Beneath it Morss allegedly scribbled bullet point reminders, fleshing out the idea of forming a violent cell – “bring assault rifle” and “set up your kit” – and notes on “formation.”
In the Morss case and others, the Justice Department repeatedly has documented the emergence of what could be called small, right-wing extremist groups.
This comes along with rising warnings from US intelligence about violence from right-wing extremists. Since January, prosecutors have alleged that several people who are charged with participating in the insurrection or with planning politically motivated violence also showed interest in organizing others, according to an extensive review of Capitol riot and other Justice Department cases by CNN.
The cases are so distinct in the thoroughness of the initial allegations and the depth of the investigative work so far, that they have become in some ways their own class of cases among the Capitol riot investigation, which so far has resulted in more than 500 criminal defendants in federal court in Washington, DC. Like most of the Capitol riot defendants so far, Morss, charged with nine criminal counts including assaulting officers, has pleaded not guilty.
The cases also reach beyond the Capitol riot investigation, which the Justice Department now calls the largest investigation and prosecution in American history.
On Friday, federal prosecutors in northern California announced charges they had made of two men so devoted to former President Donald Trump and so angry about the 2020 election result, that they allegedly plotted to blow up the Democratic headquarters building in Sacramento. One commented over an encrypted messaging thread, where the two discussed planning, that he realized they would be perceived as domestic terrorists, and the second man had previously joined an anti-government militia group, according to court documents.
Investigators arrested one of the men, who carried a card that touted White supremacy and Trump and who had 49 guns and five pipe bombs, on January 15. That was just five days before Joe Biden’s inauguration in Washington, after which the men said their “war” would commence, according to their communications documented in court filings.
“All of the political and social conditions that motivated them to plan what they themselves described as a terrorist attack remain,” a prosecutor wrote in a court filing last week. “Though they understood that they would be viewed as domestic terrorists, they hoped that their violent acts might start a movement to overthrow the government.”
The two men, Ian Rogers and Jarrod Copeland, have not yet been arraigned in federal court on charges related to the alleged Democratic headquarters conspiracy. An attorney for Copeland declined to comment following his arrest, and a lawyer for Rogers could not be reached.
The cases involving these ad hoc groups include neighbors, online acquaintances, road-trippers, even a “Bible study” that also discussed secession and combat training after January 6, according to court records. Many spoke or wrote about wanting to fight, and, according to investigators, assembled arsenals.
The defendants at times crossed paths with named, known organizations such as the Three Percenters, but they stand apart from the cases against members of more established, structured groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, which are being prosecuted in several major conspiracy cases in the Capitol riot investigation.
The totality of the January 6 cases “aren’t necessarily a barometer of what the far right really is,” said Jon Lewis, who researches anti-government movements at George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. But this group of cases – identifying freelance individuals meeting others and interested in acting like militias – is zeroing in on the far right’s version of terrorist cells, Lewis said.
“There is the potential to go from flash to bang very quickly. If it’s two or three folks who share that same kind of extreme ideology, it’s much easier in that small leaderless cell,” Lewis said.
‘Disorganized militia’ cooperator
Last week, prosecutors took a major step forward in another Capitol riot case – what independent journalist Marcy Wheeler dubbed a “disorganized militia” – when they secured the plea deal and cooperation of Idahoan Josiah Colt. Colt pleaded guilty to one count, obstructing Congress’ certification of the election.
Colt allegedly hung from the Senate balcony on January 6, which was captured in a photograph that went viral, after driving with two friends cross-country with weapons in the car. On the way, the trio had stopped at TGI Fridays and took video of themselves discussing opposing the certification of the election, according to court records.
One of Colt’s fellow travelers, Nathaniel DeGrave, had written to a Facebook contact in December that he wanted to “grow my army strong so probably will be making connections” on their January 6 trip, according to investigators.
Colt’s cooperation, which will include possible testimony to a grand jury and at trial, is set to affect at least two other ongoing cases where defendants are fighting almost a dozen charges each related to their alleged violence in and around the Capitol, against DeGrave of Nevada and the third road-tripper, Ronald Sandlin of Tennessee.
DeGrave and Sandlin both pleaded not guilty – and DeGrave’s attorney has argued in court that he is “mortified and remorseful” for his behavior on January 6, and that he was only interested in protecting the country at Trump’s prompting, and not harming it. Sandlin’s attorney has said he didn’t bring weapons into the city on January 6, and that he and the others went into the Capitol only because “they were caught up in the emotions of the day,” court papers say.
Other cases alleging these kinds of small extremist group efforts are still in early stages.
In a new arrest this month in another case, prosecutors revealed how a Northern Virginia man told an undercover FBI agent after January 6 about how his group could build ties to others. “The defendant has been organizing,” a prosecutor told a judge in Washington, DC, on July 2.
The Justice Department declined to comment further for this story.
Cracking down on domestic terror
The recent attention toward these upstart groups comes