The 36-year-old West Texas florist and self-described “conservative die hard patriot” always took to Facebook when she had something to say. So just hours after Jenny Cudd and scores of fellow Trump supporters swarmed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday during a violent insurrection, she launched a live stream with a Trump flag draped over her shoulders and boasted, “We did break down … Nancy Pelosi’s office door.”
Nearly 1,700 miles away in Midland, Tex., Heather Bredimus watched in disbelief. She knew Cudd. Quite well, in fact. The two women had bitterly feuded over mask ordinances during the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, Bredimus had grown frightened for her personal safety after she said Cudd, an anti-masker, became increasingly obsessed with targeting those who supported mask ordinances and openly discussed buying ammunition and a coming “revolution.”
Still, Bredimus says it has been truly stunning to see her “arch nemesis” on tape boldly claiming involvement in an attempted takeover of the fortress of American democracy.
“I didn’t think she would take it that far,” Bredimus said of watching the footage of Cudd in Washington. “You don’t think the people from your hometown are going to be the crazy ones on TV and in the news.” Cudd did not respond to requests for comment for this story.
Four days after the Capitol riot, similar realizations have unfolded in communities across the country, as social media sleuths, local news accounts and, in some cases, newly filed court records have begun to fill in the identities of thousands of individuals who descended upon Washington to trumpet their support for President Trump’s false and incendiary claims that the U.S. presidential election was rigged.
Those who made their way to the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday hail from at least 36 states, along with the District of Columbia and Canada, according to a Washington Post list of over 100 people identified as being on the scene of the Capitol. Their professions touch nearly every facet of American society: lawyers, local lawmakers, real estate agents, law enforcement officers, military veterans, construction workers, hair stylists and nurses. Among the crowd were devout Christians who highlighted Bible verses, adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory and members of documented hate groups, including white nationalist organizations and militant right-wing organizations, such as the Proud Boys.
The list is just a limited cross section of the thousands of people who descended upon the area, yet some striking commonalities are hard to ignore. Almost all on the list whose race could be readily identified are White. Most are men, yet about one in six were women — also almost all White.
Many left extensive social media documentation of their passions, ideologies and, in some cases, disillusionment and vendettas.
Their paths to the nation’s capital were largely fueled by long-standing grievances and distrust, and yet planned in spontaneous and ad-hoc fashion. Several reported pulling together their travel funds and schedules in just a handful of days. Some took a solitary journey, including flying from coast to coast alone, only to find a shared community upon their final destination in Washington. Others traveled in buses that departed Wednesday at dawn, filled to the brim with other Trump supporters.
In the wake of the violent mob’s collective actions, five people have lost their lives. Ashli Babbitt — an Air Force veteran — was shot and killed by Capitol Police. One Capitol Police officer died of injuries and three other individuals died due to medical emergencies during the riot.
Some of the most distinctive rioters captured in viral images quickly left the District, only to be taken into custody closer to home: Authorities have charged Richard Barnett, the 60-year-old Arkansan pictured with his feet on a staffer’s desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office; Jacob Anthony Chansley, a QAnon evangelizer from Arizona also known as Jake Angeli, who roamed the Capitol shirtless with a horned headdress; and Adam Johnson, a 36-year-old Florida man who held Pelosi’s lectern in photographs. Before he was arrested, Chansley told The Washington Post that he had not committed any violent acts. Barnett told the New York Times that he had just been knocking on the door when he was pushed in by the crowd.
A handful of the most notorious rioters, including a man who carried a Confederate flag over his shoulder though the Capitol, have not yet had their identities publicly confirmed by law enforcement.
Dozens of people have been arrested — some for minor offenses like breaking curfew or unlawful entry, while others face more serious federal charges, including firearm possession, violent entry and disorderly conduct at the Capitol building. The count is expected to grow rapidly in the coming days. On Sunday morning, Michael Sherwin, the acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia told NPR that his staff is working around-the-clock to sort through “potentially thousands of people that may have information about crimes … meaning there could be hundreds of people charged.”
One of those whose actions have drawn law enforcement scrutiny is Cudd, the Midland florist who spoke on camera about breaking down Pelosi’s door. Bredimus and her husband confirmed that FBI agents recently interviewed them about Cudd’s behavior.
The acrimony between Bredimus and Cudd began in November, when Bredimus, a 37-year-old graphic designer, squared off against Cudd during a contentious city hall meeting debating the merits of a mask ordinance. They soon spearheaded rival mask groups: Bredimus, who is married to a hospital official, heads the pro-mask “Masks in Midland” club, and Cudd leads those opposed to masks. By December, Bredimus said anti-maskers began circulating photos of her van and license plate number, leading to anonymous death threats.
