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Former Virginia policeman charged in Capitol riot to stay in jail after buying guns

A federal judge called his purchases "a remarkable shopping spree for high-powered assault weapons."

A former police officer in Virginia accused of entering the Capitol on Jan. 6 has been ordered to stay in jail after buying nearly three dozen guns online, which a federal judge called "a remarkable shopping spree for high-powered assault weapons."

Thomas Robertson was a Rocky Mount, Virginia, police sergeant on the day of the Capitol riot. He was initially charged with misdemeanor violations amounting to trespass but was later charged with a felony. He was released on bail and ordered not to violate any federal laws. The police department fired him.

Robertson pleaded not guilty, and as a condition of his release he was ordered not to violate federal gun laws. But he was arrested earlier this month after the FBI said agents discovered last month that he ordered 34 firearms online to be shipped to a Roanoke gun dealer.

Prosecutors said agents also found a partly assembled pipe bomb in their search of his home, which the FBI lab concluded could be used to make a functioning device. It did not contain any explosive material, but agents said they found several cans of gunpowder nearby.

Image: Jacob Fracker Thomas Robertson
Virginia National Guard Cpl. Jacob Fracker, left, and former Virginia police officer Thomas Robertson inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.U.S. Justice Department

Robertson's lawyer said the firearms were mostly World War II era weapons which he bought because he has an interest in antique guns. And he said the pipe bomb components were for a prop or dud device that Robertson previously had used to teach students in a law enforcement safety class when he was a police officer.

His lawyer also argued that Robertson never took possession of the guns he bought online, so he didn't violate the law forbidding people charged with felonies to have guns.

A partially assembled pipe bomb
Agents also found a partly assembled pipe bomb, which Robertson's attorney said were components for a prop or dud device used to teach students in a law enforcement safety class.FBI

But U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper said Wednesday that the law also makes it a crime for someone charged with a felony to ship firearms. Previous court decisions have established that a person who causes a gun to be shipped is as legally responsible as someone who does the actual shipping.

Cooper also noted that since the arrest, Robertson "has expressed pride in his role" in the Capitol riot and "enthusiasm for the prospect of future political violence in comments posted online.

"The undisputed facts demonstrate a concrete risk that Robertson might participate in or provide material support to acts of ideologically motivated violence if released at this time," Cooper said.

The judge reached no conclusion about whether the pipe bomb components also violated the conditions of Robertson's bail.