Intrigued by what was happening, he said, he began to follow.
“This is a moment in U.S. history,” Kelly, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told antiabortion news site LifeSiteNews. “It’s not unlike the days of the beginning of the country. At some point, there’s enough illegal behavior and there’s enough crimes against the Constitution being committed by the elected officials that, you know, what are you supposed to do?”
Kelly’s sense of valor came crashing down Monday, when FBI agents in Omaha arrested him on charges of knowingly entering a restricted building without authority, violent entry with intent to disrupt the orderly conduct of official business and disorderly conduct. Court documents traced how his conversation with LifeSiteNews and a later interview with the Cedar Rapids Gazette led law enforcement straight to him.
It’s one example of many: alleged Capitol attackers being shockingly open on social media and in interviews about what transpired that day. Rioters posted selfies from inside the congressional chambers, uploaded videos with footage of the riot or spoke to reporters shortly after the events. In many instances, that documentation has become evidence in their criminal cases.
Of 92 federal arrests related to the Capitol attack examined by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, 76 contained evidence from social media. Charging documents in about half of those 76 instances present the accused person’s own social media posts.
Those astonishing decisions may reflect rioters’ inability to grasp, at least in the moment, that their actions were criminal, experts say. Documenting their involvement in interviews or social media posts may also reflect the pride many felt in being part of a historic moment and the adrenaline rush that they might have experienced.
At first, the attack may have felt like “the crowning achievement of their lifetime,” said N.G. Berrill, executive director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science.
“They were still experiencing the high of their involvement in something they thought was noble and transcendent and reflective of some tremendous achievement,” he said. “And they hadn’t yet come down from that place to say, ‘What did I do? What in the world did I do?’ ”
By the end of his LifeSiteNews interview, Kelly did not appear to have had that sobering moment. But he admitted being conflicted about forcing his way into a space where he was banned.
“In some ways, that really feels wrong,” Kelly told the site. “But whose space is that? That really does belong to us.”
After watching Kelly’s interview, an FBI agent used a Google Images search and public records to verify his identity, charging documents say. Three days later, a Cedar Rapids Gazette reporter published a separate interview in which Kelly said he would cooperate with law enforcement if they sought him out.
“If the FBI or whoever calls me — I mean, they know where to find me, I’m sure — I’ll talk to them,” Kelly told the Gazette. “I understand there could be consequences for what happened and I will accept those and deal with them.”
Kelly later told a deputy U.S. marshal that he would turn himself in if an arrest warrant was issued for him, according to charging documents.
A voice mail left at a phone number listed for Kelly on Tuesday was not immediately returned, and court records do not list a lawyer for him.
Among other rioters who have been arrested after openly discussing the siege were New Jersey resident Thomas Baranyi and Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan. In an on-camera interview with WUSA-9 shortly after exiting the Capitol, Baranyi showed blood on his hand that he claimed came from Ashli Babbitt, who was fatally shot as she and others attempted to breach a barricaded door to enter the Speaker’s Lobby.
“We had stormed into the chambers inside, and there was a young lady who rushed through the windows,” Baranyi said in the interview, which is referenced in charging documents. “A number of police and Secret Service were saying ‘Get back, get down, get out of the way.’ She didn’t heed the call, and as we kind of raced up to try to grab people and pull them back, they shot her in the neck, and she fell back on me.”
Baranyi, who was arrested six days later, added: “It could have been me, but she went in first.”
An attorney for Baranyi did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ryan broadcast her own exploits in a 21-minute Facebook Live video showing her and others heading to the Capitol, court documents allege. An image on Twitter allegedly shows Ryan standing in front of a broken window.
In the hours after the breach, she tweeted again, according to court records: “We just stormed the Capital. It was one of the best days of my life.”
Ryan was arrested Friday and accused of disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds and knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Many who spoke openly about their participation in the riot are “true believers” that their actions were honorable, said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. So much of their online environments, he said, served as an echo chamber that reinforced the idea that there was no reason to be discreet about their participation. Trump himself told his supporters just before the attack that this was their last chance to prevail and that they should go to the Capitol and “fight” for his right to stay in office.
The Capitol attack was also probably the first encounter many participants had with law enforcement, so they were unlikely to fully process the consequences of their actions, Hughes said. Plus, he said, many falsely assumed they would not be arrested because mass arrests did not take place during the summer’s racial-justice protests, a small fraction of which involved violence and property damage.
“There’s a subset of people who are realizing that what they did was wrong and have some level of regret,” Hughes said. “Then there’s a subset of people who realize there are going to be consequences and are fine with that because they’re such true believers in the cause.”
While the Program on Extremism has so far noted about 100 federal cases linked to the Capitol siege, Hughes said many of those are “low-hanging fruit” — instances in which people spoke openly about their participation and made law enforcement’s job easy. More arrests, he said, are nearly guaranteed.
Julie Tate contributed to this report.