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April 24, 2024
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Jan. 6 rioter who carried Trump ‘Rambo’ flag convicted of assaulting Capitol Police officer

WASHINGTON — A Pennsylvania man who marched to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with a giant flag portraying former President Donald Trump as “Rambo” and then led the violent breach of the police line was convicted on several felony charges Friday.

Ryan Samsel, one of the first instigators of the Capitol riot, was convicted of assaulting Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards as well as felony counts of civil disorder and obstruction of an official proceeding. He remains in custody.

U.S. District Judge Jia M. Cobb — who oversaw the bench trial of Samsel and co-defendants James Tate Grant, Paul Russell Johnson, Stephen Chase Randolph and Jason Benjamin Blythe last year — convicted all the defendants of at least two felonies each.

She also found them not guilty on three misdemeanor offenses, reasoning that prosecutors had not proven that the five men were aware at the time that a Secret Service protectee — in this case, then-Vice President Mike Pence — was in the Capitol building.

Video from Jan. 6 showed Samsel speaking with Proud Boys leader Joe Biggs — who is serving a 17-year prison sentence after his seditious conspiracy conviction in March — at Peace Circle near the Capitol. Moments later, Samsel proceeded to the police line, took off his jean jacket, flipped his “Make America Great Again” hat backwards, and began ripping down the bike racks that were used to form a line of defense. In doing so, Edwards went sailing backward and struck her head on a banister, briefly knocking her unconscious.

Edwards, who testified before the House Jan. 6 committee in June 2022, also testified at Samsel’s trial in October.

“The lights were on,” Edwards said, describing her mental state after she hit her head on the metal handrail, “but no one was home.”

Caroline Edwards during a hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol, on June 9, 2022.Ting Shen / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Samsel and Grant have been held in custody, and the government sought to lock up the three other defendants after their convictions, noting that federal guidelines stipulate that individuals convicted of violent crimes “shall” be taken into custody after their convictions, absent exceptional circumstances.

The judge allowed the other three defendants, who had not been detained, to leave the courthouse on Friday, and asked prosecutors and defense attorneys to write legal briefs laying out what should happen to them until their sentencing hearing in June.

Video from Jan. 6 also showed that Ray Epps — a Trump supporter who faced threats after he became the target of conspiracy theories spread on far-right media outlets and Fox News — spoke with Samsel, with Epps whispering in his ear just before Samsel set off the attack on the police line. Both Epps and Samsel, in separate interviews with the FBI, indicated that Epps told Samsel to calm down, and that the police at the Capitol had been doing their job that day, but Samsel has since backtracked, as he’s characterized himself as a “political prisoner” in interviews with a far-right media outlet.

Randolph’s arrest in 2021 came after the FBI ran his photo through a facial recognition program and turned up a hit on his girlfriend’s Instagram page. Two undercover special agents were then sent to his place of employment and got him to talk about his involvement in the attack.

It was one of the few times that the FBI has acknowledged using facial recognition software. Publicly available facial recognition websites are a tool frequently used by online “sedition hunters” who have aided the FBI in hundreds of cases against Capitol rioters.

More than 1,250 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and the Justice Department has secured about 900 convictions on charges ranging from unlawful picketing to seditious conspiracy.

More arrests were made this week, including a New Jersey man who was wearing a Philadelphia Eagles beanie on Jan. 6 and, authorities say, used a bullhorn to help organize a breach on the east side of the Capitol.

Ryan J. Reilly

Ryan J. Reilly is a justice reporter for NBC News.

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