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In interrogation video, tearful Jan. 6 defendant apologizes for assault on officer

Daniel Rodriguez, among those accused of assaulting D.C. police officer Michael Fanone in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, apologized in an interrogation video. (Video: FBI)

A Southern California conservative activist cried and apologized for using a Taser on a police officer outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, in the first interrogation video of a riot defendant released publicly.

Daniel Rodriguez is among those accused of assaulting D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, who was shocked with a stun device as rioters dragged him down the steps of the Capitol. Fanone lost consciousness and was stripped of his badge and gun; he suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury.

Rodriguez, 39, has pleaded not guilty and is attempting to block prosecutors from using his statements to the FBI at trial. At first, he declined to discuss the assault on Fanone with the two special agents who interrogated him just after his arrest in March. But when pressed, Rodriguez suggested he used a Taser on Fanone to keep him from getting more seriously injured.

“I don’t know if I tasered him to protect him, but maybe just to, like — so he wouldn’t struggle and get hurt, maybe,” Rodriguez said. “If they’re going to beat him up or injure him or, like — I don’t know if they’re going to — I don’t know what was going to happen to him.”

Soon after, Rodriguez broke down, apologizing and cursing himself.

“I’m sorry,” he said through tears. “I don’t know. He’s a human being with children, and he’s not a bad guy. He sounds like he’s just doing his job and he’s — I’m an a------.”

Fanone has said he was nearly killed by the mob before appealing to their humanity by invoking his four daughters.

Asked by the agents what he would say to Fanone if he could, Rodriguez replied, “I’m sorry he had to go through that. It’s not right that he had to suffer like that. And it puts fear in him and worrying about his life. He was scared for his own life and thought about having to kill us.”

Rodriguez’s recorded interrogation offers an unusual account of Jan. 6 in a defendant’s own words. While defendants may testify at trial or explain their actions at sentencing hearings, proceedings in federal court in the District are not recorded on video.

Fanone, who has returned to work in a police unit that analyzes statistics for crime-fighting strategies, said he has seen clips of the interrogation and read the transcript.

“I do agree with his self-assessment,” Fanone said Wednesday, referring to the suspect calling himself an “a------.”

How battered D.C. police made a stand against the Capitol mob

Fanone said he thinks statements from Rodriguez and other defendants accused in the Capitol riot help set the record straight for those who play down the seriousness of the day. The officer has repeatedly expressed frustration with pundits and politicians who have recast the attack as a peaceful protest and the rioters as political prisoners.

“I really think it goes against the previous narrative that the participants were being like freedom fighters and American patriots,” Fanone said. “It’s more like people behaving like morons, misfits and malcontents, many of whom harbored some pretty extreme anti-governmental view points. That’s who came to the Capitol on Jan. 6.”

Rodriguez told the FBI he had begun following the right-wing site Infowars in 2008 or 2009 and was an early supporter of President Donald Trump.

“There’s people that have taken over this country from inside, globalist and unelected officials, elitists, you know?” he told the agents, referencing conservative claims about a shadowy “deep state” that were elevated by Trump. He also suggested he held some belief in the QAnon extremist ideology that those elites are Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

Rodriguez clashed with left-wing activists while protesting for Trump and against coronavirus restrictions in his home state of California last year, he told the FBI. It was from videos and photos of those events that online researchers identified Rodriguez about two months before his arrest. But he had never seen Trump in person until Jan. 6.

“If he’s the commander in chief and the leader of our country, and he’s calling for help — I thought he was calling for help. I thought he was — I thought we were doing the right thing,” Rodriguez told the agents. Infowars and other right-wing channels convinced him that there was no way Joe Biden had won the election, he said: “There was a lot of brainwashing and manipulation and politics and a lot at stake.”

An attorney for Rodriguez declined to comment Wednesday. Previously, the defense has argued that the agents manipulated a sleep-deprived Rodriguez, who was arrested early in the morning at his Fontana, Calif., home. Judge Amy Berman Jackson requested the video so she could determine whether the interview was coercive and it was made public Tuesday. The judge has not yet ruled, although she previously noted that only a brief portion of the interview occurred before Rodriguez was read his rights.

Rodriguez has also indicated through his public defender that he might raise a “public authority” defense, arguing that he was acting at the direction of the sitting president.

How Americans morphed into a mob

Federal judges in D.C., where Rodriguez is being tried, have been skeptical of that claim, although several have blamed Trump for stirring up the mob.

Prosecutors allege that Rodriguez traveled to D.C. with other California conservative activists. According to prosecutors, around the time of the 2020 election they formed an online chat group called “Patriots 45 MAGA Gang” that discussed using violence to go after supporters of President-elect Joe Biden.

“There will be blood,” Rodriguez wrote on Jan. 5, according to a recent indictment. “Welcome to the revolution.”

Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.