Brandon Fellows had never attended a Trump rally before last week. He said he was motivated to travel to Washington after seeing a tweet from the president. “Big demonstration in Washington on January 6,” President Donald Trump wrote on December 19. “Be there, it will be wild!”
Fellows were unaware of a planned march that would eventually overtake the U.S. Capitol. He said he just came to see Trump give a speech.
But hours after watching Trump’s speech, Fellows had their feet on a table in a US senator’s office, smoking a joint. He walked the halls of the Capitol, heckled police officers and posted videos on Snapchat on the way.
“I have no regrets,” said Fellows, a 26-year-old former grocery store worker from upstate New York who now makes money cutting down trees and fixing chimneys. “I didn’t hurt anyone, I didn’t break anything. I trespassed, I guess.”
Indeed, in the days following the upheaval, Fellows said his profile on the dating app Bumble was “exploding” after posting photos of himself on Capitol Hill.
Fellows was among hundreds of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, forcing Vice President Michael Pence, members of Congress and their staff into hiding. Five people died in the melee, including a rioter who was shot dead by police and a Capitol Police officer from unspecified injuries sustained during an altercation with the intruders.
Fellows’ story provides a detailed account of how a Trump supporter ended up participating in the Capitol Riot, an event that spawned mass condemnation and prompted House Democrats to pursue impeachment for the second time in less than two years.
His story also provides a concrete example of a Trump supporter who absorbed false information from social media and responded to the president’s call for action. It’s an illustration of why so many tech companies have taken action since the Capitol Riot to quell the conspiracies that have proliferated on its platforms, including banning Trump’s Twitter account.
Fellows, who live in a converted school bus, said he stopped working last spring due to fears of Covid-19. But he said he lost his illusions when New York State denied him unemployment benefits. “For a while, in early March and April, I was super poor,” he said.
Fellows said he gets much of his news from conservative YouTube commentators, including Ben Shapiro and Steven Crowder. He said he also started watching Newsmax and One America News, both of which promoted false statements of rigged elections.
He said his political views created friction with his family, so much so that on Christmas Day only his grandparents invited him to dinner. They asked him to eat on his bus because he didn’t take Covid-19 seriously enough, he said.
On Capitol Hill, he said, even though most of the rioters were people he wouldn’t normally get along with, it was “like family.”
“We were there for a common cause, which is to declare that the government is crushing us,” he said.
His 14-year-old stepfather, Timothy Monroe, said he was not surprised when he learned Fellows were inside the Capitol. “He knows what he believes,” Monroe said. “You can’t really change it with any sort of reality.”
The fellows said he came to Washington in part because he believed the election was rigged. But his main motivation was his anger at government measures to prevent Covid-19, such as restaurant and gym closures.
On January 6, Fellows said he arrived outside the Ellipse, a park adjacent to the White House, just after 1 a.m. He was one of the first people in line to participate in the rally. from Trump and sitting just five rows from where the president spoke, video broadcasts. The fellows prepared for the cold weather, wearing snow pants, a leather jacket with an American flag emblazoned on the back, and a knit beanie that resembles a knight’s helmet and beard.
“This is the last battle,” Fellows said, in an interview with a Bloomberg News reporter before Trump’s speech. “I feel like I’ve seen a lot of evidence of electoral fraud, and I don’t understand why nothing is being done.” Trump’s allegations of voter fraud in the Nov. 3 election have been dismissed by state and federal courts, as well as some members of his own party.
After the conclusion of Trump’s speech, the fellows joined the march on Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol. “I was like, ‘Oh cool, there’s going to be a walk’,” he said. “I have never been on a march.”
Upon his arrival, he said the barriers protecting the perimeter had already been crossed. As he scaled a wall to reach the Senate side of the Capitol, he said he thought, “I’m not missing this, this is history.” Fellows helped others climb over the wall, videos show.
Fellows said he saw another Trump supporter hit a Capitol door with a cane and eventually walk through the door. A crowd of rioters pushed through to be pushed outside by police. Once the building was invaded, he said he initially hesitated before entering, but did so after hearing people inside were not being stopped. He entered through a broken window.
In about 30 minutes he was on Capitol Hill filming dozens of videos and posting them on Snapchat.
In one, which was reviewed by Bloomberg News, he heckled police officers on Capitol Hill who were not wearing helmets.
“Where is your helmet, my brother?” The fellows asked an officer. “I did not receive any, as they were exhausted,” replied the officer.
“They don’t care about you? Are you rookies, that’s why?” The fellows fought back. “I have been here for eight years,” the officer said. “It’s pretty cool what happened here today,” replied the fellows.
Another video shows his muddy boots lying on a table in Senator Jeff Merkley’s office, where Fellows said he took two puffs of a joint someone handed him. “This one is going to incriminate me,” Fellows said of the video in Merkley’s office.
In a video posted to Twitter, Merkley investigated damage to his office in which a door was smashed “off its hinges” and artwork ripped from the wall. “It was unlocked, they could have just opened the door,” Merkley said. “So count that ransacked office.”
After leaving Merkley’s office, Fellows said he walked around the Capitol and asked a police officer to go to National Statuary Hall. The police officer explained that the statues represent each state and provided instructions on how to get there, according to the Fellows video of the encounter. “Dude, you’re super cool,” said the Fellows.
The fellows’ interactions with the police inside the Capitol led him to believe that there would be no consequences to entering it. “Did I think I was going to be in trouble?” Fellows says. “Uh no.”
After leaving the Capitol, the fellows posed for photos next to a line of police in riot gear and on an abandoned police motorcycle.
He said he planned to return to Washington for more protests around the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on January 20, and he predicted there would be more violence. The FBI has issued a warning that there are plans for armed protests in Washington and all 50 state capitals in the days leading up to the inauguration.
“Obviously Trump started a movement in a way, but I think we started something even bigger by doing this,” Fellows said. But now law enforcement is rounding up others who participated in the Capitol intrusion, he thinks he too could be arrested.
“Do you think I’m going to go to federal prison?” Asked the comrades. “I’ve been told federal prison is no fun.”
(Except for the title, this story was not edited by The Bharat Express News staff and is posted Platforms.)