The Faces of January 6
These aren’t saints. They’re Americans. We should treat them like it.
The one thing elites hate more than visiting workers is workers visiting them. One such visit was the mistake made by thousands of Americans on January 6, 2021. For some, that mistake turned out to be criminal.
In criminal cases, we expect defendants to be indicted, temporarily detained, and acquitted or convicted and sentenced. But defendants in the case of January 6 are different. How? They’re insurrectionists. They threatened our democracy. Have you seen the media they consumed online? They’re racist, sexist, anti-gay. We told them to go away.
Some consider them to have gone away. In polite society, they’re occasionally mentioned only to be publicly mocked and defamed, sometimes viciously. But a few still remember them.
Geri Perna is the aunt of Matthew Perna from Sharpsville, Pennsylvania. She told me that Matt went to the Capitol with a group of friends “thinking he was going to be part of a celebration.” When his face appeared in a public FBI list, Matt turned himself in and was arrested on January 19, 2021. According to the DOJ’s press release, Matt walked into the Capitol, “filmed and chanted with the crowd,” and left after 20 minutes. The same press release reads, “Later, he posted an eight-minute video to his Facebook account in which he stated, among other things, ‘It’s not over, trust me.’”
The DOJ’s counterterrorism division contributed to the prosecution of Matt’s case. After delays to the proceedings, Geri thought in February of this year that Matt’s case was going in a positive direction, “but Matt couldn’t see it. He thought doom and gloom.” His family found out that a terrorism enhancement to his charges would have added five to six years to his sentence. After this development, Geri said that her brother called her and said, “‘Geri, book another plane ticket.’ I said, ‘what’s going on?’ He said, ‘Matt just hung himself in his garage.’” Matt died at the age of 37. After teaching English in South Korea and Thailand, he returned to his hometown to take care of his mother suffering with leukemia. Matt was critical of the pharmaceutical industry; he made a living selling CBD oil online and spent part of his free time researching holistic treatments for his mom’s cancer.
Chris Quaglin is currently at Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia, his sixth detention center since his arrest in April 2021. Chris has a severe case of Celiac disease and has found the jail to be consistently unaccommodating: his current diet consists of eight bottles of Ensure each day. He has lost 50 pounds since arriving at the jail. He says that he has been begging the superintendent of the jail for a certified gluten-free meal “for ten months.” He also says that the administrator wouldn’t allow him to use the phone for nine days after he discovered that Chris had spoken to reporters about his experience in the jail. Chris has documented at least 45 days in “the hole,” i.e., solitary confinement.
Chris’s attorney Joseph McBride tells me, “‘No cruel and unusual punishment’ is the standard for a convicted person. The standard for a person that’s merely being detained for trial is no punishment of any kind… Not only have these guys been punished, they’ve been punished cruel and unusual.” In a petition for writ of habeas corpus and complaint for injunctive relief, McBride included an email sent from the superintendent to McBride on March 28: “There is NOTHING about that that requires this level of urgency or my immediate involvement into your ludicrous monotonous complaints.” Near the beginning of my interview with Chris, he says, “After they hear I’m talking to you as detailed as I am, they’re going to go on complete shutdown mode. Who knows what’s going to be done. I’m just letting you know.” Chris’s trial is scheduled for April 2023.
Angela Morss’s son Robert is with Chris at Northern Neck. She says, “He was originally detained at the D.C. Gulag. He was visited by his attorney, and there was an issue with the attorney and the guards. Once the attorney left, there was a strip search with five guards and he was physically and sexually assaulted with five guards. We were in court the next day, and he was moved to Northern Neck.”
Robert was arrested in June 2021 and has not yet been sentenced. Judge Trevor McFadden found Robert guilty after he agreed to a stipulated statement of facts in August 2022. During a call he made to a group of January 6 families and advocates in D.C., Robert said, “I am an airborne Ranger, a Penn State grad, a high school history teacher, and, since June 11 of 2021, I have been an American political prisoner… I have continually oriented myself to utilize this chapter of incarceration to make self-improvement the outcome of this experience. I insist to envision that I am not in a 30-by-30 concrete box but a university, a monastery, a redemption chamber.”
