Protesters who broke into the US Capitol last week could face severe penalties if convicted on federal charges. Credit: AFP.

Trump may have called them patriots, but the Justice Department and the FBI are taking a much dimmer view of the rioters who broke into the US Capitol last week.

Acting US Attorney Michael Sherwin and FBI Washington Field Office Assistant Director in Charge Steven D’Antuono announced Tuesday that nearly 160 cases have now been opened up and federal charges brought so far against dozens of defendants are “only the beginning,” Military.com reported.

“We’re looking at significant felony cases tied to sedition and conspiracy,” Sherwin said during a news conference. Some of the felonies the Justice Department is considering have prison terms of up to 20 years, he added.

They said the cases that US authorities are investigating include the plundering of congressional offices and digital devices, assaults on law enforcement officers, and theft of national security and defense information, in addition to felony murder and excessive use of force.

“The gamut of cases is mind-blowing,” Sherwin said.

Citing video footage and witness accounts that have not been made public, Sherwin added: “People are going to be shocked with egregious activity in the Capitol. No resources of the FBI or the US attorney’s office will be untapped to determine if there was command and control, how it operated and how it executed these activities.”

The misdemeanor charges that currently apply to “the zip-tie guys … ‘the Brocks’ that were arrested” will likely be elevated over the next few months as part of the extensive investigation, which will probably take years, he said.

Sherwin was referring to Larry Rendall Brock Jr., an Air Force veteran seen brandishing zip-tie handcuffs in the Senate chamber, Military.com reported.

Brock was arrested Sunday in Texas and charged with knowingly entering a restricted building without lawful authority, along with one count of “violent entry and disorderly conduct,” according to the DOJ.

He retired from the Air Force Reserve in 2014 as a lieutenant colonel, the service has said. While he faces civilian charges, he is unlikely to be recalled to go through the military justice system, Millitary.com reported.

But should the charges against Brock be elevated to sedition or certain other serious offenses and he is convicted, he would be subject to the Hiss Act.

While the provision applies mostly to lawmakers, it strips pensions or pay from federal and former federal employees convicted of some offenses, Military.com reported.

As someone who is presumably collecting military pay and benefits, the Hiss Act would apply to Brock under those circumstances, said Gary Solis, who served as a Marine judge advocate general and taught military law at West Point and Georgetown University.

“They’ve already got that train in motion,” Solis said, referring to the DOJ handling the case instead of turning it over to the military.

“The chances that the military would want to step in, and the chances that the government would allow them to step in, are slim to none,” Solis said.

The FBI has sought assistance from the general public in identifying individuals involved in instigating the violence and has requested witnesses to share pictures, photos and videos on its website. 

Rioters with felony charges like unlawfully and violently entering the House floor could face five years of prison, said Stanford University law professor David Sklansky.

Assaulting a federal officer with a weapon could mean 20 years of incarceration, particularly if the officer was injured, he added.

Following the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd last year, President Trump signed an executive order targeting BLM protesters that called for up to 10 years’ imprisonment for vandalism or destruction of “historical monuments, statues, and memorials.”

But because the Capitol siege seemed to be intended to interfere with Electoral College vote counting, the prison sentence could rise to 20 years, Sklansky explained.

The most unsettling of the allegations so far appear to be those against Lonnie Coffman, an Alabama man charged after authorities found 11 homemade bombs, an assault rifle and a handgun in his truck parked two blocks from the Capitol.

The truck had sat there all morning during the pro-Trump rally, and Coffman was arrested as he tried to return to the vehicle after dusk.

Coffman allegedly formulated the incendiary devices to be particularly lethal, prosecutors asserted, and “appears to have been motivated to conduct violence against our elected representatives.”

Coffman is accused of carrying 11 Mason jars with gasoline and melted Styrofoam — which an FBI affidavit said could produce a “napalm-like” explosion of sticky, flammable liquid.

In another startling complaint, Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. is accused of writing in text messages that he wanted to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and that he had brought hundreds of rounds of ammunition and three guns to Washington, DC, having driven from Colorado, according to court records.

One of the federal defendants so far, so-called QAnon shaman Jacob Chansley — who wore into the Capitol no shirt, a bearskin headdress, face paint and horns and was captured in many images of the crowd — has already told the FBI he came to Washington “as a part of a group effort, with other ‘patriots’ from Arizona, at the request of the President that all ‘patriots’ come to D.C. on January 6, 2021.”

Meanwhile, the acting head of the Justice Department issued his first on-camera statement early Wednesday since the riot at the Capitol last week that left five people dead, lawmakers terrorized and congressional offices ransacked.

In a three-and-a-half minute video posted on YouTube, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen warned anyone seeking to disrupt the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden that authorities will take swift action in response.

“I want to send a clear message to anyone contemplating violence, threats of violence or other criminal conduct: We will have no tolerance whatsoever for any attempts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20 that our Constitution calls for,” Rosen said.

“We will have no tolerance for any attempts to forcefully occupy government buildings. There will be no excuse for violence, vandalism or any other form of lawlessness.”

Sources: Military.com, The Independent, Fortune, CNN, Washington Post, US Department of Justice, Politico.com