90 Seconds of Rage on the Capitol Steps

90 Seconds of Rage on the Capitol Steps

The American flag became a blunt instrument in the bearded man’s hands. Wielding the flagpole like an ax, he swung once, twice, three times, to beat a police officer being dragged down the steps of a United States Capitol under siege.

Other officers also fell under mob attack, while the rest fought to keep the hordes from storming the Capitol and upending the routine transfer of power. Sprayed chemicals choked the air, projectiles flew overhead and the unbridled roars formed a battle-cry din — all as a woman lay dying beneath the jostling scrum of the Jan. 6 riot.

Amid the hand-to-hand combat, seven men from seven different states stood out. Although strangers to one another, they worked as if in concert while grappling with the phalanx of police officers barring entry to the Capitol.

The moment was a flicker in the chaotic panorama, a 90-second flash of unhinged violence overshadowed by the high drama inside, where rioters menaced in packs, legislators hid in fear and a protester was shot to death.

Now, nine months removed from the mayhem, Republicans bound to former President Donald J. Trump’s unfounded assertion that the 2020 election was stolen from him have all but wished the day away: blocking the creation of a bipartisan investigative commission; blaming antifa, or Democrats, or the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and minimizing the overwhelming video evidence.

Even so, a reckoning is underway, as prosecutors and congressional investigators seek to understand how a political rally devolved into an assault on the citadel of American democracy and those who guard it. They are drilling down on whether the riot was organized and what roles were played by far-right extremist groups, various Trump supporters and Mr. Trump himself.

But it may also help to slow down the video evidence, linger on those 90 seconds on the Capitol steps and trace back the roots of the violence and its perpetrators. Doing so provides a close-up view of how seemingly average citizens — duped by a political lie, goaded by their leaders and swept up in a frenzied throng — can unite in breathtaking acts of brutality.

Nearly a quarter of the more than 600 people arrested in connection with the riot have been charged with assaulting or impeding police officers. But only a handful of that subset have any ties to extremist provocateurs like the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys. The most violent on Jan. 6, it seems, were the most ordinary — a slice of the Trump faithful.

They largely represent a group certain to have powerful sway in the nation’s tortured politics to come: whiter, slightly older and less likely than the general voting population to live in a city or be college-educated. Recent studies indicate that they come from places where people tend to fear the replacement of their ethnic and cultural dominance by immigrants, and adhere to the false belief that the 2020 election was stolen.

This description generally fits the seven men, now bound together by federal prosecutors as co-defendants in an indictment charging them with myriad felonies. To a man, they are described in superlatives by relatives and friends: perfect neighbor, devout churchgoer, attentive father, good guy. They include:

1 The bearded truck driver from Arkansas who weaponized Old Glory. 2 A heavy-machine operator from Michigan who once modeled for the covers of romance novels. 3 A fencing contractor from Georgia. 4 A geophysicist from Colorado. 5 A former Marine from Pennsylvania. 6 A deputy sheriff from Tennessee.

7 And a self-made businessman from Kentucky named Clayton Ray Mullins, 52, described as a well-intentioned person devoted to keeping his small country church afloat. He does not drink, smoke, curse or bother with social media, and prefers old westerns to the news.

Seven Suspects

1 Peter Stager

2 Logan Barnhart

3 Jack Wade Whitton

4 Jeffrey Sabol

5 Michael Lopatic

6 Ronald McAbee

7 Clayton Ray Mullins

On the first Sunday of 2021, Mr. Mullins arrived at the church before anyone else, as always, and made sure everything was just so — down to placing a water glass at the pulpit for the morning’s preacher. The next day, Jan. 4, he began the two-day drive with his wife and a sister to a place he’d never been: Washington.

They say they thought this might be their last chance to experience a Trump rally. They say they had no intention of rioting or trespassing to keep Mr. Trump in office.

Even if this were true, why did Mr. Mullins join the mob overrunning the Capitol grounds? Why was he standing so close to the violent standoff with the police? Why did he pull on the leg of a downed officer under attack?

Sitting recently in his empty church, so far from Washington, Mr. Mullins began to weep, as the question hung heavy over him, his family, his community, this country.


Joseph Rushmore

‘We Need Patriots!’

The thing is, Mr. Mullins almost hadn’t gone to Washington.