Robert’s sentencing was originally scheduled for January 6, 2023—a date that Angela said was “concerning”—and has since been rescheduled to February 2023.
Sharon Caldwell traveled to D.C. with her husband Thomas from their small dairy farm in Berryville, Virginia. Tom is a retired Navy lieutenant commander and a service-connected disabled veteran. The DOJ thought that he was a “commander” in the Oath Keepers because members of the Oath Keepers had the title in their phones’ contact information for Tom, a reference to his military rank. A D.C. jury found Tom not guilty on three of the five charges brought up against him.
Tom’s house was raided at 6 o’clock on the morning of January 19, 2021, at which point he voluntarily sat for an extensive interview with an investigative team. Tom was subsequently detained for 53 days in the Central Virginia Regional Jail. According to his wife, Tom was held in solitary confinement for 49 of those days. Sharon says that a failed back surgery means Tom is in “chronic, horrible pain every single day. When they admitted him to jail, they denied him all of his medications… He had seizures, he thought he was going to have heart attacks… I thought he was going to die in there, and so did he.”
Sharon shared her perspective on Tom’s case in a uniquely cogent way that is worth quoting at length:
In my opinion, I feel that they made so many mistakes when they first arrested him that now part of the reason they did not just drop the charges was we embarrassed them. We made it public all the mistakes that they made. This is my opinion, I could be very wrong. But I feel that they were embarrassed that they thought he had a leadership role in the Oath Keepers and now they’ve had to admit that he did not. They were embarrassed that they thought he was a commander and planned this whole attack on the U.S. Capitol and now they’ve had to admit that he did not. They were embarrassed they didn’t know he worked for the FBI when he did. They were embarrassed that he told the truth during his three-and-a-half hour interview and all the things he told them were truthful.
Ella Blythe’s son Jonathan Copeland traveled to the Capitol from his trailer park home in Fort Shawnee, Ohio. The FBI’s statement of facts connected to Jonathan’s case makes it clear that he entered the Capitol through an open door, walked around while inside, and was directed by police to exit through a window. He was arrested in a raid on his home in August 2022. While an indictment has not yet been filed in his case, Ella says that “they’re charging him with 25 to 30 years in prison.”
Ella feels that “they can do whatever they want. They can get rid of you in a heartbeat. You know? They can destroy you. Because, you know, what we are to them? We’re paupers. We’re nothing. And that’s the way I look at it. I’m being honest with my feelings.” Ella says that Jonathan’s landlord tried to evict him when his picture landed in the local paper. Jonathan is currently living with his brother and taking on roofing contracts. Ella says, “I keep telling him: the way to not dwell on what’s going on is keeping your mind and body busy.” Jonathan is scheduled to be in court in January 2023.
The arrest of Desiree Rowland’s fiancé Barry Ramey came in April of this year. Barry has been denied bond twice since then and is currently at Northern Neck. Desiree says, “So far, it’s been a pretty terrible experience. They’ve denied him medical; he has issues with his back… His toes and foot are going numb… I’m not saying jail is supposed to be fun, but it should at least be basic human rights.” Desiree says that Barry was recently notified of his trial date, “but it’s the second time they’ve given him a trial date, so I don’t know whether it sticks or whether it doesn’t.”
During the same event that Robert called into, Barry identified Northern Neck as “worse than the Gulag by far.” He then said that his motivation for traveling to the Capitol was to “stand up for women, children, and vulnerable elderly… If people from the far-left came out to attack protestors leading the rally, I fully intended on defending them. That didn’t happen. Never in a million years did I predict what was going to happen did happen.”
Riley Williams of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, sat in the courtroom of D.C. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson in November 2022. She was later found guilty of six of the eight charges brought against her by prosecutors. On November 9, her ex-boyfriend Marc Dalton sat in the witness box to testify against her. The prosecution asked Dalton about Riley’s interests. “She was very far-right,” he said. Dalton detailed her use of Discord, Instagram, Facebook, 4chan, 8chan, and Telegram.
