The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A former police officer arrested after the Jan. 6 riot was told to stay away from guns. He bought 34, feds say.

On Jan. 6, prosecutors said, Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker, his then-colleague with the Rocky Mount Police Department, stormed the Capitol and posed for a photo in front of a statue of John Stark. (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia)
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In January, a federal judge agreed to release Thomas Robertson, a former Rocky Mount, Va., police officer facing multiple charges over his alleged participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

But Judge G. Michael Harvey’s release conditions were clear: Robertson could not own any firearms, destructive devices or dangerous weapons while his case was pending. If he owned any guns, he must relocate them within two days.

Days after his release, authorities found eight firearms at his home in Ferrum, Va., according to court documents. The judge gave Robertson a second chance, reminding him of his release conditions.

Then, last month, authorities found a loaded M4 carbine and a partially assembled pipe bomb while conducting an authorized search at his home, court records state. Robertson is also accused of buying 34 firearms online and “transporting them in interstate commerce while under felony indictment,” prosecutors said.

Now they are asking the judge to revoke Robertson’s release order and issue an arrest warrant for violating his pretrial release terms a second time.

“Because the defendant has shown utter disregard for the Court’s orders prohibiting his possession of firearms and other weapons during the time he has been on pretrial release, and because he has further flouted his release conditions through repeated violations of the federal firearms laws, the defendant presents a danger to the community that no release conditions will adequately mitigate,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Ann Aloi and Risa Berkower wrote in a motion filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court in Washington.

An attorney for Robertson did not immediately respond to a message from The Washington Post late Thursday. Robertson could not be immediately reached for comment. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges (obstruction of an official proceeding, aiding and abetting, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building).

The prosecutors’ motion comes days after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department has arrested 500 people in connection with the insurrection, among them the first defendant in the Jan. 6 riot to face charges including assaulting a journalist.

500 arrested in Jan. 6 Capitol riot, including first charged with assault on media member, Garland announces

On Jan. 6, prosecutors said, Robertson and Jacob Fracker, his then-colleague with the Rocky Mount Police Department, stormed the Capitol and posed for a photo in front of a statue of John Stark making an obscene gesture. Both men, who were off duty at the time, later sent the photo to their colleagues, the criminal complaint states. (Fracker has also pleaded not guilty.)

Shortly after, Robertson posted the picture on social media and said he was “proud” of the photo because he was “willing to put skin in the game,” court records state. In a Facebook comment on Jan. 8, Robertson wrote, “The next revolution started in DC 1/6/21. The only voice these people will now listen to is VIOLENCE. So, respectfully. Buckle armor or just stay at home.”

On Jan. 13, Robertson was arrested in Virginia and released pending trial under the judge’s terms forbidding him from possessing any guns and instructing him not to violate federal, state or local laws while on his release.

Four days later, authorities discovered and seized eight firearms inside his home while conducting a search. That day, court records state, authorities also found large amounts of ammunition, and what appeared to be equipment used for reloading ammunition, in a building located on his property. Soon after, Magistrate Judge Harvey reminded Robertson that he must adhere to the terms of his pretrial release at another hearing.

But days after he was indicted on Jan. 29, the FBI became aware of evidence indicating that Robertson was buying firearms online, court records state. Emails reviewed by the FBI after judges issued search warrants to examine Robertson’s Yahoo account indicate he paid thousands of dollars to buy an arsenal of weapons. Records from the website Gunbroker.com, also obtained by the FBI, showed Robertson spent thousands of dollars on multiple weapons he ordered through the site.

On June 29, the FBI visited Robertson’s Virginia home for a second time and discovered a loaded M4 on his bed, along with the ammunition and the semi-assembled pipe bomb. Agents also found a box labeled with the words “Booby Trap.” Inside the box, agents found a metal pipe “with two ends caps, with a fuse inserted into a hole that had been drilled into the device.” Although this device did not contain explosive powder, such material was found in the building on Robertson’s property, prosecutors said.

But there was no arsenal of newly purchased weapons at the home. Robertson told agents that he had bought them online and hadn’t picked them up yet.

The owner of Tactical Operations, a Federal Firearms License broker in Roanoke that serves as an intermediary for online gun purchases, told agents in an interview that Robertson had 34 firearms waiting for him at the store.

The FFL owner told agents Robertson said he could not keep the guns at his home because of his current bond conditions, adding that Robertson had been in the store to handle several of the weapons as recently as one week earlier.

Robertson is due back in court on Aug. 3.

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