The hastily planned trip had depended on whether his wife, Nancy, could get time off from her job as a physical therapist. Once she got permission, the Mullinses and one of his sisters, Tena Mullins Sisson, rented a Honda Accord and headed out.

“I told Clayton it was something to see,” Nancy Mullins said of Washington. “Plus you get to see Trump.”

In his western Kentucky community, Mr. Mullins is not known as a political activist or even a man of strong opinion, other than that Jesus Christ is his lord and savior.

He grew up in Wingo, a town of 800 just outside Mayfield, the Graves County seat, which features several religious-goods stores and no saloons. After high school, he roped cattle and dabbled in auctioneering before opening Mullins Machinery, a salvage business that operates from a lot cluttered with rusted heavy equipment.

He would bid on distressed machinery at auctions throughout the South, traveling in the Nissan Frontier truck that he bought, used, nearly 20 years ago. It has since clocked more than 1.4 million miles.

Mr. Mullins and his wife, whom he met in the seventh grade, live beside a lake about 30 miles north of Wingo. But he spends a lot of time in his hometown, drawn to the steepled cornerstone of his life, the Little Obion Baptist Church, which has 12 pews and a history going back 175 years.

There is no longer a permanent pastor, though, and the full-immersion baptistery has fallen out of use. Mr. Mullins is the treasurer, handyman and quiet benefactor who finds the preachers for sparsely attended Sunday services.

“He’s been the burden-carrier of that church for years,” honoring a promise to his dying mother “to keep it going,” said Richard Heatherly, one of its former pastors.

Mr. Mullins has no social media presence and is relatively new to text messaging. He watches little more than reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Gunsmoke,” while his wife prefers programs about home decorating.

Where, then, does he get his news? “Word of mouth,” Mr. Mullins said. “People listening to different stations.”

But many in his circle are active on social media, including Ms. Sisson, the sister who accompanied him to Washington. This year her Facebook postings of biblical quotations and makeup tutorials have been sprinkled with criticisms of mask mandates, Covid vaccinations, gun-control initiatives and other familiar Republican targets.

Among the images she has reposted: One of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez superimposed between President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, in the limousine in which he was assassinated in 1963. The caption mocks Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s recollection that she feared for her life during the Jan. 6 riot.

On Monday, Jan. 4, the three Trump supporters from Kentucky drove more than 400 miles before stopping in southwestern Virginia. The next day they drove 360 miles more, parking on Constitution Avenue in time to do some sightseeing and catch the end of a “Stop the Steal” rally, where a tag team of speakers warned of a country on the precipice — of a fight being waged between good and evil, the godly and the godless.

Once the evening’s battle cries ended, the trio returned to Constitution Avenue to find that their rental car, with all their luggage, had been towed.

Late the next morning, Jan. 6, they made their way to the Ellipse, a sprawling park just south of the White House, for the “Save America March.” The rally’s purpose: to sound the alarm that in a few hours, Congress would certify what the president had proclaimed a fraudulent election — another step in the transition of government to culminate on Inauguration Day, two weeks away.

The speakers did their best to flatter, coax and enrage the gathered thousands into action. “The greatest group of patriots ever put together,” Mr. Trump’s middle son, Eric, declared, while his eldest, Donald Jr., warned that Trump supporters would be “coming for” any Republican legislator who voted for certification.

It was noon by the time the president took his place before the bank of American flags arrayed onstage. Standing behind a protective shield in a dark overcoat and black gloves, Mr. Trump exhorted his loyalists to march to the Capitol and somehow stop Congress from certifying the election. He said they would never take back their country with weakness, they had to show strength — and as they marched, “I’ll be there with you.”

In spirit only. After dispatching his followers, Mr. Trump and his family, who had been watching the rally on television in the celebratory atmosphere of a nearby tent, vanished from view.

The Mullinses were so far from the stage during Mr. Trump’s long speech that they heard more echoes than words. “I think he said we were going to march,” Ms. Mullins recalled.

They joined the human river of frustration flowing the two miles east to the Capitol — a Trump rally on the move, its angry stop-the-steal chants heating the cool air. As they walked, many passed the figures carved into the white marble of a Civil War memorial known as the Peace Monument, including one named History and another named Grief.

