Friday, September 29, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Friday, September 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

CrossFit gym owner among 5 Capitol rioters to strike pleas

A federal judge said that these nonviolent Capitol rioters with no criminal history “morphed into terrorists” on Jan. 6.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Five more individuals pleaded guilty Tuesday to storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 but will likely avoid jail time as there is no evidence they committed violence.

As a federal judge noted on Tuesday, the defendants belong to a group of low-level, nonviolent rioters who tend not to have a criminal past — and their conduct on Jan. 6 is a surprising anomaly.

“That’s one of the largest questions in these cases,” U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said at a hearing for Dawn Bancroft. “So many people, up to Jan. 6, were upstanding members of the community and had never been in trouble. Scores of letters from family members and friends have come in attesting to their character. But, on Jan. 6, they morphed into terrorists.”

Bancroft, whose participation in the insurrection also led CrossFit to sever ties with her, told Sullivan that she wanted to accept responsibility for what she did on Jan. 6. She entered into a misdemeanor plea agreement for parading, picketing or demonstrating in the Capitol — a plea deal that government prosecutors have been handing out to many nonviolent offenders. 

“I understand what I did was not right,” Bancroft told Sullivan. “I feel like there are consequences for my actions, and that is something that I would teach my children, I gotta accept the consequences for what I did.”

Bancroft owned a CrossFit affiliate in Pennsylvania, but the fitness giant terminated that affiliation after her arrest. 

When Bancroft was leaving the Capitol on Jan. 6, Bancroft filmed a selfie-style video with her friend Diana Santos-Smith in which she said: “We broke into the Capitol … we got inside, we did our part. We were looking for Nancy to shoot her in the friggin’ brain but we didn’t find her.”

At Tuesday’s plea agreement hearing, Sullivan mentioned multiple times how troubling the statement was to him. 

“That’s very troubling, that’s outrageous,” Sullivan said. “That they entered the Capitol to essentially murder the speaker of the House.” 

When Sullivan asked Bancroft why she said that, she replied that it was in jest, and she regretted it. 

“We were on our way back… I said it in a stupid, jovial way… I did not mean it…” Bancroft said. “It was in the hype of the moment… and I totally agree.” 

Sullivan told Bancroft she was lucky that the government didn’t want to prosecute her statement as a threat, and that he would bring it up in her sentencing hearing. 

“We’re going to talk about that statement more, come time of sentencing. I want you to think of everything you want to say about that statement,” Sullivan said. “Because I’m troubled. Very troubled.”

The friend who had entered the halls of government with Bancroft also pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of parading, picketing or demonstrating.

Sullivan also told Santos-Smith that she needs to be prepared to have a long talk with him during her January sentencing hearing about “how the heck you got yourself into this mess.” 

“George W. Bush said that Jan. 6 was a terrorist event on the scale of 9/11,” Sullivan said. “And I agree with him.”

The government provided this photo in their cases against Jennifer Parks (left) and Esther Schwemmer (right). (Photo via Courthouse News)

Jennifer Parks and Esther Schwemmer also pleaded guilty to the same parading or picketing charge on Tuesday. The two friends, from Kansas, attended former President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally and were eating their lunch later when they saw people running into the Capitol building and decided to join them. 

“It was messy and smelled bad,” Schwemmer said of the Capitol building. The two friends exited the building after law enforcement told them to leave. 

The final Capitol rioter to plead guilty Tuesday was Jackson Kotolsky of Pennsylvania. Kotolsky, who was easily identified by his leopard-print vest, was turned in by three of his friends and close relatives. He said he only got about five feet into the Capitol before he was forced out by law enforcement. 

Sentencing hearings for the five defendants will take place in December and January.

Categories / Criminal, National, Politics

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.