The neighbor declined to go on TV — that struck him as unwise, given the circumstances — but he later told The Washington Post that Council seemed like a normal guy who waved to him whenever they encountered each other in the neighborhood, and who lived in a “plain-looking” house that, unlike many others on the street in the conservative-leaning area, did not have any signs in support of President Trump out front. Council, according to the Justice Department, unlawfully entered the Capitol building and, when stopped by law enforcement, pushed an officer.
The radicalization of Trump supporters from all walks of life became jarringly apparent this month when a phalanx of lawyers, nurses, police officers, real estate agents and stay-at-home parents found common cause — terrorizing lawmakers for not overturning the results of a presidential election — with conspiracy mongers and violent white supremacists. Amid the throngs were a university professor, a hairdresser, a school therapist, a chief executive, a piano teacher, an Olympic gold-medalist and a state representative from West Virginia. Jenna Ryan of Frisco, Tex., flew to the rally on a private plane and posted a video from the riot where she hawked her professional services: “Y’all know who to hire for your Realtor,” she said. “Jenna Ryan for your Realtor.” (She has been arrested.)
Back in the quiet, well-to-do neighborhoods of America, the constitution of the mob raised unnerving questions. Do I know any of these people? And: Is anyone I know capable of this? The last time the U.S. Capitol was sacked, in 1814, the perpetrators were British soldiers. This time, it might have been the guy a few houses down who always keeps his lawn immaculately mowed. Or the woman across the street — the one who was always getting in trouble with the homeowners association. Or maybe the man down the block, with whom they’d always politely change the subject whenever politics came up. The insurrectionist next door.
They might have been people like Michael Ganz, whose neighbor in the Indiana Dunes, Ind., area described him as a well-known contractor and restaurant owner.
“He seemed a little bit more like one of those wealthy guys who likes the low taxes and dismantling regulations, rather than an ideological Trumper,” says his neighbor Kathryn. Like some others The Post interviewed for this story, she asked to be identified by her first name only. She had heard from another neighbor that Ganz was posting photos on social media from the Capitol steps, then saw that he had done an interview with the Chicago Tribune about his participation in the riot, falsely blaming the riot on “antifa,” a loosely defined group of militant left-wing activists.
“I saw no violence, nothing destroyed, no fights,” said Ganz, who claimed he did not enter the Capitol building, in an interview with Tribune columnist Jerry Davich. “This handful of antifa (probably staged by very powerful people), to make Trump supporters look bad, were handled quickly.”
Kathryn was appalled. So she reported Ganz to the FBI.
“I felt like I was participating in a necessary movement to start to make things right again in this country,” she says of her decision to turn in her neighbor. “It felt sort of like a patriotic kind of obligation.”
A recent release from the Justice Department said the FBI “has opened approximately 200 subject case files and received about 140,000 digital media tips from the public. Notably, many of the tips are coming from friends, co-workers and other acquaintances of those allegedly involved in the attack.”
A Chicagoan named Alex made the same calculation when she saw one of her neighbors posting Snapchat footage from the riot. In the video, she observed her neighbor “very close to the Capitol” and shouting through a megaphone: “He was instigating violence, saying, ‘We should destroy this stuff and steal all of this.’ ” Another friend had taken screenshots of the video, which Alex included when she filled out the FBI’s online form to report him. She says she has not heard back from the bureau, and the neighbor’s name has not appeared on any lists of those who have been arrested.
Alex and her neighbor used to be friends two years ago, she says, but she started keeping her distance after he had behaved rudely toward her. Now, she says, she plans to ignore him completely if she sees him on the street.
“It’s kind of scary that I was so close to what we call now a domestic terrorist,” Alex says. “I never thought that ever in my life I would live next to somebody that has malicious intentions against our country.”
The problem with the insurrectionists next door, says Laura, a resident of Siloam Springs, Ark., is that they think their intentions are good. Laura and her neighbor, who attended Trump’s pre-riot rally in Washington, “are both Christians, or claim to be, which is really confusing,” she says. “He really believes that this is God’s plan for America.”
Her neighbor had described the D.C. pilgrimage in religious terms, she says: He went to pray for Trump to somehow be made the winner of the election. Then Laura saw he’d posted on Facebook that he had made it to the back steps of the Capitol and shared a photo of the rubber bullets he’d picked up there as a souvenir. This, to Laura, was proof that “he was somewhere he was not supposed to be,” so she, too, reported her neighbor to the feds.
“I didn’t enjoy it, but it was the right thing to do,” she says. “I’m White, I have a lot of privilege. I don’t have to be afraid. But that’s not true for everybody.”
She says she is praying for him.
Other people didn’t see their neighbors at the Capitol on Jan. 6, but fear they could turn up there on Wednesday, Inauguration Day.
In some neighborhoods, the presence of an insurrectionist next door is a matter of nervous speculation. Jake, who lives in Boston, was appalled when a neighbor put a QAnon sign on her fence a few months ago. (QAnon is a sprawling conspiracy theory that includes many unhinged beliefs, chief among them that various Democrats and other Trump opponents are part of a satanic cabal of child sex traffickers.) Jake thought his neighbor might be crazy, but in the interest of keeping the peace, he maintained a friendly relationship with her.
“Our dogs know one another. We wave and say, ‘Hi,’ ” he says.
Watching videos of the Jan. 6 violent siege, he noticed a rioter wearing a T-shirt with the same QAnon logo that was on his neighbor’s fence.
What was once an unsettling but ultimately funny quirk about a crazy neighbor now seems like part of something larger and more sinister. “It’s a little more disturbing now,” Jake says. “You see the online violent rhetoric of the true believers turn into actual violence against a republic. You know, you don’t know what somebody is capable of.”
A woman from Coos County, Ore., who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she lives in a small town and fears for her safety, has a neighbor whose political posture was never funny to her. He has said racist things about Muslims, she says, and taunted her for being a Democrat. When he put up a Trump-Pence sign during the election, he pointed it not at the street, but directly at her house. She responded by blocking his sign with one of her own, advertising the candidacy of a local Democrat. Their proxy fight continued, eventually leading to a shouting match.
The day after the Capitol riot, she heard gunfire coming from her neighbor’s yard. She says she peeked through a gap in the fence and saw that her neighbor and a friend had erected a target range. Her thoughts turned to news reports about armed demonstrations that Trump supporters planned to hold at all 50 state capitals.
“I thought, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” the woman says. Could that be what her neighbor was practicing for? “My stomach started turning,” she says. “My hands were shaking.”
Was she even safe in her home? What about her cats, who sometimes roamed into his yard?
She’s planning to keep tabs through the window in the days leading up to the inauguration. She’s going to watch and see if his car is gone for a few days. She’s going to watch to see if his face turns up on the news.
As for Matthew Council’s neighbor: He’ll be watching, too. At some point, he knows he’ll run into his neighbor on his dog walks. But he’s not sure if he’ll act different.
“I’ll still wave to him,” he says. “I don’t know. I’ve got to keep the peace. You know what I mean? It’s a 30-year mortgage.”