The prosecution and Dalton continued with a back-and-forth regarding Riley’s media habits. Is Ms. Williams tech-savvy? “I’d say she’s tech-savvy… She knew how to hide her tracks and delete evidence.” What avatar did she use on her devices? “A little green frog called a Groyper.” What does a Groyper symbolize? “Followers of Nick Fuentes.” Who is Nick Fuentes? “A far-right nationalist speaker.” Did she watch his videos and podcasts? “Yes.” Was there any change in Ms. Williams’s views? “They got more extreme the longer it went on, mostly pro-Republican views.”
Ryan Nichols was arrested in Tyler, Texas, on January 18, 2021. He spent some time in the D.C. Central Detention Facility, referred to by some as the “D.C. Gulag” or “D.C. Gitmo.” Ryan was granted temporary pre-trial release in November 2022 by Judge Thomas Hogan; his attorneys McBride and Jonathan Gross successfully made the case that Ryan, a former Marine, could not adequately prepare for trial at the Rappahannock Regional Jail, where he was last detained. After Ryan was granted temporary release, the DOJ requested that Judge Hogan schedule a status conference to set a trial date for his case.
In December 2021, Ryan and one other prisoner wrote a letter on a yellow notepad that requested a transfer to the detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; 32 fellow detainees signed onto the letter. McBride said its purpose was to “create awareness” about the situation of the detainees and to remind the jail administration that “prisoners in Guantanamo Bay get good food. They’re monitored by international human rights organizations. They have access to attorneys, access to books, access to religious services. That’s certainly not what we’re living under.” His attorneys allege in a habeas corpus petition that Corporal Gail Pinkney told Ryan in the D.C. jail that if he didn’t “shut up” while reserved in solitary confinement for 23 hours of the day, Pinkney would take Ryan to the part of the jail where the “real BLM will stab you up.”
Rebekah Padilla’s husband Jose is currently in the D.C. jail; his DOJ case page has not been updated since January 2022. Rebekah says, “I’m 22 months in with my children, and they have not seen their father, which is very, very, very hard. I’ll be 27 months in by the time we go to trial. And that’s a nightmare. I’m praying the judge will allow us to at least hug him at trial, because it’s a struggle. It’s been a struggle.” In the course of their marriage, Rebekah has been separated from her husband on his birthday a total of four times: twice when he was in Iraq and twice since he has been in jail.
The account that Jose presented to me of his experience in the D.C. jail was limited to the unit where J6 inmates are detained. “In this unit, there are no drugs, extortion, gangs, or the other common dangers of normal jail life. Since day one I have thanked God for answering my prayer to be placed in a unit where I will not have to worry about my safety and security.” At the same time, Jose complains of “blatant violations of our due process and other rights,” including an allegation that “evidence and legal documents have been seized by the jail from detainees here.” Jose also says that the jail treats detainees differently based on their vaccination status. “The huge cognitive break in this policy is that we are able to see our lawyers and get haircuts without vaccination but can’t see our families.”
Trish Priller’s fiancé Chris Worrell was in the D.C. Central Detention Facility for 240 days after his arrest in March 2021. While in jail, Chris’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma progressed from stage 1 to stage 3. Judge Royce Lamberth found the D.C. jail in contempt in October 2021 because of its failure to provide Chris with his medical records. After the U.S. Marshals Service released a statement on November 2, 2021, which stated that “the U.S. Marshal’s inspection of CDF revealed that conditions there do not meet the minimum standards of confinement,” Lamberth released Chris to home confinement.
Trish says that Chris was in court nine times before his temporary release was granted. Since he’s been home, Trish says that Chris spoke with his county commissioners: “They decided that wasn’t good, even though it wasn’t in his release conditions, so they’ve taken away his privileges. So now he’s on complete home confinement. He can only go to doctor’s appointments and church.”
