charges we can,” he said.

In total, more than 90 people have been arrested by police in Washington and more arrests are likely. U.S. attorneys from across the country have vowed to find and bring to justice any residents who participated in the insurrection aimed at thwarting the peaceful transfer of power.

Experts say some could face the rarely used seditious conspiracy charge. It’s the same charge former Attorney General William Barr’s Justice Department told prosecutors to consider levying against those who caused violence at protests last summer over the killings of Black Americans by police. 

Then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who stepped into the top Justice Department job when Barr resigned last month, told prosecutors in a memo in September that they should consider the use of seditious conspiracy charges against violent demonstrators, saying “it does not require proof of a plot to overthrow the U.S. government despite what the name might suggest.”

The ominous-sounding and rarely used criminal statute against seditious conspiracy bars the use of force "to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States, or by force to seize, take, or possess any property of the United States contrary to the authority thereof."

The charge carries a maximum possible prison sentence of 20 years.

Other lesser charges like unlawful entry are also likely, and may be easier to prove, given the voluminous social media postings of rioters storming into lawmakers' offices, taking material and smashing things.

Federal law explicitly makes it a crime to damage federal property, engage in civil disorder, or cross state lines in a conspiracy to commit certain crimes of violence.

Traditionally, most crimes arising from public protests in Washington, D.C., have been prosecuted locally, but with poor results, particularly in the case of scores of people charged with crimes in the city on the day of President Donald Trump's 2017 inauguration.

Since two suspected pipe bombs were found outside the Republicans' and Democrats' party headquarters Wednesday, there is also the potential for terrorism charges to be filed, depending on what evidence the FBI finds.

FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday decried the "blatant and appalling disregard for our institutions of government and the orderly administration of the democratic process. As we've said consistently, we do not tolerate violent agitators and extremists who use the guise of First Amendment-protected activity to incite violence and wreak havoc."

Associated Press and The Washington Post contributed.

rsnell@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @robertsnellnews

rbeggin@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @rbeggin