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Chicago man charged with firing gun during Jan. 6 Capitol riot

A Chicago-area man has been arrested on charges accusing him of firing a pistol into the air twice amid the crowd on the Capitol’s west plaza on Jan. 6, 2021, and a judge ordered him held in jail until his arraignment in Washington.

John E. Banuelos, 39, adds to the list of Donald Trump followers who are alleged to have brought firearms to the Capitol that day. Though some Trump supporters have claimed the insurrection was peaceful, eight men have been convicted of possessing guns at or near the Capitol on Jan. 6, and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent who prosecutors say posed for photos flashing his badge and a pistol is awaiting trial.

Banuelos, who authorities said lived in his mother’s basement in Summit, Ill., just west of Chicago, was identified to the FBI in February 2021 after a longtime acquaintance saw his photo on a federal website of unidentified Jan. 6 participants, according to the affidavit for his arrest warrant. But he was still at large in July 2021 when he stabbed a man to death in Salt Lake City.

The stabbing was ruled self-defense, but Banuelos allegedly told police investigating the killing that he went inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“I was in the D.C. riots,” he told the investigators, according to a police transcript obtained by NBC News. “I’m the one in the video with the gun right here.”

Banuelos was then arrested for a 2019 assault warrant in Utah and sentenced to six months in jail. Prior to his sentencing, prosecutors said that Banuelos was accused of committing two domestic assaults in August and September of 2021, and he has warrants pending in Utah for failing to appear in court on those charges. Banuelos’s criminal history includes 19 arrests and five convictions, according to the government.

Still, the FBI did not arrest Banuelos on Jan. 6 charges until video emerged last month allegedly showing him climbing the inauguration scaffolding on the west plaza, taking a pistol out of his waistband and firing two shots into the air, then climbing back down. The FBI began surveillance of him, prosecutors said in a memo arguing for his detention. In a search last Friday, the memo said, investigators found a starter pistol in his mother’s home, which does not appear to be the gun fired on Jan. 6 but still qualifies as a firearm under federal law.

Banuelos can be seen on video near the Trump “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6, then outside the Capitol where he allegedly joined in multiple skirmishes with police officers as rioters attempted to push their way into the building, before climbing the scaffolding and firing into the air, the arrest affidavit states.

“This conduct is mind-numbingly dangerous,” Assistant U.S. Attorney LeighAnn M. Thomas argued in a brief seeking Banuelos’s detention. “The threat of an active shooter at the Capitol on January 6 could have triggered a lethal response from law enforcement or a stampede of other rioters.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Beth W. Jantz in Illinois on Wednesday ordered Banuelos held in jail until he is transported to Washington. The judge scheduled a preliminary hearing for Monday in Chicago, though defendants often waive those until they arrive in the District. No date is set for Banuelos’s first appearance in Washington.

Banuelos’s public defender, Seema Ahmad, did not return a request for comment Thursday.

Almost 1,300 people have now been arrested on Jan. 6 charges, with the FBI continuing to pick up defendants three years after the riot. Those convicted of bringing a gun to the Capitol that day include Guy Reffitt of Texas, convicted of carrying a .40-caliber pistol at the insurrection’s front lines, Mark A. Mazza of Indiana, who lost his .45-caliber revolver while fighting with police, and Jerod T. Bargar of Missouri, who carried a loaded 9mm pistol into the Capitol.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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