The river pooled outside the security barriers surrounding the Capitol, forming furious eddies of resistance, brimming with Trump red and camo green. The shouts of “Our House” grew louder, the rage directed at the outnumbered police officers more profane — until, finally, the dams broke.

Shortly before 1 p.m., protesters breached the barricades on the Capitol’s west side to pour by the hundreds onto the manicured grounds, past the commemorative trees and Olmsted-designed lanterns. Amid the flapping flags and throaty chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” people were urging marchers to climb over the barriers. “We need patriots!” Ms. Mullins remembered someone shouting into a megaphone. “We need men!”

Mr. Mullins would later say that while he supported Mr. Trump’s re-election — he liked the president’s approach to business — he had also accepted the election results. “No one man has the power,” he would say. “You’re not supposed to put one man up on a pedestal and think he’s going to bring peace to the world.”

Still, he left his wife and sister behind and joined the trespassing throng.

Upside-Down Republic

Glass shattered, and a dark-clothed man climbed over the shards of a broken window and leapt down like a cat burglar to the polished floor. The moment, at about 2:13 in the afternoon, marked the first sustained breach of the Capitol since a fiery attack by the British in 1814 — only this time, the attackers were American.

Other insurrectionists followed, including one wielding a bat and another holding a Confederate flag. A locked door was kicked open, other windows were smashed and the rioters rushed in.

What ensued in the Capitol’s hallowed halls and chambers over the next two hours has been seared in the national consciousness: the hostility and fear, the valor and violence — the shocking but ultimately failed attempt to derail the republic’s democratic process in the name of Donald J. Trump, who had closed his incendiary speech at the Ellipse with: “God bless you. And God bless America.”

But the startling scenes inside the Capitol tend to eclipse the medieval civil war that was waged just beyond its doors. In suffocating clouds of chemical irritants, Americans fought other Americans with fists and cudgels, with bear spray and hunks of broken wood, roaring in combat frenzy and spilling blood on the white steps of their country’s democratic center.

Adding to the sense of a republic turned upside down was that many of the rioters identified with the Republican Party, which has long prided itself on being the champion of law and order. But here they were, fighting police officers, the very defenders of law and order.

The rioters kept coming, a ragtag army in mismatched colors: the orange knit caps of the Proud Boys, the green camouflage jackets of men girding to fight antifa, the red-white-and-blue shirts and caps and flags espousing allegiance to Mr. Trump. Some walked with a jaw-jutting air; others ran, as if storming a beachfront.

Along the Capitol’s west side, knots of rioters pressed against the interlocking metal barricades, while police officers pushed back to hold the line. “Push forward, patriots!” one insurgent kept screaming. “Push forward!”

Pepper balls flew, flags rippled and flash bangs detonated in failed attempts to disperse the determined mob, as police radios crackled with battlefield updates:

Multiple officers injured at the Capitol, west side.”

Throughout, Clayton Ray Mullins was often in the frame, a Zelig among insurgents in black gloves and a gray winter coat, with a distinctive crop of thick brown hair.

Here he was, joining hundreds of others near the lower west terrace in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” off key. Here he was, at the front of a tense standoff between rioters and officers separated by barricades and differing understandings of patriotism, as a man in a Trump cap beside him sprayed the officers with an irritant, used his “Stop the Steal” sign to shield the blowback and melted back into the crowd.

Mr. Mullins winced as the chemical cloud hit his face. Still, he stayed on the scene.

By 2:45, he was near the fore of a roaring mob forcing police officers to backpedal on the terrace, their riot shields raised, their backs nearly to the wall. As scuffles broke out, someone near him was shouting: “Take their helmets! Take their face masks!”

By 3, Mr. Mullins was standing high up on the Capitol’s ascending stone balustrade, holding an American flag and taking in the sweeping view of the raucous gathering below. He wasn’t moving or chanting or even waving his flag. He was just standing, still as a sentry.

Joseph Rushmore

‘Go Forth and Fight’

Circulating in the milling crowd around Mr. Mullins were six strangers destined to become his co-defendants.

One was Peter Stager, 42, a burly truck driver whose long dark hair and full beard would distinguish him in any crowd. He had stopped to join the Trump rally on his way back from a delivery in New Jersey to take some photographs, his employer, Charlie Penrod, later testified. “And the other thing is, he was asked by the president to show support.”

