Army Veteran From California Charged in Capitol Riots

A 33-year-old California Army veteran identified by an Instagram account as one of insurrectionists at the Capitol riot faces charges of removing police barricades to enter the Capitol building.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepared to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, thousands of people gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — Federal prosecutors charged a 33-year-old California Army veteran Thursday after using an Instagram account to identify him as one of the insurrectionists at the Capitol riot.

Jeffrey “Alex” Smith made his first appearance before U.S. District Judge Bernard Skomal in the Southern District of California on Thursday afternoon on misdemeanor charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and knowingly entering a restricted building during the Capitol riot Jan. 6.

Smith appeared remotely via videoconference in a tan prison jumpsuit. He was clean shaven, apparently having removed the thick mustache he was sporting in a picture included in the criminal complaint where he is seen holding up a red phone and sporting a Trump hat from inside the Capitol. 

During the hearing Thursday, Skomal agreed to the U.S. Attorney’s Office recommendation to release Smith on a $25,000 bond secured by his parents.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Miller, Smith is an Army veteran who served from 2010 to 2015 before being honorably discharged. He is unemployed and was living with his parents before he went to the Capitol, where Miller said he removed three benches being used as a police barricade blocking rioters from entering the building.

Miller said the “evidence is strong,” noting there is video footage of Smith at the Capitol. He said there was no indication Smith had assaulted anyone at the Capitol or destroyed property, however.

Smith’s attorney, John Rice, asked his client be allowed to travel to both Washington — where the criminal complaint was filed — to attend court hearings as well as Colorado, where his two children and estranged wife live. Smith is in the middle of relocating to Colorado, Rice told Skomal, and will be managing a property purchased by his parents.

“It looks like Capitol police stepped aside and he walked in,” Rice said of his client.

According to the 3-page statement of facts included in the criminal complaint, an unidentified witness claiming to have known Smith contacted the FBI after they saw a photo of him inside the Capitol on the Instagram page @homegrownterrorists.

The social media page, created to identify those who attended the Capitol riots, posted the same photo of Smith included in the criminal complaint but it was emblazoned with the words “Identified Alex Smith San Diego, CA Terrorist” across the photo.

An FBI agent identified the same witness on Jan.10 and reported Smith had showed the witness a video he took of himself walking into the Capitol, according to the complaint.

In the days following the riot, Smith apparently removed his Instagram account and the witness could not find any additional pictures of Smith, but they provided Smith’s phone number to the agent.

Another witness sent the FBI a tip on Jan. 8, claiming to have grown up with Smith on ritzy Coronado Island in San Diego. According to the witness, they sent messages to Smith on Instagram where Smith allegedly wrote “I’m a patriot, I stormed the Capitol.”

“There is no way in hell I was going to drive for 38 hours from San Diego and not walk right through the front of the capitol building,” Smith wrote, according to the complaint.

He also stated his purpose was “to send a message that Americans are[n’]t going to take a fraudulent election.”

An FBI agent called Smith on his cellphone on Jan. 12. During the call, Smith said he was driving back to his parents’ home in San Diego and had driven to Washington to attend the speech by President Donald Trump Jan. 6.

“Smith admitted he walked into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and remained in the Capitol for about 30 minutes. Smith admitted to deleting his Instagram account after he began receiving threats related to his involvement in the Capitol events,” according to the complaint.

Following the court hearing, Rice told reporters Smith “just kind of went along with the crowd.”

“Mr. Smith did nothing more than enter the Capitol building. He walked in with hundreds, if not thousands of others. No allegations he destroyed any property, committed any violence or did anything more than what he felt at the time was asserting his First Amendment right to be heard about how he felt about the election,” Rice said.

Smith is scheduled to appear for a virtual court hearing in Washington on Feb. 3.

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