The Ohio man accused of plotting an attack on the U.S. Capitol became interested in "anarchy" during high school and made "radical" comments about the government, a former schoolmate told NBC News.
Christopher Lee Cornell, 20, of Green Township, near Cincinnati, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of planning to attack the seat of Congress with pipe bombs and automatic rifles. The FBI said he was working with an informer and was never in a position to carry out his plan.
Cornell began to change during his senior year, according to former schoolmate Jake Flick. "He would say the weirdest stuff about the government," Flick told NBC News late Wednesday. "The radical s*** he would say was kind of outrageous."
Flick said while "everyone is weird in their own way" Cornell's views seemed particularly extreme, describing how his friend was very interested in "anarchy."
Flick, 22, went to Oak Hills High School in Cincinnati with Cornell. Before that, the pair were on the eighth-grade wrestling team in Bridgetown Middle School in 2008. “We would say, 'hi' to each other, we didn't hang out all the time but we were on a first-name basis,” said Flick, who lives in Cincinnati.
He said Cornell used to be "just your average kid." While mostly shy he would occasionally crack jokes when he felt comfortable, Flick said. "He was the best wrestler on the team."
However, Flick said Cornell later became a "loner."
Cornell was arrested after he bought two M-15 semi-automatic rifles and about 600 rounds of ammunition as the undercover operative watched, according to an FBI affidavit. Officials said Cornell never bought any components for pipe bombs. "There was never a danger to the public," an official told NBC News.
A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Jan. 22 in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on charges of the attempted killing of a U.S. government officer and possession of a firearm in furtherance of an attempted crime of violence.
Cornell's father, John Cornell, said the family was blindsided by the arrest. "He never showed any signs of violence or anything," John Cornell said.
NBC News' Alexander Smith contributed to this report.