The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Tennessee man with zip ties at Capitol could face charges of sedition, other felonies after riot, prosecutors say

Protesters enter the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 during a joint session of Congress to ratify President-elect Joe Biden's electoral college win. (Win Mcnamee/Getty Images)

A Tennessee man photographed holding white plastic handcuffs and a Taser in the Senate gallery could face charges of sedition and other felonies in what prosecutors on Sunday called the “insurrection” and “occupation” of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“The evidence amassed so far subjects the defendant,” Erik Munchel of Nashville, to additional felonies, “including obstructing Congress, interstate travel in furtherance of rioting activity, sedition and other offenses,” federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

Within minutes of the government filing, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell stayed a lower court’s conditional release of Munchel, and ordered his transfer from Tennessee to Washington for further hearings.

Howell did not elaborate in a pair of one-page orders. However, prosecutors argued for Munchel’s detention, saying that he is charged with a felony while possessing a dangerous weapon, and that he poses a flight risk because of previous attempts to evade police and potential prison time.

Munchel has not yet entered a plea. His attorney previously told a judge that he picked up the plastic zip ties or “flexicuffs” to keep them from being misused. He was “trying to keep a rein on” and “protect” his mother, who is also facing prosecution, according to Nashville Assistant Federal Defender Caryll Alpert.

On Sunday, U.S. prosecutors went further than in previous filings to broadly condemn the actions of rioters, calling the storming of Congress an “insurrection” 10 times in a 20-page court filing, saying it resulted in the obstruction of the Senate certification of then President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory, the deaths of five people — including a police officer — and assaults on about 81 Capitol Police and 58 D.C. police officers.

“Every person who was present without authority in the Capitol on January 6 contributed to the chaos of that day and the danger posed to law enforcement, the Vice President, Members of Congress, and the peaceful transfer of power,” wrote prosecutors with the public corruption unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington and the counterterrorism section of the Justice Department’s national security division.

They added, “Make no mistake: the fear the defendant helped spread on January 6 persists — the imprint on this country’s history of a militia clad insurrectionist standing over an occupied Senate chamber is indelible.”

Justice Department, FBI debate not charging some of the Capitol rioters

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffery S. Frensley of Nashville released Munchel to strict confinement at home or with a friend, saying that his motive was “not clear” and that there was “no evidence” that Munchel engaged in violence. Frensley gave the government until Monday to appeal to the chief federal district judge in Washington.

Prosecutors on Sunday argued that Munchel was not inspired to commit civil disobedience but to direct a message of “fear, intimidation, and violence . . . at law enforcement, elected public officials, and the entire country.”

They cited a new allegation by a man who has said he was harassed by a group of Trump supporters at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington the night of Jan. 6, and who identified Munchel as one who “put his hands on me.” The man said the group wrongly called him “antifa,” referring to a far-left anti-fascist movement whose adherents sometimes engage in violent clashes with right-wing extremists.

Two men who allegedly held zip ties in Capitol during riots being investigated by U.S. counterterrorism prosecutors

Prosecutors said that a video Munchel recorded of himself showed that he entered the Capitol dressed in combat attire from head to toe, armed with a taser and apparently a more dangerous weapon he stashed outside the building, and searched for lawmakers whom he believed had committed “treason.”

In the video, recovered from his phone, Munchel allegedly bumps fists with a member of the Oath Keepers right-wing extremist group whom he encounters, while another says, “There’s 65 more of us coming.”

A search of Munchel’s home found two tactical vests, 15 firearms, including assault rifles, a sniper rifle and tripod, other rifles, shotguns, and pistols, a drum-style magazine, and other magazines and ammunition — a legal “arsenal” that prosecutors said “indicates the continued capacity to carry out the sort or fear and intimidation campaign in which he partook on January 6.”

Munchel has twice been convicted of drug possession and failed to appear in court once, prosecutors said, and took precautions since Jan. 6 to evade police by avoiding his home and work, deactivating his Facebook account and giving his cellphone to a friend.

Self-styled militia members planned on storming the U.S. Capitol days in advance of Jan. 6 attack, court documents say

Later, prosecutors said, Munchel’s mother, Lisa Eisenhart, is allegedly recorded saying, Lawmakers “got tear-gassed. . . . Oh my God. That is . . . my best day, to know that they got tear-gassed.”

Before entering the Capitol, Eisenhart can be heard in the recording exclaiming, “The story of how we got in is going to be great — who got us in the house,” prosecutors said. In the Senate gallery, court records say, she is recorded shouting, “Freedom!”

“Traitors!” “Treason!” “We want a fair election!” and “We want rule of law!” before telling Munchel to drop the plastic handcuffs as they leave.