Had Mr. Stager instead kept driving, he would have returned to the small Arkansas city of Conway. Back to his one-story brick house on a working-class street where residents, Black and white, knew him as an even-keeled father of two teenagers who went out of his way to help others.

A next-door neighbor, Karmesia Odonell, recalled that when her water heater broke down, Mr. Stager installed the new unit free of charge. “It’s a big job, and he just did it for us,” Ms. Odonell said.

Mr. Stager tended to talk a lot, but never about politics, as far as anyone could remember. “Not even once,” said his close friend Melvin Jemerson, who is not a Trump supporter.

“I’m not a politics person,” Mr. Jemerson said. “It is what it is. What can we do about it? We can just go to work every day and come home and take care of our families.

“I thought Pete was like that, too.”

Also trespassing on the Capitol grounds that wintry afternoon was Jack Wade Whitton, 31, carrying a military-style backpack and wearing a red-billed “Trump 2020” baseball cap over his thinning brown hair.

Mr. Whitton and his fiancée, Haley McLean, had come to Washington from Locust Grove, a small town about 35 miles south of Atlanta. He was well known in the local fitness community — a former CrossFit instructor good enough to earn a sponsorship with the Hurt Locker apparel company, whose T-shirts sport slogans like, “If You’re Afraid to Be Strong Then You Deserve to Be Weak.” He was also known for his passionate adherence to right-wing conspiracy theories.

“Were we surprised when we heard about what happened to him? Yes and no,” said Kirk Gibson, the owner of Smashletics, a gym in Locust Grove. While Mr. Whitton wasn’t a malicious person, he said, he might very well think it cool to “come back and go ‘Hoorah’ to his buddies — he was fighting for Trump.”

Several friends have sent glowing reference letters to the federal judge handling Mr. Whitton’s criminal case. But some of those friends were decidedly less politic when contacted by a reporter.

One of them, Alexander Shakkour, a commercial pilot, wrote that his friend was “a hard-working, charismatic and humble leader.” But in a recent phone conversation, after deriding a reporter for trying to “take down a real patriot,” he asked, “How’d you like to meet me in person?” — punctuating his taunt with an expletive.

When the reporter pointed out that he had tried to meet him in person by going to his front door, Mr. Shakkour called him another crude name and hung up.

A few years ago, Mr. Whitton branched out by starting his own fencing company, which was doing well by the start of 2021. When plans to visit family in Florida fell through, he and Ms. McLean instead flew to hear Mr. Trump speak for what they thought was probably their last opportunity.

They did not go to “stop the steal” or disrupt Congress, Ms. McLean recalled recently, as she stood outside their apartment, her arms folded, her eyes averted.

“Everything was fine,” she said. “Everything was great. It was a happy experience the entire day. And then — I don’t know.”

There at the Capitol, too, was Jeffrey Sabol, 51, wearing a crash helmet and carrying a backpack containing a two-way radio, an earpiece and a bundle of zip ties. He had traveled from the Colorado mountain town of Kittredge, where people knew him as a rugby-playing father of three who worked as a geophysicist, specializing in the removal of unexploded munitions at mines and other energy installations.

“His job is safety and protecting others,” his sister wrote to the judge handling his case.

While Mr. Sabol held strong conservative beliefs, one of his friends, a self-described liberal Democrat, wrote the judge that the geophysicist was one of the few people he could “have a conversation with about politics and it doesn’t get nasty.” But Mr. Sabol’s sister — whose name was redacted in court documents — described a troubling trajectory that began with his divorce in 2011 and worsened with the death of his older brother three years later.

“I believe at this point, Jeff lost his bearing and allowed himself to be led by others that steered him down a negative path,” she wrote.

He had come to Washington for what “he thought were good reasons at the time,” one of his lawyers later said. “The president of the United States of America was telling citizens, ‘Something evil has happened, and you all have to go fix it.’”

Others had answered this call. Ronald McAbee, 27, a sheriff’s deputy from Williamson County, Tenn., just south of Nashville, had been in a car accident days earlier. He had injured his hip and shoulder and been granted medical leave.

