Who are Tampa Bay’s accused Jan. 6 rioters, really?
If you live in Tampa Bay, an alleged insurrectionist likely lives somewhere nearby.
Across the Tampa Bay region, they are veterans, an aspiring pro wrestler, a media entrepreneur. Middle class strivers, spouses, grandparents. Fans of their president, Donald Trump. Twenty-nine Americans.
They broke the law when they stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, federal prosecutors say. Some entered by force. At least seven allegedly joined extremist paramilitary groups. The majority did not.
All 29 are Floridians charged with Jan. 6-related offenses. Ten have pleaded guilty. Four have been sentenced; one to probation and three to prison. The Sunshine State, which Trump carried in his bid for reelection, has at least 90 residents charged — more than any other state.
Those arrested include 11 who lived in Pinellas County at the time of Jan. 6, the most in Florida. Pinellas ranked third in the nation for total Jan. 6 arrests by county, according to national data compiled by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, just behind California’s Orange and Los Angeles counties and tied with Illinois’ Cook County, which have roughly three, 10 and five times Pinellas’ population, respectively.
The Tampa Bay Times reviewed hundreds of pages of public records to better understand who these residents were as citizens and neighbors throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties. None of those arrested lived in Pasco at the time of the insurrection.
The records document whether they owned homes or businesses, voted regularly or had criminal backgrounds. Alongside court files, news stories, public statements and interviews they gave to conservative media platforms, the records provide a collective portrait of a group that is overwhelmingly white, male and registered Republican.
But its most striking feature may be the sheer ordinariness of its members.
Their ages ran 19 to 66. Their homes ranged from an $800-a-month rental in blue collar Sulphur Springs to a nearly $1 million waterfront house in Dunedin. Four had felony convictions before Jan. 6, 2021, and none were for violent crimes.
While most were frequent voters, at least seven cast their first-ever votes for president in 2020. Two agreed to talk to Times reporters. Both said they believed Trump’s lie that their votes were compromised in a fraudulent election. At least seven others made public statements to that effect.
It’s unclear how they landed on the path to Washington, D.C. Records show they have used alternative platforms like Rumble, Parler and Telegram, where disinformation thrives unchecked. But the site mentioned most often in their charging documents is Facebook, the largest social network on Earth.
The pandemic played an unspecified role. Politics weren’t that important to Manatee County chiropractor Joseph Hackett before the pandemic, his lawyer told a judge — a striking claim for a man accused of felony seditious conspiracy.
Hackett registered to vote in 2020 and, soon after Trump lost, joined Oath Keepers, a militant far-right anti-government organization whose members claim to be defending the U.S. Constitution. The judge called his supposed quick-turn from apolitical to extremism “mystifying.”
St. Petersburg’s Zachary Johnson never voted before 2020, but took it seriously when he finally did at age 32. Two months later, he dressed for battle in goggles and seethed outside the Capitol. “They think they’re going to f---king cheat us out of our vote. ... It ain’t f---king happening today buddy.”
The 2020 election also made first-time presidential voters of Plant City’s Michael Perkins, then 37, Largo’s Dion Rajewski, then 60, and Bradenton’s Adam Johnson, then 35 and a stay-at-home dad. A day before going to prison Johnson said he got into politics after the pandemic canceled sports, movies and other diversions.
Seffner’s Mitchell Gardner, 35, first voted in 2020, too. Weeks later, he bashed out a Capitol window with a police officer’s tear gas canister while wearing a Reagan-Bush sweatshirt, according to federal charging documents.
Nearly all of Tampa Bay’s accused rioters came with someone else: family, friends. There was a contingent of at least four Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group; three Oath Keepers; two live-in couples. Of the five women charged, just two came alone.
Joshua Doolin said he saw the Jan. 6 rally as a vacation with a chance to see the president speak and show support. Surrounded by family and childhood friends from his native Lakeland, he said he had no idea they’d go to the Capitol.
Prosecutors allege Doolin, 24; his cousins, Jonathan Pollock, 23 and Olivia Pollock, 31; and friends, Joseph Daniel Hutchinson III, 26, and Michael Perkins were part of a group that fought with police for hours on the Capitol steps.
Jonathan Pollock allegedly punched one Capitol police officer, kneed him in the face and threw another down by the neck. He wrestled a third for control of a riot shield, then used the shield to slam into a line of more officers, according to federal charging documents. He remains a fugitive.
To hear Doolin, who gained control of a cop’s pepper spray, tell it, it was the Capitol police officers who were the aggressors. He and his friends were defending themselves, he said, echoing a claim of many Jan. 6 defendants.
“What I’d want people to know is how peaceful it really was, other than that 10 minutes you see on TV,” Doolin told the Times.
They all chased some version of the American Dream.
More than half had owned a home, though by Jan. 6 only 10 still did. Most had been married and at least 14 are parents. When Audrey Southard-Rumsey, 53, stormed the Capitol, a video showed her shouting in an officer’s face, “For my son!”
More than a third had faced bankruptcy or foreclosure. Lots of divorces. At least one moved away from Florida after the riot. Another, Anthime Gionet, also known as Baked Alaska, moved to the region after his arrest.
At least 19 started businesses at some point. Dunedin’s Carol Kicinski, 65, founded at least nine, which are mostly defunct now, but ran a natural cosmetics company and a gluten-free lifestyle magazine on Jan. 6.
Graydon Young, 56, for years ran a preschool with his wife, earning them around $10,800 a month. As an Oath Keeper, he trained like a soldier and scaled the Capitol steps helmeted, in a tactical stack formation.
Jeremy Brown, 48, a retired Green Beret running for the Florida House, remains jailed. Robert Palmer of Largo is in prison. Adam Johnson, 37, and Paul Allard Hodgkins III, 40, did their time.
The rest walk free, in varied states of restriction as their cases move on. They wear GPS ankle monitors or answer automated calls at all hours to show their whereabouts.
The charges brought financial impacts and notoriety.
An online page for Hackett’s chiropractor business is scattered with reviews that have little to do with spine straightening: “Insurrectionist. Yikes.” “Traitor.”
Hodgkins’ attorney said he’s quietly rebuilding his life after losing his nest egg, crane operator job and longtime rental home.
At least 11 have found monetary support via conservative media, raising more than $330,000 through Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo. The most successful: Brown ($135,000+), who has given dozens of podcast interviews from the Pinellas County Jail, and Hackett, ($121,000+) whose wife Deena, an acupuncturist, appeared on Steve Bannon’s podcast calling for the release of Jan. 6 “political prisoners.”
Palmer’s legal fees topped $75,000, and the Largo man sold his carpet cleaning business, his car and all his possessions. He pleaded guilty.
Over the phone from Coleman federal prison, 60 miles northeast of Tampa where he’s serving five years, Palmer said he’s holding up. His cellmate murdered a family, he said, “but seems like a decent guy.” Palmer is laying low, taking emotional literacy classes.
“That was only my second Trump rally in my life. … I’m not a hardcore right-wing extremist or radical,” said Palmer, who admitted to throwing a fire extinguisher at police. “My life is ruined.”
Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this story.
(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story suggested some of those arrested after Jan. 6, 2021 had used Gettr, a social media platform, before they went to Washington D.C. While some have used it, Gettr didn’t debut until nearly six months after the insurrection.)
All 29 Tampa Bay residents arrested in the Jan. 6 riot, a breakdown
They came from Tampa Bay. They dreamed big. They stormed the Capitol for Trump.