A Virginia police officer who was fired after storming the US Capitol was jailed Wednesday by a federal judge because he ordered a large stockpile of guns and ammunition after his January arrest, and posted online in support of future political violence.
Thomas Robertson, a retired Army Reservist who later worked for the Rocky Mount Police Department, was one of the first rioters charged by the Justice Department.
He was released in January but re-arrested this month after investigators said they found a rifle and bomb-making material in his home, and also learned that he recently bought another 37 guns on the Internet. The decision from Judge Christopher Cooper means Robertson will stay behind bars until his case is resolved, which could take months or even drag into 2022.
His lawyer said Robertson is in solitary confinement, for his own safety, because he’s a former police officer. He pleaded not guilty to four counts, including felony obstruction of congressional proceedings.
“There is probable cause to believe that Robertson committed a felony – willfully shipping or transporting firearms and ammunition despite being under felony indictment,” Cooper wrote in a ruling, concluding that there was no way to protect the public without keeping Robertson in jail.
“Robertson’s procurement of these dangerous weapons under the surrounding circumstances heightens the risk to public safety,” Cooper added.
Prosecutors say Robertson called for more violence after January 6. He allegedly posted online that “the only voice these people will now listen to is violence,” so people should “buckle armor or just stay at home.” After that, prosecutors said, Robertson started purchasing more weapons.
“I have learned that if you peacefully protest than you will be arrested, fired, be put on a no-fly list,” he allegedly posted on an online gun forum last month. “I have learned very well that if you dip your toe into the Rubicon… cross it. Cross it hard and violent and play for all the marbles.”
The judge took note of these and other postings, and pointed out that they occurred at the same time Robertson went on a “remarkable shopping spree for high-powered assault weapons.” Prosecutors alleged that he spent about $16,000 on the guns in a two-month span.
“Both in the immediate aftermath of the riot and more recently, Robertson has expressed remorselessness and endorsed future political violence,” Cooper wrote in the 14-page ruling.
Robertson’s lawyers argued unsuccessfully for his release. They claimed he is an “antique gun lover” and that the rifle in his bedroom was from World War II. They also said the alleged pipe bomb was “inert” and meant for training, because Robertson was a law enforcement instructor. (The judge did not buy the antique gun argument, concluding that “the record shows otherwise.”)
The case took a turn last week when Robertson’s son took the stand and testified that an M4 rifle found in his father’s bedroom belonged to him. The son, Hunter Robertson, claimed under oath that FBI agents “did not” ask him about the rifle when they interviewed him while searching the house. His father wasn’t present when the FBI executed the search warrant.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Aloi disputed the son’s claim about the FBI and said he “has now given inconsistent statements to law enforcement,” raising the possibility that he broke the law by lying. The judge said, “His testimony may incriminate him,” and told the son to hire an attorney.
This story has been updated with additional details.