Later that month, Bredimus says, Cudd stood outside of Bredimus’s residence — with Bredimus’s four children inside and home alone — and began live-streaming to her followers. Bredimus said she alerted the Midland Police Department to voice concerns over what she viewed as Cudd’s erratic and potentially threatening behavior but was told there was nothing they could do.
Cudd denied wrongdoing in an interview on Friday with a Midland television station, saying she did not mean for it to be taken literally when she said “we” broke into Pelosi’s office. She deleted her Facebook account late Saturday amid growing scrutiny of her digital footprint, which contained a Jan. 3 post that warned: “No matter what Trump will be President for 4 more years. Enjoy the show.”
Such a purge became the norm over the weekend, as people who attended the Capitol event made largely fruitless attempts to scrub lives that were lived nearly entirely online.
At least 15 people who attended the rally have been fired or suspended from their jobs, or preemptively resigned amid growing outrage, according to a Post tally. One of the fired is 41-year-old laborer Doug Jensen of Des Moines, who is facing federal charges after he was captured in photos and videos leading rioters up a staircase as a police officer attempted to hold the crowd back.
Jensen’s boss, Dick Felice, who owns Forrest & Associate Masonry, said he terminated Jensen’s employment.
“He committed a crime as far as I’m concerned,” Felice said. Jensen could not be reached for comment.
Some participants pleaded for forgiveness.
“It was the single worst personal decision of my life,” Bradley Rukstales, CEO of a Chicago-area data analytics company, wrote in a public statement. Rukstales was fired from his job and faces two federal charges stemming from his actions inside the Capitol. He did not respond to a Post reporter’s requests for comment.
Others said they had been unfairly maligned.
Amilee Stuckey, a 55-year-old lawyer from central Florida, said she stayed put outside the Capitol for roughly two hours, wanting to bear witness to what transpired. She said the resulting violence left her in tears, feeling “just appalled.” Still, she scoffed in the face of social media critics who have written that Stuckey’s law firm should fire her.
She does not reply to them, but takes a grim satisfaction in the fact that “I own the damn firm.”
A Huntington Beach, Calif., hair salon owner, 32-year-old Kristopher Drew Martin, said a viral video in which he claimed “we stormed” the Capitol has been taken out of context and that he did not personally storm the building. He later said that those who entered the building were wrong.
Martin blamed “the left” and the media for the backlash to his video, which he says has included death threats and bad reviews online about his business.
“They enjoy hurting people, especially a Trump supporter,” he said. “It feels so good to watch me suffer right now, but I never wanted them to suffer.”
Most who were interviewed by Post reporters remained resolute.
Glynnda White, a 58-year-old retired local government worker and Army veteran from Winter Haven, Fla., said she had no regrets about making the trip.
“We were invited by the president” to Washington, said White, who says she stood outside the Capitol but did not enter the building. “And we went.”
Driven by pandemic grievances
Several who traveled to Washington to support the “Stop the Steal” rally told The Post they were driven by two primary grievances: their opposition to the election results and the restrictions in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Lindsey Graham, a 39-year-old entrepreneur from Salem, Ore., said her eventual path to the Capitol began last spring, when the six small businesses she and her husband own, including tanning salons, a gym and hair salon, were suddenly shuttered because of coronavirus restrictions. Graham said she voted for Trump in 2016 but did not become politically active until her family was financially struggling last year.
She defied state orders and reopened her salon in May, racking up thousands of dollars in fines for violations. Since then, the mother of three has posted online under the moniker “Patriot Barbie,” frequently railing against mask mandates and selling trucker hats, red lip glitter and American flag earrings on her personal website.
“It has become a passion since my rights were taken away in March,” she said. “Before this, I had nothing to do with politics.” In early November, she traveled to Huntington Beach, Calif., for her first Trump rally. After the election, she said she grew increasingly convinced that Trump’s claims about election fraud had merit. “I believe that he won the election,” she said. In mid-December, she sued Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) for $100,000, claiming her civil rights were violated by the state’s enforcement measures. And, on New Year’s Eve, Graham made her next plans clear with a simple post on Facebook: “See you in DC!!!!” She traveled alone and said she stayed at the home of a welcoming Virginia resident whom she had never met.
