WASHINGTON — A Jan. 6 defendant who had two guns and 400 rounds of ammunition in his van when he was arrested near former President Barack Obama's home last week may be released before trial unless prosecutors bring more serious charges against him in the next week, a federal magistrate judge indicated Thursday.
Taylor Taranto, who has admitted he was in the Capitol on Jan. 6, is currently facing four misdemeanor counts in connection with the Capitol attack. U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui said Thursday he was concerned by Taranto's behavior, but could only consider whether Taranto was a flight risk in determining whether to hold him pretrial because he is only facing misdemeanor offenses unrelated to his recent conduct and threats he posted online.
“The charges here don’t reflect the conduct,” Faruqui said at a prior hearing Wednesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Ethen had urged Faruqui on Wednesday to detain Taranto, citing his “erratic” and “threatening” statements he’s made in recent videos and livestreams.
Ethen said that Taranto poses a threat to certain current and former government officials as well as the public at large, citing an incident last month in which Taranto livestreamed himself entering an elementary school near the home of Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., where he projected a movie about Jan. 6 on the wall. In the video, cited by prosecutors, Taranto said multiple times that he knew Raskin lived nearby, adding, "I didn’t tell anyone where he lives 'cause I want him all to myself."
Prosecutors said Thursday they intended to file additional charges against Taranto but did not specify the charges. Pretrial services plans to interview members of Taranto’s family about whether they would be suitable custodians if he were released.
The next hearing is scheduled for July 12, when Faruqui is expected to issue his ruling on whether to detain Taranto.
Taranto was first identified by online sleuths in August 2021 after a facial recognition hit turned up images of him posing with a cardboard cutout of former President Donald Trump. Taranto has been living out of a van that has been parked outside the Washington, D.C., jail and last month showed up to the sentencing of David Walls-Kaufman, another Jan. 6 defendant. Walls-Kaufman and Taranto are co-defendants in a civil suit filed by the widow of Jeffrey Smith, a Metropolitan Police Department officer who died by suicide after the Jan. 6 attack. The suit accuses both men of playing a role in Smith’s death, which they have denied.
Law enforcement officials said they found the weapons and ammunition inside of Taranto's van when they arrested him near Obama's home on June 29. Taranto, who has cited numerous online conspiracy theories in social media posts and videos, showed up near the Obama residence after Trump posted on his social media platform a screenshot that included a purported address for Obama's home.
"We got these losers surrounded! See you in hell, Podesta’s and Obama’s," Taranto wrote, reposting Trump.
Federal authorities said Taranto livestreamed a video last month in which he said he was headed to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and that he intended to blow up his vehicle.
Kathryn Guevara, a federal public defender representing Taranto, said that Taranto was not receiving mental health treatment or medications in the Washington, D.C., jail where he is being held, a situation that Faruqui said he would seek to remedy, calling it "completely unacceptable."
Taranto's lawyer said she believed her client was being treated differently from other misdemeanor Jan. 6 defendants.
“I do believe my client is being treated differently by the government in this case,” Guevara said, noting that the vast majority, if not all, of the Jan. 6 defendants who have been charged with the same four misdemeanor counts were released from pretrial detention.
In the 22 months between Taranto's identification and his arrest, he posted multiple times wondering why he hadn't been arrested. During a trip to Washington, D.C., last year, Taranto posted a video of himself as he walked the grounds of the Capitol and shook the hand of a Capitol Police officer.
“Still waiting for this show to get on the road…Where’s Merrick?” Taranto posted in February 2023, according to the Justice Department. “Look, Mom! I’m an insurrectionist now and on TV!”
Taranto, during a recent interview on YouTube, also "endorsed a conspiracy theory that [Ashli] Babbitt’s death was a hoax and that the first responders and people in the crowd around her were actors," federal prosecutors said.
Authorities said they also found a machete in Taranto's van. Law enforcement records say Taranto has 20 guns registered under his name and that law enforcement had neither custody nor knowledge of the whereabouts of his 18 other weapons.
Federal prosecutors said they also found the "Make Space Great Again" hat that Taranto wore to the Capitol on Jan. 6 inside his van.
Taranto, prosecutors said, "appears to express delusional beliefs which are inconsistent with reality." They said he appeared to have "little regard for the law" and that it was "difficult to imagine" he'd be capable of complying with release conditions.