It has become common in some circles to call the Jan. 6 Capitol riot an “armed insurrection.” That leads to a few questions: How many rioters were armed? And what weapons did they have? What were the arms in the “armed insurrection”?
The Justice Department maintains a website listing the defendants and the federal charges against them in the sprawling Capitol riot investigation. At this moment, about 670 people have been charged, many of them with misdemeanors like “Parading, Demonstrating or Picketing in a Capitol Building.”
Of the 670, I counted 82 who face weapons-related charges. That’s about 12% of the total. And of course, the number of people charged with anything, 670, is far smaller than the number who were on Capitol grounds that day.
The 82 face one or more of four possible charges: “Assaulting, Resisting, or Impeding Certain Officers Using a Dangerous Weapon”; “Entering and Remaining in a Restricted Building with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon”; “Disorderly and Disruptive Conduct in a Restricted Building with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon”; and “Engaging in Physical Violence in a Restricted Building with a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon.”
For each charge, prosecutors have specified the weapon the defendant is accused of using. Here is a representative list of those weapons: A helmet. A baton. A crutch. A walking stick. Handgun. Pepper spray. Flagpole. Knife. Baseball bat. Crowd control barrier. Police shield. Hockey stick. Axe. Metal sign. Desk drawer.
Obviously, guns are the most serious concern. Of the 670, five suspects — Christopher Michael Alberts, Lonnie Leroy Coffman, Mark Sami Ibrahim, Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. and Guy Wesley Reffitt — are charged with possessing firearms. But none are charged with using them during the riot.
Alberts was arrested at 7:25 p.m., after the riot was over, when police enforcing the District of Columbia curfew suspected he had a handgun under his coat as he was leaving.
Coffman was arrested at about 6:30 p.m. after he told police that he was trying to get to his parked pickup truck. Officers found two handguns on Coffman’s person and two more guns, along with possible bomb-making materials, in the truck.
Ibrahim was a DEA agent who had given his notice to resign and was on personal leave on Jan. 6; at the riot, he was carrying his DEA-issued badge and pistol.
Meredith was not in Washington at all for the riot. He arrived later that evening after allegedly texting a threatening message about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Meredith told police that “he had two firearms in his truck, and he knew that he was not supposed to have the firearms in Washington, D.C. Therefore, he moved the firearms to his trailer,” according to court documents. Officers found a handgun, a rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the trailer.
Finally, court papers say Reffitt had a handgun on his person on Jan. 6.
Were there more? Since few arrests were made on the scene, maybe so. We don’t know. What is certain is that none of the suspects fired any guns at any time during the riot, even though the physical fighting became quite intense. The only shot that was fired during that time was by Capitol Police Lt. Michael Byrd, who shot and killed rioter Ashli Babbitt as she tried to force her way into an area near the House chamber.
As for the other weapons, six defendants are charged with having a knife, although none are accused of using it on another person. Five are charged with having a taser, three with an axe, four with a baseball bat, seven with a crutch, 11 with a baton, 13 with bear or pepper spray, eight with a police shield and 19 with a pole, usually a flagpole.
Some weapons were clearly brought in anticipation of a fight. Some rioters thought they would be battling antifa. But most of the weapons were improvised on the scene. That does not mean they were not dangerous. But it does suggest that the rioters did not arrive at the Capitol bent on “armed insurrection.”
The big picture: Only a small percentage of the people at the “armed insurrection” were armed with anything. And just five of them — less than 1% of those charged — have been charged with possessing firearms, which are the traditional weapon of choice for modern armed insurrectionists. One of them didn’t even arrive until after it was all over. And none fired the weapons.
And that is the problem with the “armed insurrection” talking point. By any current American standard of civil disorder, what happened on Jan. 6 was a riot. There was fighting. There was property destruction. There were some instigators and there were many more followers. And as the day went on, some people lost their heads and did things they should regret for a very long time. But a look at the Justice Department prosecutions simply does not make the case that it was an “armed insurrection.”