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Digging in: Reporters discuss Kentuckians arrested for Jan. 6 Capitol attack

A man holding a baton in a crowd of Jan. 6 rioters.
Banned.video
Patrick Schwartz holds a baton and looks at a camera as a sea of rioters descends on the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6, 2021.

Reporters Jared Bennett and Morgan Watkins dug into court records to see what became of the Kentuckians arrested for their actions at the January 6, 2021 riots in Washington D.C.

When a mob besieged the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 in an attempt to stop Joe Biden from becoming president, there were Kentuckians in the crowd.

The failed insurrection sparked a sprawling federal investigation that has so far led to more than 1,200 arrests and 450 prison sentences.

At least 25 of the people arrested, to date, are from Kentucky.

KyCIR’s Jared Bennett and Morgan Watkins with LPM dug into the court records to learn more about what Kentuckians did on Jan. 6, their criminal charges and where their cases stand.

Their reporting comes in the wake of a push from state Republicans to defend the Jan. 6 rioters.

Click the player above to hear Bennett and Watkins discuss their findings, which they published in a report earlier this week.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity:

Morgan Watkins: The language passed by the Kentucky Republican Party’s governing board was first introduced by state Senator Lindsey Tichenor of Smithfield. She introduced a version in the Kentucky General Assembly.

She says the resolution does not discount the violence on January 6th. It does say a lot of people were exercising their constitutional rights and claims many were mistreated by the legal system for their actions that day.

We asked Tichenor for specific examples of people whose due process has been violated. She only pointed to one case, a New Yorker charged with assaulting several Capitol police officers. He’s in jail, awaiting trial.

She didn’t give us any specific examples from Kentucky, but encouraged us to look into the cases on our own. We did that. Jared, what did you find?

Jared Bennett: I searched through federal court records and found 25 cases involving people from Kentucky. Eight of those people are still awaiting trial. Nine were charged with several crimes but reached a plea deal for lesser charges. A few were sentenced to lengthy prison terms.

MW: The cases from Kentucky are part of a massive federal investigation that has led to the arrest of over 1,200 people and prison sentences for more than 450.

Experts told me there's really no evidence that people arrested after Jan. 6th are being denied their right to due process by the legal system. And they said prosecutors charged a lot of people only with misdemeanor-level offenses. But they did pursue felony charges for people, like Peter Schwartz, from Kentucky.

JB: Schwartz is from Owensboro. On January 6 he was filmed throwing a folding chair, grappling with capitol police officers and spraying them in the face with pepper spray.

Schwartz was sentenced to 14 years in prison for assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon, the longest sentence for anyone from Kentucky.

At least three other Kentuckians were charged with assaulting law enforcement officers.

MW: Tichenor said she didn't feel the need to address the violence of the January 6th riot in her new resolution because the legislature already passed a measure condemning it last year.

But the experts I talked to said resolutions like hers can dangerously downplay the events of Jan. 6. And when public officials support the perpetrators, it can embolden the next group of people who want to do political violence.

And experts say far-right extremism is still a threat. We found several Jan. 6th defendants from Kentucky had ties to extremist groups.

JB: That's right. One person charged claimed to be part of a group called the Gray Ghost Militia. Another traveled to D.C. as part of the Three Percenters, the militia group whose members hung an effigy of Gov. Andy Beshear back in 2020.

Court records show members of the Oathkeepers, a national extremist militia, talked about using land in the mountains of Kentucky as a hideout following the Jan. 6th attack. There — they planned to hide in the forests and dig tunnels in the hills to launch guerilla style attacks.

The FBI told us they took the issue seriously and have several agents working the case in Kentucky.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.