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Three active-duty Marines with intelligence jobs charged in Jan. 6 breach

Jan. 20, 2023 Updated Sat., Jan. 21, 2023 at 6:47 p.m.

Protesters gather in the U.S. Capitol on the second day of pro-Trump events fueled by then-President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud in an effort to overturn the results before Congress finalized them on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Kent Nishimura)
Protesters gather in the U.S. Capitol on the second day of pro-Trump events fueled by then-President Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud in an effort to overturn the results before Congress finalized them on Jan. 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura)
By Spencer S. Hsu and Alex Horton Washington Post

Three active duty members of the Marine Corps assigned to intelligence-related jobs, including one at the National Security Agency headquarters in Maryland, have been charged with participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol, according to court filings unsealed Thursday and military service records.

Cpl. Micah Coomer, Sgt. Joshua Abate and Sgt. Dodge Dale Hellonen were arrested Tuesday and Wednesday near Camp Pendleton, Calif.; Fort Meade, Md.; and Camp Lejeune, N.C., respectively, and appeared in local federal courts.

The FBI said Abate admitted to entering the Capitol “with two ‘buddies’ ” during a June 2022 interview that was part of his security clearance process while assigned to the Marine Corps’s Cryptologic Support Battalion, which is partnered and headquartered with the NSA at Fort Meade. According to charging papers, Abate said they “walked around and tried not to get hit with tear gas,” and “admitted he heard how the event was being portrayed negatively and decided that he should not tell anybody about going into the U.S. Capitol Building.”

Each faces counts including trespassing, disorderly conduct and illegal parading or picketing in a restricted Capitol building or grounds, in connection with the riots that injured scores of police officers, left offices ransacked and forced lawmakers to evacuate the premises amid Congress’s meeting to confirm the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The sergeants’ occupations as special communications signals analysts and the corporal’s job as an intelligence surveillance reconnaissance system engineer were first reported by Military.com and were confirmed in their service records.

A Marine Corps spokesperson said, “We are aware of an investigation and the allegations. The Marine Corps is fully cooperating with appropriate authorities in support of the investigation.”

Abate’s attorney David Dischley declined to comment. Federal defenders for the other two men did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The men are the first active-duty military members to be charged in the Capitol attack since Maj. Christopher Warnagiris of the Marine Corps was arrested in May 2021. He is awaiting trial on felony counts including assaulting or impeding police and obstructing an official proceeding. About 120 of the roughly 940 people arrested in the Capitol breach served in the military, reserves or National Guard.

According to charging papers filed Tuesday and unsealed Thursday, Coomer posted photographs on Instagram taken from inside the Capitol during the breach captioned, “Glad to be apart of history.” Data provided by Facebook in connection with an August 2021 federal search warrant showed that in a Jan. 31 direct message on Instagram, Coomer allegedly “stated his belief ‘that everything in this country is corrupt. We honestly need a fresh restart. I’m waiting for the boogaloo.’ ”

Coomer described the term as “Civil war 2,” according to an FBI arrest affidavit. U.S. prosecutors have described “boogaloo” as a term taken up by fringe groups referring to a racially or ethnically motivated civil war.

Capitol surveillance video recorded the three Marines entering the Capitol through the Senate Wing Door less than 10 minutes after it was first breached, according to the FBI. The trio was moving together and spent 52 minutes in the building, with Hellonen carrying a yellow Gadsden flag with a “Don’t Tread on Me” logo, according to the FBI. That included time in the Rotunda, where “they placed a red MAGA hat on one of the statues to take photos with it,” an FBI arrest affidavit said.

All three men had previously been awarded a Good Conduct Medal, which is given for every three years of discipline-free service, according to service records.

Separately, another Washington-area military reservist assigned to the U.S. intelligence community and facing a charge in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was convicted Wednesday on unrelated felony weapons offenses.

Hatchet M. Speed, a Navy Reserve petty officer first class assigned to the Naval Warfare Space Field Activity at the National Reconnaissance Office in Chantilly, Va., was found guilty of possessing three unregistered firearms silencers by a jury in Alexandria federal court.

Speed has pleaded not guilty to federal misdemeanor charges in Washington after being described by U.S. prosecutors as a heavily armed Nazi sympathizer with top-level U.S. government security clearance who breached the Capitol with members of the Proud Boys extremist group. A new indictment this month added a felony count of obstructing an official proceeding of Congress against Speed, who until recently worked with a U.S. defense and intelligence cyberoperations contractor based in nearby Vienna, Va.

Speed is not accused of violence, has no criminal history and retained a Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information clearance at time of his arrest. But prosecutors cited Speed’s alleged statements to an undercover FBI employee about using violence to further “anti-government and anti-Semitic ideologies,” including many “enemies” who live near Washington as the seat of the government, and his $50,000-worth of “panic” buying of firearms after the Capitol attack that included a dozen pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles.

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