Susan Sills’s son Geoffrey was arrested in June 2021 and is being detained at Northern Neck. The DOJ originally brought a total of 37 charges against him, but Judge McFadden and Geoffrey agreed to a stipulated statement of facts in which Geoffrey took responsibility for three charges. Susan says that Geoffrey’s sentence “keeps getting moved.” It was originally scheduled for November 18, then it was moved to January 9, and now it is February 10.
Susan says that the FBI came to her house on June 18, 2021. They came “around quarter to six in the morning. It was the same scenario as everybody else. There were about 20 FBI agents in my front yard with the bullhorn, yelling for him to come out with his hands up. They used the flash bangs.” Susan says they searched her home until noon that day. Since Geoffrey has been at Northern Neck, Susan says that he has received inadequate medical care and stopped taking his Gabapentin cold turkey because of the jail’s inattention to his medical needs. Susan also says that she confirmed with a member of the jail administration that she could purchase a subscription of The Economist—a favorite periodical among right-wing radicals—for her son. Two weeks after this confirmation, Geoff’s GiveSendGo account claims that the FBI “presented a blank search warrant, arrested Geoff[,] then went through every inch of our house, to include operating a search robot under the house.” Despite having a clean record, Geoffrey was denied bail.
Cynthia Hughes calls Timothy Hale-Cusanelli her nephew. Tim’s childhood was spent observing drug abuse in a home that lacked a father, and Cynthia eventually took over the role of his mother. Cynthia acknowledges that discussing Tim’s case is like “the elephant in the room.” Media coverage is typically supplemented by selfies from Tim’s phone that feature him resembling Hitler; the former Army reservist appears in the photo wearing a black shirt with his right hand over his heart, hair parted to the side, a narrow mustache, and a stern facial expression. Cynthia explained Tim’s abnormal presentation this way: “I think when you have been through the kind of emotional, physical, mental abuse that he has been through, somebody might turn to drugs, somebody might turn to alcohol. Tim did not. Tim turned to, kind of, like, dark humor. Tim turned to, you know, kind of shutting out the world. You don’t really get behind the curtain with Tim. He’s very guarded.”
Tim was assigned an attorney under the Criminal Justice Act. Cynthia says that the attorney “hated Donald Trump with a passion. So, you could never have a conversation with him without that coming up.” Cynthia recalled a conversation she had with the attorney when she asked him, “How can this kid rely on the representation you want to give him when all you do is remind him of how much you hate Donald Trump? How can he trust you? He’s in jail because he loves Donald Trump.” Tim was sentenced to four years in jail in September 2022. At his sentencing, NBC reported that Judge McFadden “said it was abundantly clear that [Tim] holds animus toward racial and religious groups, and had ‘sexist, racist, and antisemitic’ views.”
Andrea Young’s husband Kyle, whose indictment was filed in April 2021, was given a seven-year sentence in September 2022. A report published by the Des Moines Register indicates that Judge Jackson, a 2011 Obama appointee, said at Kyle’s sentencing that he is “not a political prisoner.” The judge is also reported to have said on the same occasion, “It is not patriotism, it is not standing up for America to stand up for one man who knows full well that he lost instead of the Constitution he was trying to subvert.” She also called the notion that the election was stolen a “lie.”
In the face of this rhetoric, Andrea said at a D.C. event, in between long gaps to collect herself, that Kyle will “miss his children growing up. It’s really been hard on our family. I’m trying to be a mother and a father; that’s not what I signed up for. My husband’s a good man. He’s a hard worker. He’s a wonderful father. And they got it all wrong what was going on that day with him. And he had no opportunity to tell his side.”
The logical question that arises from these stories is, where do these family members find relief? The question, on the rare occasions when it is asked, usually finds two possible solutions: political support from above and material support from below.
Texas Republican Louie Gohmert is frustrated with the position of the detainees. He tells me that the Biden DOJ is using “Gestapo tactics” on the detainees and says that “there are a lot of people that feel disenfranchised, because they have been.” He also says that many FBI agents, including retired personnel, have privately told him they are “so glad they are not a part of this.” Arrests in the 1980s and ’90s didn’t involve kicking down the doors of nonviolent people. “They didn’t drag people out in their underwear so that media—that the FBI alerted to be there to film them in their underwear—would be there.”
