By taking part in the riot at the U.S. Capitol, Pennsylvania officer Joseph W. Fischer did not just break the laws he was tasked with enforcing, the FBI says — he was also allegedly at “the front of the pack pushing against the police.”
“Charge!” yells the person taking a video that Fischer posted Jan. 7, according to the FBI, the day after a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in Washington and halted the democratic process. The recorder “had a physical encounter with at least one police officer,” the agency said.
Fischer, a patrolman with the North Cornwall Township Police Department, is charged with obstructing law enforcement during “civil disorder” and accused of aiding the insurrection that resulted in the deaths of one police officer and four others and left many people wounded. More than a dozen off-duty members of law enforcement officers are suspected of participating in the Jan. 6 riot, raising uncomfortable questions for chiefs and departments around the country. But the allegations against Fischer stand out for how directly they pit him against members of his own profession.
The Washington Post could not reach Fischer on Saturday, and it was not immediately clear whether he has a lawyer.
North Cornwall Township and its police department did not respond to inquiries, but the small community east of Harrisburg said in a statement to local news station WGAL that a member of its police force was “immediately suspended without pay” pending the outcome of charges stemming from the riot.
“While every citizen accused of a crime must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, the Township, its elected officials, its police officers, and its employees wish to make clear that the United States of America is a government of laws which we are sworn to uphold,” the township said in its statement.
The township said none of its officials had “any knowledge” of the employee’s actions before his arrest Friday, according to WGAL. But the FBI said that, in Facebook messages sent the day after the riot, Fischer recalled defending his actions to his chief.
“Did your job say something to you?” another Facebook user asked Fischer on Jan. 7, according to charging documents.
“Yep … chief did,” Fischer reportedly replied. “I told him if that is the price I have to pay to voice my freedom and liberties which I was born with and thusly taken away then then must be the price.”
“I told him I have no regrets,” he reportedly said.
Earlier Fischer declared that he “may need a job,” according to the FBI, adding, “Word got out that I was at the rally..lol.” Fischer allegedly said the FBI might arrest him — “lol,” he added again — and claimed the agency was “targeting police who went.”
In the weeks after the insurrection, police have been investigating, punishing and flagging their own to federal law enforcement, breaking from the notorious “blue wall of silence” that critics point to as a major barrier to police holding their colleagues accountable.
Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told The Post earlier this year that he had accepted the resignation of an 18-year member of the force because of the man’s involvement in the Jan. 6 riot.
“We are making clear that they have First Amendment rights like all Americans,” he said. “However, engaging in activity that crosses the line into criminal conduct will not be tolerated.”
The first officers to face federal charges in connection with the short-lived Capitol insurrection were Rocky Mount, Va., officers Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker, who are accused of offenses including “violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.” Both have pleaded not guilty and said they did not participate in any violence.
Like Robertson and Fracker, the FBI says, Fischer left a social media trail for investigators.
A few days after the riot, an agent said, the FBI was told that a Facebook user by the name of “SV Spindrift” had “bragged” about storming the Capitol building and posted a video of himself at the front of a crowd pushing police. The video was removed.
Examining SV Spindrift’s account, police found no public identifying information except a photo. They subpoenaed Facebook to learn more about the person behind the profile. Associated contact information pointed to Fischer, and with a search warrant, the FBI got a hold of the posts the patrolman allegedly had made.
Fischer is accused of trespassing, obstructing justice and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, in addition to obstructing law enforcement. He is in his mid-50s, according to the FBI.
On Jan. 7, according to the charging documents, Fischer said in Facebook comments that “I was there” and “We pushed police back about 25 feet.” He said there was “some minor destruction and a few things were stolen” but claimed the havoc at the Capitol was “98% peaceful,” the charging documents say.
“Got pepper balled and OC sprayed, but entry into the Capital was needed to send a message that we the people hold the real power,” he wrote, according to the FBI.
A video captured a clash with police, too, an agent wrote, as did a body camera from D.C. police. That footage showed a person wearing the same clothing as Fischer in photos that appear to have been taken at the Jan. 6 rally. The person in the video appears to be getting up from the ground, the agent said.
The charging documents state that a voice can be heard saying, “I am a cop, too.”