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Ex-Air Force enlistee jailed after pleading guilty to 'outrageous' conduct on Jan. 6

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said he didn't understand how people like Aiden Bilyard were "gullible enough" to fall for Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election.
Aiden Bilyard at the capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6
Aiden Bilyard at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.FBI

WASHINGTON — A federal judge ordered a Jan. 6 rioter to be jailed Thursday after he admitted to assaulting officers with chemical spray and breaking out a window at the Capitol, with the judge calling the defendant's conduct "outrageous."

The judge declined to make an exception to a law that requires those who plead guilty to violent felonies to be detained between their plea and their sentencing.

"You make your bed, you gotta lie in it," U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton said before ordering the man detained.

Aiden Bilyard, a 20-year-old from North Carolina, pleaded guilty to a felony count of assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a deadly or dangerous weapon. As part of his plea, he admitted that he used chemical spray on officers at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and helped force them to retreat. He also admitted he used a baseball bat to smash in a window on the western side of the Capitol — near the western tunnel, where much of the most brutal violence took place — and entered the Capitol building through that window.

Aiden Bilyard at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Aiden Bilyard in the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6, 2021. / FBI

"I plead guilty," Bilyard told the judge.

After he attacked officers and smashed the window on Jan. 6, Bilyard reported to Air Force basic training. He was at basic training when he was first interviewed by the FBI in August 2021.

Bilyard's mother, whose Facebook posts helped online sleuths confirm his identity, was in the courtroom on Thursday, where she was the only person in the courtroom gallery for much of the hearing besides a reporter. She appeared to grow emotional when it became clear Bilyard would be detained until his sentencing on Feb. 2, 2023.

Walton said he didn't understand how someone like Bilyard could be "gullible enough" to believe Donald Trump's lies about the 2020 election. The judge said he had not hidden his own perspective on what happened on Jan. 6, and worried the riot was a precursor to a future attack on a fragile democracy.

Democracies are in danger when leaders are willing to mislead the public about elections and have enough people willing to act on that, Walton said. What happened on Jan. 6 was "chilling" and showed that "people are willing to follow the lead of someone" who was making claims "based upon a lie that was based upon nothing of substance," he said.

"What happens the next time?" Walton said, adding that he couldn't understand the "mindset" of someone who would fall for election lies. "18 is old enough to know right from wrong."

Walton said that Bilyard, as an American, had the right to protest "even if that protest doesn't make sense" because it was not moored to reality, but that he should have known to pull away from the rioters and not become a "moving force" in the mob that drove officers into retreat.

"Marshal, you may take him into custody," Walton told the U.S. Marshal, who soon instructed Bilyard to leave his belt, tie, phone, and wallet behind and led him into the courtroom lockup.

More than 870 defendants have been arrested in the Jan. 6 attack investigation, and more than 350 have pleaded guilty. The FBI has the names of hundreds more Jan. 6 participants who have not yet been arrested.