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Former Green Beret charged in riot threw a flagpole at an officer like a spear, FBI says

A video still from a police officer's bodycam shows who the FBI says is Jeffrey McKellop assaulting an officer with a flagpole on Jan 6. (FBI)

A former Army Special Forces soldier charged with a half-dozen crimes stemming from the Capitol riot threw a flagpole at a police officer like a spear and assaulted three other officers, according to the FBI and court documents.

Jeffrey McKellop, 55, who was arrested Wednesday, is among more than 30 veterans charged in the Jan. 6 incident but appears to be the first so far who served in Special Operations, according to service records analyzed by The Washington Post.

McKellop, of Augusta County, Va., faces six charges, among them assaulting a police officer with a deadly or dangerous weapon. He did not enter a plea on Thursday. His attorneys Greg Hunter and Seth Peritz declined to comment on his case.

The former soldier served two enlistments for a total of 22 years, according to his Army service record. His second enlistment, from 1993 to 2010, included time as a mechanic and a Special Forces communications sergeant. The role includes overseeing radios and other communications vital to small team Green Beret missions.

The Army did not say how long he served in Special Forces, but his two tours each in Iraq and Afghanistan, spanning from 2002 to 2006, lasted a few months, which is typical for groups like Green Berets and Navy SEALs.

McKellop was recorded on several body cameras worn by officers, the FBI alleged, during the violent melee inside and outside the Capitol in an attempt to interrupt the certification of President Biden’s election.

Clad in a helmet and tactical body armor, and wearing his own gas mask, McKellop was filmed pushing an officer, throwing a bottle at police and trying to wrestle away a can of riot-control spray from another officer, the FBI said.

In one moment, McKellop picked a flag off the ground and thrust it in the face of a D.C. police officer, then heaved the flagpole at the officer “similar in fashion to throwing a spear,” the FBI said. The officer suffered lacerations near his eye, investigators said.

At one point, McKellop held a “thin blue line” flag popular with police and law enforcement advocates, the agency said.

An associate of McKellop who did not attend the rally or the riot may be charged as a conspirator, according to a person familiar with the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss the matter. It is unclear what level of participation the associate had, the person said.

A witness who knows McKellop told investigators he was military contractor who was in an “overseas combat zone” as late as 2018.

Although McKellop had a gas mask on for some portion of his movement on the Capitol grounds, photographs of him unmasked and wearing identifying patches helped investigators track him, the FBI said.

One patch included the Special Forces patch on his backpack and a flag for the country of Georgia on his vest. The flag has been appropriated by some White supremacists for its Crusades-style cross.

The number of veterans charged in the riot, which includes at least two men serving in the Army Reserve and one in the National Guard, has prompted Pentagon officials to reassess how it detects and roots out troops with extremist ideologies. Veterans recruited by extremist groups and self-styled militias are prized for weapon and tactical experience but also their social capital that confers legitimacy, the Pentagon has said.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was “very disappointed” in the number of veterans charged in the riot, which is about 10 percent of more than 300 total people who have been charged.

“This is an issue that I think can erode the great respect that our American citizens have for our military,” Austin said in a “60 Minutes” interview.

While most veterans charged in the riot had typical duties, such as infantry members, vehicle drivers and mechanics, a few had notable records that require restrictive security clearances, such as one required for Special Forces soldiers.

One veteran worked as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer. Another was a crew chief in the presidential helicopter squadron. That role requires a specialized top secret security clearance, the Marine Corps said.

Spencer S. Hsu contributed to this report.