A former police officer from Rocky Mount, Va., whose bond was revoked last summer after he stockpiled firearms and endorsed political violence, was found guilty on all counts Monday at the second jury trial of a participant in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
The charges, five of them felonies, are punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
“In our democracy, we don’t decide elections with a cartridge box,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Risa Berkower said in closing arguments, quoting the rhetoric of the defendant. “In our democracy, there is no room for vigilante justice, or mob rule, or counterinsurgency.”
Robertson, 49, and Jacob Fracker, 30, were fired from the Rocky Mount Police Department in early 2021 after a photo they took of themselves posing in front of a statue of John Stark inside the building on Jan. 6 was shared with police colleagues.
Prosecutors relied on Capitol surveillance video showing the men entering the building with the first 100 or so pro-Trump rioters who broke through the Senate wing doors and windows at 2:13 p.m. Minutes earlier, officer-worn body-camera video footage showed Robertson wearing a gas mask, holding a three-foot-long wooden stick in front of him and refusing to move when a D.C. police squad moved through the crowd to assist overwhelmed Capitol Police.
Afterward, Robertson celebrated the mob’s targeting of lawmakers, prosecutor Elizabeth Aloi said.
“We were stomping on the roof of their safe room chanting. WHO’SHOUSE, our HOUSE,” the U.S. Army veteran, angered at the outcome of the 2020 election, exulted in a Jan. 9 message on Facebook.
“A government scared of its people. The pictures of them huddled in the floor crying is the most American thing I have ever seen,” he wrote on Jan. 8, adding, “We … not Antifa. Stormed it.”
Prosecutors said Robertson’s own statements showed his purpose was to intimidate and impede Congress and that he planned for violence.
Initially released on personal recognizance after his January 2021 arrest, Robertson was jailed pending trial in July after he illegally stockpiled 34 firearms despite release conditions barring firearms possession, providing evidence that he had been “further radicalized” by his pending case, the judge ruled.
Days after the November 2020 election, Robertson wrote on Facebook: “A legitimate republic stands on four boxes: the soap box, the ballot box, the jury box and then the cartridge box.” He said he was preparing for the fourth step: “Being disenfranchised by fraud is my hard line. I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting a counter insurgency. Im about to become part of one, and a very effective one.”
On Jan. 8, he added, “The next revolution started in DC 1/6/21. The only voice these people will now listen to is VIOLENCE,” saying that even if former president Donald Trump was done, he was prepared for “open armed rebellion” with “like minded and trained individuals.”
On June 10 as he was hoarding weapons, Robertson wrote in statements that prosecutors produced for his bond hearing but not at trial, “I’ve said before. They are trying to teach us a lesson. They have. But its definitely not the intended lesson. I have learned that if you peacefully protest than you will be arrested, fired, be put on a no fly list … I have learned very well that if you dip your toe into the Rubicon … cross it. Cross it hard and violent and play for all the marbles.”
At trial, defense attorney Mark Rollins urged jurors to judge Robertson based on his actions, not his words, and not based on the actions of those around him.
“This case is not about the police, political beliefs, the election, Trump or national views of Jan. 6 as a whole,” Rollins said.
The attorney argued that Robertson was guilty only of misdemeanor trespassing and disorderly conduct, but said the husband, father and mentor only entered the Capitol to find his friend Fracker after they became separated, and left.
“All T.J. did was enter, retrieve and depart,” Rollins said.
Robertson was using a short wooden pole as a walking stick, not a weapon, because of gunshot wounds he sustained in an ambush while a military contractor training police in Afghanistan, Rollins said.
As roughly two dozen officers moved in two lines through the crowd under a hail of bottles, rocks and chunks of cement, Robertson did not get out of their way but held the stick with both hands across his chest “in a defensive posture,” his attorney said, reasoning, “When I see this crowd act this way, I am guarded. I don’t know what some of these fools, or some of these people are going to do.”
Fracker, Robertson’s co-defendant, pleaded guilty last month and testified against his former mentor at trial last week, saying the men intended to stop or overturn the actions of Congress and that Robertson destroyed their phones afterward.
“Anything that may have been problematic is destroyed,” Robertson allegedly texted a friend after his Jan. 13 arrest, including his old phone, which “took a lake swim.”
Fracker said Robertson invited him and a neighbor to go to Washington and gave them gas masks, but had no plan to enter the Capitol. Once there amid the chaos, however, he said, there was an unstated agreement to enter the building, likening their actions to when two cars pull up to a stop light, “You rev your engine and the other driver revs his engine. You’re going to go” when the light turns green.
The verdict was the second time a jury in Washington has handed prosecutors a victory in Capitol attack prosecutions. In early March, a panel convicted Texas militia movement recruiter Guy Reffitt of five felonies, including obstruction of an official proceeding, interfering with police in a riot, transporting a firearm for that purpose, armed trespassing and witness tampering. Reffitt, unlike Robertson, was not accused of entering the building.