On Wednesday, she said she watched Trump speak with great excitement and then followed “the planned agenda” by marching to the Capitol. Once there, she said she stayed outside for three hours, clapping and chanting “U-S-A!” Graham said she was “peacefully protesting” with thousands of people. She said she did not enter the building and does not condone violence.
“I’m glad I was there because I am one of the people that can vouch for the crowd,” she said.
Like Graham, 47-year-old construction worker Pete Harding said he was drawn to the Capitol by his disdain for restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Until last year, the Upstate New York resident said he had largely confined his strong political opinions to the Internet, describing himself as just a “keyboard warrior.”
That’s all changed now, in radical fashion. The first days of 2021 found him — by his own account — charging through the chemical irritants that Capitol Police meant to deter him from entering the U.S. Capitol, rambling through the building, and then attempting to set fire to journalists’ equipment outside.
Last year, in his hometown of Cheektowaga, N.Y., he began regularly protesting prevention measures for individuals and businesses and was eventually arrested for refusing to leave a liquor store where staff asked him to wear a mask.
“We know that if Biden-Harris was going to get into office, they’ve said they’re going to make the lockdowns mandatory and mask-wearing mandatory across the country,” he said. Hoping to prevent a president who would take stronger action against the virus, he joined the MAGA demonstrations in November in Washington, which he described as “gorgeous” and “inspired.” He drove to D.C. again for Wednesday’s action.
After listening to Trump’s speech and marching to the Capitol, he found that “our people,” as he described the mob, had already pushed police back up to the top of the Capitol steps. He waded through the crowd to join them, and persisted up the stairs, though he says police repeatedly deployed irritants to try to deter the mob.
Harding describes himself as a “peacekeeper” who charged up the Capitol stairs to protect both police officers and rioters. “I started to see everybody going up the stairs at that point, and I decided I needed to be up there. … I knew that things could escalate and I needed to be there to de-escalate things,” he said. “I was there to protect and keep the peace. That’s what I do every single place that I go.”
Harding said that the only weapon he carried was a dinner fork, which he put in his pocket because he believed he might need it to confront “antifa” or “Muslim brotherhood” fighters. It stayed in his pocket.
“Fortunately, I didn’t have to wield the kitchen fork menacingly,” he said.
Once he left the Capitol, he saw journalists with cameras protected by barricades. He says he walked over twice to taunt them, saying, “You’re responsible for this” and “There’s a woman shot — this is on your hands.” Harding claims that only after he walked away did other Trump supporters harass the journalists to the point that they fled, leaving behind their equipment. He was delighted.
“I was kind of happy about it, to be honest with you, not going to lie, because they deserve it. But that’s not a crime,” he said. He said he came back and piled up the abandoned equipment, then used a lighter to try to set it on fire though he believed most of it was metal and wouldn’t burn.
“The visual and the imagery was for the media to see, that they have started our country on fire,” Harding said, “with their constant lies about covid and about Trump.”
Harding maintains that he did nothing illegal Wednesday. He said he contacted his local FBI office and offered to talk and has consulted with a lawyer.
‘I broke the law’
Many attendees described a type of fervor they felt that drew them to the Capitol. For 48-year-old Leonard Guthrie Jr., it manifested in his faith in the Lord. The Cape May, N.J., resident hasn’t often been well enough to work since having two surgeries on his back. In the absence of employment, he has heavily leaned into his Christian beliefs and conservative political views.
When he heard about the “Stop the Steal” rally, Guthrie thought he could combine his two passions. If he and other Christians had been able to pray outside while senators voted inside, he feels certain it would have changed their votes. “I know it would have,” he said.
So despite the misfiring nerves in his back that made sitting in a car for hours a painful endeavor, he made the journey. And for him, it ended in the D.C. jail. He said he broke through a police barrier to reach the U.S. Capitol steps and readily admits his transgressions, bluntly saying: “I broke the law.”
Still, he feels aggrieved. “We’ve been silenced for so long,” he said. “For years, because I voted for Trump, I’m called a racist, a Nazi, a bigot and all that stuff, and it’s not right.”
Others squarely cited their fealty to the president as the force that pulled them to the nation’s capital. Some, like David Ray Fitzgerald of Roselle, Ill., identified as relatively new Trump supporters,.
The 48-year-old tattoo artist and father of seven said he doesn’t usually vote but became a staunch Trump fan over the past year as he spent days in quarantine reading up on the president’s attitudes toward trade agreements and abortion. He posted Facebook messages and memes chastising liberals for being too sensitive, railing against “fake news,” and glorifying Trump.
