Brandon Straka, a gay Trump supporter who launched the #WalkAway social media campaign encouraging voters to leave the Democratic Party, has been arrested in connection with the assault on the U.S. Capitol this month.
Straka was arrested Monday in Nebraska, where he grew up, and was charged with impeding law enforcement officers during civil disorder, knowingly entering restricted grounds and engaging in disorderly conduct with intent to disturb a hearing before Congress, NBC New York reported.
Straka, 44, who describes himself as a "former liberal," was a scheduled speaker at a Jan. 5 "Stop the Steal" rally at Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. The FBI received multiple tips about his presence at the deadly siege the next day, according to a federal affidavit, including a tip from a woman who claimed to be a relative of Straka's.
Special Agent Jeremy Desor detailed a series of tweets and videos Straka made during and after the attack. They have since been deleted.
In one tweet, he called on "patriots at the Capitol" to "hold the line!" according to the affidavit.
The affidavit says a video posted to YouTube by a witness shows Straka at the Capitol doors saying: "We're going in. They're saying we're going in. We're going in."
At one point, the crowd was challenged by a Capitol Police officer with a shield. Straka told them, "Take it away from him," according to the affidavit.
The clip ends with Straka at the top of the stairs, the document says.
"I was quite close to entering myself as police began tear gassing us from the door," reads a screenshot of a tweet the FBI said it received. "I inhaled tear gas & got it in my eyes. Patriots began exiting shortly after saying Congress had been cleared."
Straka is alleged to have tweeted after the assault that he was "confused'' by conservatives who disavowed the rioters.
"For 6-8 weeks everybody on the right has been saying '1776!' & that if congress moves forward it will mean a revolution! So congress moves forward," he wrote, according to the complaint. "Patriots storm the Capitol – now everybody is virtual signaling their embarrassment that this happened.
"Perhaps I missed the part where it was agreed this would be a revolution of ice cream cones & hair-braiding parties to take our government back from lying, cheating globally interested swamp parasites," he added. "My bad."
Straka also dismissed conspiracy theories that the protesters were antifa, or anti-fascist, activists in disguise, according to the complaint.
"Be embarrassed & hide if you need to- but I was there. It was not Antifa at the Capitol. It was freedom loving Patriots who were DESPERATE to fight for the final hope of our Republic because literally nobody cares about them. Everyone else can denounce them. I will not," he wrote on Twitter, according to the complaint.
At least 150 people have been charged in connection with the attack.
Straka, who has made his Twitter account private, did not respond to a request for comment.
Straka, a former hairdresser and aspiring actor, became a right-wing social media star in 2018, when he launched a YouTube video explaining why he decided to "walk away" from the Democratic Party, using #WalkAway as the tagline for his incipient movement.
"Once upon a time, I was a liberal," Straka says in the six-minute clip. "For years now, I have watched as the left has devolved into intolerant, inflexible, illogical, hateful, misguided, ill-informed, un-American, hypocritical, menacing, callous, ignorant, narrow-minded and, at times, blatantly fascistic behavior and rhetoric."
The video, which was watched millions of times, earned Straka follows on Twitter from Sarah Palin and Donald Trump Jr., as well as a $10,000 donation from Alex Jones of Infowars and an invitation to appear on Fox News' "Ingraham Angle." The Alliance for Securing Democracy, which tracks Russian interference in U.S. elections, alleges that #WalkAway's success was the result of Russian bots.
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Last year, Straka's campaign held rallies in Dallas, West Hollywood, California, and Washington, D.C. In June, Straka was banned from American Airlines after he refused to wear a mask on a flight from New York to Dallas.
The day of President Joe Biden's inauguration, Straka acknowledged his followers' sadness in a Facebook Live video but said he was "excited about our future."
"I just feel that there is so much to be excited about. It's such an era of great reformation that's just beginning," he told viewers, adding that there was now "an opportunity now for us to wake people up [and] connect with people."
"I don't believe the rallies are going to stop," he said in the clip. "I don't believe our families or communities are going to stop."