Aug 24, 2022 - Politics & Policy

5 Florida militia members charged in Jan. 6 insurrection

Pro-Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Five Florida men, who all self-identify as militia members, were arrested Wednesday on charges stemming from their actions during the breach of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the Department of Justice announced.

The big picture: They're part of more than 860 people that have been arrested so far for their involvement in the riots, including more than 260 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.

Driving the news: Four of the defendants — 38-year-old Benjamin Cole Leesburg, 50-year-old John Edward Crowley of Windermere, 33-year-old Brian Preller of Mount Dora and 38-year-old Jonathan Rockholt of Palm Coast, Florida — are charged with the felony offense of interfering with a law enforcement officer during a civil disorder.

  • Along with a fifth defendant, 20-year-old Tyler Bensch of Casselberry, they're also charged with the misdemeanor offenses of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds.

Quick take: The five men self-identify as members of the "B Squad," a subgroup of a militia-style, Florida-based organization known as the "Guardians of Freedom," which adheres to the ideology of the "Three Percenters," the U.S. Attorney's office said citing court documents.

  • The leader of the group, who was not named by the Department of Justice, is referred to only as "B Leader" in court filings and was not charged.

What they did: Cole, Crowley, Preller and Rockholt were allegedly in a group that engaged in a confrontation with law enforcement officers in the tunnel area of the Capitol’s Lower West Terrace, the DOJ said. Bensch remained right outside.

  • While inside the tunnel, the four men "confronted and assisted the crowd in confronting the officers that were preventing the tunnel and Capitol from being breached," prosecutors said.
  • "They added their force, momentum, bodies, and efforts to the other rioters in a 'heave-ho' effort that put pressure on the police line," the U.S. Attorney's office said. "As a direct result of the actions of the rioters in the tunnel at that time, the mob penetrated deeper, pushing the police line back."
  • When officers were finally able to repel the four men and others from the tunnel, Rockholt allegedly picked up a clear riot shield with a Capitol Police seal and left the area.

Meanwhile, Bensch allegedly used a chemical irritant to spray the face of an individual in the crowd, the DOJ said, adding that the person posed no threat to him.

Details: Cole, Rockholt, Preller and Bensch wore tactical vests, with the latter two carrying a chemical irritant spray in front of them.

  • Some of them also had goggles, helmets or gas masks on.
  • Rockholt carried what appeared to be a knife in his pocket, the U.S. Attorney's office said.
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