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Participants in a mob take over the inaugural stage at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Participants in a mob take over the inaugural stage at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)

WASHINGTON — Congress was days away from certifying the 2020 election results when Jeremy Brown, a retired Special Forces soldier and onetime congressional candidate, offered others a ride to the U.S. Capitol in an RV he dubbed “GROUND FORCE ONE.”

“Plenty of Gun Ports left to fill,” he wrote on encrypted chat app Signal, according to federal court documents. “We can pick you up.”

Brown, who showed up to the Capitol on Jan. 6 decked out in military gear, was arrested this week in Tampa, in connection with the riot that sought to stop lawmakers from formally tallying President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. Federal prosecutors charged Brown with knowingly entering restricted grounds and engaging in “disorderly or disruptive conduct.”

Brown couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Saturday. It was not clear if he had hired an attorney.

Roughly 600 people have been charged in the attack, some of them highly trained former military or law enforcement officers. Brown, who is in his 40s, had deployed twice each to Iraq and Afghanistan, Army officials told The Washington Post in January. In 2020, he filed paperwork to run as a Republican in the Florida congressional district that encompasses Tampa but dropped out before the general election.

Five people died as a result of the riot, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer, and many more were wounded. Ashli Babbitt, a 35-year-old Air Force veteran, was shot and killed by an officer as she tried to force her way through doors inside the building.

According to a statement of facts from the FBI, law enforcement agents spoke with Brown by phone on Jan. 6 and 7. He told them he was in Washington to provide security “for VIPs at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally.” He made similar statements to The Post in January.

Later in the month, a witness who claimed to have known Brown for “multiple years” gave investigators photos of him in military garb outside the Capitol, according to court documents. Investigators compared the photos with other images and body-camera footage from the riot, saying they showed Brown wearing the same distinctive attire outside the building’s east doors.

At the time, Brown was equipped with a helmet, radio and a tactical vest. He also carried zip ties and had “large surgical trauma shears” tucked into a vest pack, documents state.

Though he was not identified inside the building, images show that Brown was standing more than 100 feet within the restricted grounds law enforcement set up to protect the certification ceremony, investigators said. They said phone location records obtained through a search warrant also showed him in the restricted area.

D.C. police had to push Brown back with their batons as they tried to secure the scene, according to the statement of facts.

“During this encounter, BROWN repeatedly claimed that the officers were, in his opinion, violating the laws and the Constitution of the United States,” the court papers state.

Investigators said they got further details about Brown’s alleged activities from another Capitol riot defendant who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding.

According to court documents, the defendant said he used a ride-share to go to Brown’s house on Jan. 4 to prepare for the trip to Washington — an assertion investigators said was backed up by records from the ride-share company. He said Brown and others had discussed travel plans and “rendezvous points” over Signal in the weeks leading up to the riot.

In a Jan. 1 group chat, Brown laid out an itinerary titled “GROUND FORCE ONE Departure Plan,” according to court documents. He allegedly talked about conducting “Pre Combat Inspections” before leaving and mentioned picking people up along the way as they headed toward Washington through North Carolina. The goal, he said, was to arrive in the nation’s capital two days before Congress convened.

“This will give us the 4th/5th to set up, conduct route recons, CTR (Close Target Reconnaissance) and any link ups needed with DC elements,” he said in the chat, according to court documents.

He signed off with a rallying cry: “READY? GO!!!”

The arrest comes as a growing number of Capitol riot cases make their way through the courts. Many have been charged with nonviolent misdemeanors and avoided jail time, though there have been exceptions.

Earlier in the week, two friends, Derek Jancart and Erik Rau, were sentenced to 45 days in jail after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, after prosecutors noted several aggravating factors, including having spent 40 minutes inside the U.S. Capitol.

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