Arizona Republican Paul Gosar tells me, “These are not unruly or dangerous, violent criminals. These are moms, dad, brothers, sisters, veterans, and teachers. All political prisoners who continue to be persecuted and endure the pain of unjust suffering.” Both Gosar and Gohmert have been vocal advocates for detainees while still condemning some of what took place that day. Gohmert said at a July 2021 press conference, “I would have no problem at all, if I was still on the bench, sending anybody that participated in violence, theft, any of the trespass[ing], that knowingly did so, I’d have no problem sending them to jail. That would not be an issue.” Fifteen months after that press conference, it seems likely that Louie Gohmert would have more efficiently prosecuted and convicted the J6 detainees than the current coterie in the D.C. district court.
The upcoming legislative session will afford Republicans a slim majority in the lower chamber and control of the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees. Some families are anticipating real change to come from this shift in House leadership. Susan Sills, for example, tells me, “We’re thinking positive because now Jim Jordan is in charge, and he’s got all his questions that the officials are going to have to ask.” When Jose Padilla called into the D.C. group, he said, “I would like to encourage all of you, have your friends call your congresspeople. This is a political prosecution, and we need to have as much pressure as possible on Jim Jordan, if he’s the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to investigate.” Jim Jordan’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
With Gosar and Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene expected to take seats on the oversight committee, it’s possible that the pressure required for bona fide investigations and hearings will result in actionable attention to the detainees. Sharon Caldwell is not so confident: “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if it’s going to change many things with respect to January 6 defendants. I hope I’m wrong. I love Marjorie Taylor Greene and everything she has stood for… People are entitled to due process, they are entitled to a defense, they are entitled to civil rights, human rights, they have the right to meet with their attorney.” She says these are issues that “members of Congress, particularly Republican members of Congress, have not been speaking up about. I don’t understand how anyone who says they’re Republican do not support those rights that all of us as Americans are supposed to have.”
Sharon says that she and her husband think of Washington as functioning under one party, “and we’re not invited to that party.”
Ella Blythe says that she is concerned that a D.C. jury for her son’s case, if one is called, will be biased: “Over 90 percent have voted for Biden…They see on the media, the mainstream media, is already biased. So, we see not a positive end result because there’s no fair trial. There’s no fair trial at all.”
Tucker Carlson told me, “Don’t convince yourself that what you’re seeing is different than what it is.” Tucker, along with Steve Bannon, Darren Beattie, and Julie Kelly, have been notable exceptions to the mainstream narrative as media figures who offer airtime to and publish reports about J6 detainees and their families.
In addition to political action, some people are responding to the immediate needs of detainees and their families. Cynthia Hughes started the Patriot Freedom Project to organize families and to create a venue through which external contributors could provide financial assistance to detainees. The project funds legal fees, organizes a prayer group, and coordinates a weekly support call. The aforementioned event in D.C. was organized by the Patriot Freedom Project.
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Trish Priller says that the support from the Patriot Freedom Project “has been phenomenal… Being able to talk to someone going through the same scenario that you’re going through is really huge.” Desiree Rowland had a similar experience. She says that Cynthia and the families she has met through the organization allowed her to “be in a space where I could be received and understood from the context of what I was going through. That, to me, was priceless when I just thought about allowing myself to be held, so to say.”
Some of the women quoted here spoke at the project’s fundraiser in D.C. It was clear that none of them were interested in getting more airtime than the other. Many admitted that they were nervous. As Andrea Young said so poignantly, this is not what they signed up for. Comfortable or not, mothers are standing by their sons awaiting trial, wives are standing by their husbands who have not yet received a court date, and fiancés are standing by their future husbands as their bond gets denied.
These men aren’t saints deserving praise or martyrs expecting pity. These are Americans. And it’s time we start treating them like it.