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A Jan. 6 defendant is running for office in Florida — from jail

Jeremy Michael Brown wore military gear at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, prosecutors say. (FBI)
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On the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, a flag-waving crowd gathered outside the Florida jail where an alleged participant was being held.

Jeremy Michael Brown, a retired Special Forces soldier charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct on restricted Capitol grounds, addressed them through a phone call played over a loudspeaker. The 47-year-old Tampa resident and member of the extremist Oath Keepers group decried the “tyrannical government,” read a lengthy passage from the Bible and portrayed himself as engaged in a fight for “the liberty of every American.”

Then Brown made an announcement that sent the crowd into cheers.

“Today, January 6, 2022, from the maximum-security section of the Pinellas County jail,” he said, “I, Jeremy Brown, announce my candidacy for Florida state House of Representatives.”

Within a few months of that speech, he had collected enough signatures to qualify as a candidate and run a long-shot campaign for Florida’s District 62 — all from jail. As the sole Republican candidate, Brown, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial on felony and misdemeanor charges, is set to run against the winner of the August Democratic primary. The newly drawn district includes heavily blue areas; about 72 percent of voters there went for President Biden, according to the Tampa Bay Times, which reported on Brown’s campaign this week.

It’s unclear whether legal issues could impede Brown’s candidacy or ability to hold public office while he remains in jail. Lawyers are reviewing that question, the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections told the Tampa Bay Times.

“We don’t know, the state office doesn’t know and to be honest, I don’t care,” Brown said in an interview with the newspaper. “I’m gonna run until they tell me no. It’s almost like our government is incompetent.”

His platform and messaging carry some of the themes that animated the far right and the assault on the Capitol, with Brown describing a United States under attack by “evil agendas” and a corrupt federal government that is teetering toward tyranny. His website lists priorities such as fighting critical race theory and “gender-confusing tactics,” studying whether vaccines cause harm and pushing for stricter “election security laws.”

What is critical race theory, and why do Republicans want to ban it in schools?

The campaign has leaned into his status as a Jan. 6 defendant and jail inmate. His logo features barbed wire and his inmate number: 1875858. Shirts sold on his website and worn by campaign staffers are designed to look like orange jail scrubs. Brown, who has been jailed since September, calls himself a “political prisoner of war.”

Federal prosecutors have noted that he is a self-identified member of the Oath Keepers; the group’s founder and several of its members face charges of seditious conspiracy. Brown has said that he expects to be added to the case, though prosecutors told a judge they were not aware of plans to do so “in the immediate future.”

As of late July, he faced two misdemeanor charges connected to his actions at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Federal prosecutors say he and others coordinated the trip to Washington via the encrypted messaging app Signal, with Brown telling an unidentified person, “We have a RV an Van going. Plenty of Gun Ports left to fill.” He referred to his RV as “GROUND FORCE ONE.”

Videos and images from Jan. 6 showed Brown behind the barriers law enforcement had set up at the Capitol, dressed in military gear, including a helmet, body armor, boots and a tactical vest, according to a federal court filing. He carried a radio, surgical trauma shears and zip ties, according to court documents, and ignored verbal orders to get back, complying only when pushed with police batons.

“During this encounter,” the document said, “Brown repeatedly claimed that the officers were, in his opinion, violating the Constitution of the United States.”

A separate case filed against him in a federal court based in Florida listed felony charges of possessing unregistered explosive grenades, firearms, 8,000 rounds of ammunition and classified documents at his Tampa home. A judge ordered that he remain detained in that case, saying he might pose a threat to law enforcement officers based on a sign he posted on his door telling them to remember their oaths and come back with “a bigger tactical package.”

Brown’s campaign declined an interview request from The Washington Post, taking issue with a previous story describing how he and other veterans were drawn to the Capitol on Jan. 6 by conspiracy theories and a call for patriots.

“Jeremy Brown is a true American Hero and the very freedom that you enjoy everyday is a result of his sacrifices to this country,” said the email from his girlfriend, Tylene Aldridge.

In other interviews, Brown has claimed he was providing security during the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the storming of the Capitol. He said he is being targeted in a shadowy government plot after declining to become a confidential informant in the run-up to Jan. 6. An online fundraiser for his defense has raised more than $100,000.

Alleged Oath Keeper accused of bringing explosives to D.C. on Jan. 6

While Brown remains locked up, his campaign holds rallies outside the jail and events with a cardboard cutout of him. He delivers campaign speeches by phone and has been on the far-right media circuit, occasionally getting cut off by a recorded voice counting down the time remaining. He has raised about $15,800 for the race, records show.

Brown acknowledged in an interview aired on Rumble, a video site popular with conservatives, that the district is heavily Democratic. He said he was running not to win, but “to wake the American people up to what’s going on.”

The Democratic primary candidates are state Rep. Michele Rayner, who currently represents House District 70; Wengay Newton, her predecessor; and Jesse Philippe, a lawyer. The winner is set to face Brown in the November general election.

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