“I’m not a ‘deranged Trump supporter,’ ” he said. “I’m an American supporter, and I think that there’s only one person on the ticket that has the same values as I do.”
Fitzgerald and friends pooled their resources to organize the drive and book a Holiday Inn room for the Jan. 6 rally, driven by their hope that Trump could still win the election.
Fitzgerald said he only watched the chaos from the grass and didn’t venture into the Capitol building. Later that night, he was arrested on charges of a curfew violation and unlawful entry as he stood in the parking lot. Fitzgerald said he hated his experience in jail, but still felt like he made the right decisions Wednesday.
“You can’t say, ‘I’m here until things get difficult,’ ” he said. “I’m here to support everything to the end, regardless of what happens to me.”
Rick Saccone, a former Pennsylvania state legislator and Republican who in 2018 narrowly lost a race for Congress after campaigning alongside Trump, boarded a bus in Pittsburgh before 7 a.m. Wednesday, bound for Washington.
Saccone said he believed that voting irregularities had surfaced during his own campaigns — and he suspected that Trump had fallen victim to much worse in the November election.
“People are just mad,’’ Saccone recalled in an interview. “I think I speak for many people: They wanted their vote counted.”
Saccone, 62, was not among those arrested in Washington. Nor did he join those who vaulted, squeezed and rushed into the Capitol. Instead, he said he remained outside on the West Lawn. Wearing a Trump-emblazoned, royal blue beanie, he posted a video message on his Facebook page with the caption, “We are storming the capitol. Our vanguard has broken thru the barricades. We will save this nation. Are u with me?’’
Saccone took down his Facebook post later Wednesday and told The Post he believes the people who stormed the Capitol should be prosecuted.
On Thursday, St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa., where Saccone, who holds a PhD in international relations, had taught since 1999, announced his resignation amid a growing outcry.
Asked whether he had any regrets about his eventful trip to Washington, Saccone cited a scarcity of portable toilets across the city, which he attributed to Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
“I blame the mayor for that,’’ Saccone said. “I think she was trying to torture us.’’
Bowser’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the mayor has no authority over toilets on federal property.
‘I feel like he is under a spell’
The images from the Capitol violence have left not just a stain on the nation, but in many families shock that a loved one chose to show up for such an event.
When Robyn Sweet saw the violence break out at the Capitol on Wednesday, she immediately suspected her father, Douglas Sweet, was part of the mayhem. She and her relatives spent hours trying to reach him and eventually learned he’d been arrested on a charge of unlawful entry.
She described her father as a self-employed handyman in his late 50s who lives in rural Virginia and became increasingly fixated with conspiracy theories after Barack Obama was elected president. That escalated when Trump rose to power, Sweet said, and her father attended the deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and has discussed concerns about child pedophile rings and adrenochrome, a chemical compound they believe is extracted from captive children’s blood — baseless conspiracy theories spread by QAnon followers.
“He wholeheartedly believes this stuff,” Sweet said. “I feel like he is under a spell. Trump has got these people under a spell,” said Sweet, a 35-year-old health-care worker who helped organize a Black Lives Matter protest after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis and launched a Facebook group, Bigotry Exposed, in 2018.
Douglas Sweet, who could not be reached for comment, posted a message on Facebook after his arrest saying he was released on his own recognizance and described the unlawful entry charge as “a citation equal to ticket.” His daughter provided The Post with a copy of the message and it was also shared on Twitter.
“Our Goal was to speak to the house and Senate about ‘stop the steal’ and infiltration by the Chinese Communist Party of our government,” Douglas Sweet wrote. “I feel strongly about defending our Constitutional rights and will not sit on the sidelines and watch as both parties trample our Rights and commit treason with foreign enemies and Governments."
Robyn Sweet said there are many people from their community in Mathews County who support her father’s beliefs and she thinks the arrest will further radicalize him, rather than serve as a wake-up call.
“They are hailing him like he is a martyr,” she said. “It’s sickening.”
Sweet said the relationship with her father is strained — he asked her in June whether she was a member of antifa and blocked her on Facebook — but she said they still love each other. She is currently isolating after being exposed to the coronavirus, which causes covid-19, a disease she said her father does not think is real.
Julie Tate, Meryl Kornfield, Hannah Natanson, Alex Horton, Maria Sacchetti, Amar Nadhir, Justin George, Paulina Villegas, Rachel Weiner, Alice Crites, Devlin Barrett, and Matt Zapotosky contributed to this report.