Five days before the presidential inauguration on January 20 — which prosecutors believe was to be a key date in the planning of the attack — the Justice Department apprehended one of the men who had amassed a large arsenal. Ian Benjamin Rogers, 45, of Napa, California, showed strong support for White supremacy and for Trump, and said in text messages he realized he would be labeled a domestic terrorist, according to Justice Department court filings.
A man Rogers communicated with, Jarrod Copeland, 37, of Vallejo, California, was arrested in Sacramento this week, DOJ said.
Court records citing extensive encrypted messages between Rogers and Copeland raise the alarm of how the men sought to inspire domestic terrorism toward Democrats — and how their anti-government motivations may still persist.
In January, Rogers had told Copeland, “I want to blow up a democrat building bad,” and Copeland responded in agreement, writing, “Plan attack.”
The pair discussed “war” after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, the Justice Department said. They also discussed attacking George Soros, a billionaire donor who supports liberal causes, and Twitter, which by then had removed Trump from the social media platform.
“I hope 45 goes to war if he doesn’t I will,” Rogers allegedly wrote.
The larger idea, the FBI and prosecutors say, was for Rogers to become violent near where he lived, to prompt others into similar actions nationwide, according to the court record.
Both men are charged with conspiracy to destroy by fire or explosive a building used or in affecting interstate commerce.
Rogers also faces weapons charges after investigators found 49 firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition and five pipe bombs at his home and business in January, shortly after they discussed the plan but before January 20, according to court records. One of the guns, investigators noted, appeared to be a replica of a fully automatic machine gun that Nazi troops had used during World War II, according to a charging document for Rogers. Rogers told investigators after his arrest the pipe bombs were for “entertainment.”
Rogers and Copeland are currently being held in custody and have yet to be arraigned, and a federal prosecutor said Thursday they remain a threat. “All of the political and social conditions that motivated them to plan what they themselves described as a terrorist attack remain,” the prosecutor write in a court filing.
Rogers’ attorney declined to comment, and it was not immediately clear if Copeland had a lawyer. Copeland is due in court in San Francisco on July 20.
Threat from Trump rhetoric
Prosecutors, national security officials and politicians have warned that after Trump and his allies ramped up his lies of a stolen election in November and after a mob of hundreds of Trump supporters attacked the US Capitol on January 6, their inflammatory rhetoric could lead to violence.
An FBI agent specializing in domestic terrorism wrote in court about the messages, “I believe that these latter messages indicate Rogers’ belief that Trump (“45″) actually won the presidential election and should ‘go to war’ to ensure he remained in power.”
Prosecutors also say Rogers had written to Copeland months before, in November, that he wanted to “hit the enemy in the mouth” with homemade explosives attacking the Governor’s Mansion and the Democratic headquarters building in Sacramento, according to DOJ.
Copeland had told Rogers he was in touch with an anti-government militia group and also made contact with a militia leader after Rogers’ arrest, who advised him to delete his communications, which he allegedly did, the Justice Department also said.
Investigators found Rogers had a card that said “white privilege trumps everything” and that had other references to Trump. He also kept a sticker on his car window indicating support for the Three Percenters, a movement of pro-militia right-wing Americans who believe revolutionaries could overthrow the US government like in the American Revolution.
In various searches, investigators found Copeland had rifles, a “go bag” with a helmet, elbow and knee pads, ammunition magazines and zip tie handcuffs, and anabolic steroids.
The zip ties, prosecutors say, were intended for the men’s plot. “The fact that he still had them six months later indicates that he still believed a situation would arise where he would need to take prisoners,” a Justice Department court filing this week said. “His sentiments are deeply felt and long-standing and reflect a belief that the government is illegitimate. He is not likely to obey rules imposed on him by someone he views as part of a tyrannical government.”
Prosecutors note that Copeland served in the military but had deserted in 2016 under an “other than honorable” discharge.
“It doesn’t matter for our purposes whether the steroids make Copeland more violent and aggressive, or he seeks out steroids because he tends to be more violent and aggressive. Either way, he is a greater danger to the community,” prosecutors noted about the steroids.
At first, Rogers’ idea was to use Molotov cocktails and gasoline, and his a “first target” of the governor’s mansion, because he believed it was empty and there would be no casualties. “Would send a message,” Rogers allegedly wrote to Copeland, according to the court record. “That’s the best target I think too,” Copeland responded.
Prosecutors say Rogers then decided to change the target to the Democratic headquarters building in Sacramento. The two men allegedly made plans over the next two months, prosecutors say. The discussed pipe bombs and gallons of gasoline, among other violence at the building, according to their messages included in court records.
Copeland later told investigators he wasn’t taking Rogers seriously, though prosecutors allege he encouraged the other man–and, according to court records, was an extremist who at times felt rage over politics that was aiding by him taking steroids.
On December 1, Rogers said, “Do you think something is wrong with me how I’m excited to attack the Democrats?” prosecutors told the court.
Trump has repeatedly dismissed efforts to rein in his rhetoric.
At one point, a Republican election official begged Trump a on national television to stop his verbal attacks on the election results.
“Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to get shot, someone’s going to get killed,” the official, Gabe Sterling of the Georgia Secretary of State office said on December 1.
Trump responded to Sterling’s comments with a tweet that doubled down on the false election claims.
At a rally before the mob descended on the Capitol on January 6, Trump told his supporters that they needed to “fight much harder” and that they had to “to show strength.”
“We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” he said.
In June, the Department of Homeland Security issued an intelligence bulletin issued an intelligence bulletin to state and local law enforcement partners about the increasing opportunities for violent extremist attacks this summer.
Asia Despatch’s Tierney Sneed contributed to this report.