Despite these injuries, Mr. McAbee, described by those who know him as a good and upright man, had come prepared for action. He wore a red MAGA hat, reflective sunglasses and black gloves with metal knuckles, and his text messages with a friend suggested that they expected violence. Referring to the injuries from his accident, Mr. McAbee wrote, “I’ll slap a commie with this dead arm.”

And when Mr. Trump tweeted about the need for a strong turnout at the Jan. 6 rally, a Michigan man named Logan Barnhart tweeted in response: “I’ll be there.”

Now here he was, moving through the crowd in an American-flag hat, his extraordinary physique covered by a hooded sweatshirt bearing the logo of the Caterpillar construction equipment company. Mr. Barnhart, 40, a heavy-machine operator from a Lansing suburb, had trained as a bodybuilder and modeled bare-chested for the covers of books like “Stepbrother UnSEALed: A Bad Boy Military Romance.”

Among the actual veterans trespassing on Capitol grounds was Michael Lopatic, 57, from Pennsylvania. Six foot four, well over 200 pounds and sporting a scraggly gray beard, he announced his military affiliation with his red Marines cap and his political affiliation with a “Trump 2020” T-shirt that said, “PTSD: Pretty Tired of Stupid Democrats.”

Mr. Lopatic served in civil-war-torn Beirut in the early 1980s before taking part in the American invasion of Grenada, where he suffered injuries and hearing loss in a mortar explosion. He left the Marines on disability and, according to one of his lawyers, has not held a full-time job in years. But his military service has remained central to his identity, as one peculiar incident would attest.

While in line at a Chinese buffet in 2012, Mr. Lopatic helped himself to the crab legs — all of them — prompting an enraged man behind him to start a fistfight. Later, Mr. Lopatic told the doctors treating his injuries that he’d been jumped in an attempted robbery.

Confronted by this lie at his assailant’s criminal trial, Mr. Lopatic said: “Talk about a hit to your masculinity. I’m supposed to tell people I got beat up at a Chinese buffet over crab legs? I’m a former Marine. This isn’t supposed to happen to me.”

Mr. Lopatic and his Laotian-born wife, Chinh, have four children and live just outside downtown Lancaster. He is an active parishioner at Historic St. Mary’s Catholic church, ushering at Sunday Mass, volunteering with the meals-on-wheels program and joining the parish’s marriage-strengthening program, “I Still Do.” Another participant in the program, John Claus, later wrote, “Violence is simply not in this man’s nature that I have observed.”

Still, some of Mr. Lopatic’s friends said they noticed an unsettling embrace of conspiracy theories after the presidential election. “He got all twisted up,” said a friend who asked not to be identified. “He just spent too much time listening to lies. He really, really believed.”

A day after the election, Mr. Lopatic posted a photograph on Facebook of two bloodied pheasants he had killed. “Both head shots,” he wrote. “I got a rooster and a hen. I named them Joe and Kamala.”

Two days later, he posted photographs of two other shot pheasants. “I named this one Schumer,” he wrote of one, presumably referring to Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who would soon become Senate majority leader. “I called this old bird Nancy,” he wrote of the other, an apparent reference to the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

By New Year’s Day, Mr. Lopatic had committed to rallying in Washington on Jan. 6. He wrote, “UNITED WE STAND, GO FORTH AND FIGHT.”

Joseph Rushmore

War on the West Terrace

With dusk approaching, mayhem reigned. At its center was a fevered cluster of humanity on the Capitol’s west side, mustering its collective rage to batter through an arched portal that figures prominently on Inauguration Day every four years.

“Heave-ho!” they shouted, like sailors set to task.

In two weeks, Mr. Biden would emerge from this door to take the oath as president, in a ceremony meant to convey stability and continuity. Preparations were underway on the terrace of Massachusetts marble, with woodwork and scaffolding everywhere.

But rioters had been scaling that scaffolding as part of their offensive. Now they were using its metal bars, confiscated riot shields and anything else at hand to remove a blockade of officers straining to keep them from entering the building.

The insurgents managed to get just inside the archway, where a wall of sweat-stained riot shields was blocking them at the beeping metal-detector checkpoint. In the surreal half-light they kept pushing, pushing, moving like a body at war with itself.

“They’re getting tired!” someone shouted. “We got fresh fucking meat here! Push ’em back!”

Amid the spasmodic violence, the unthinkable became routine: the throwing of poles like spears at the police, a vandal working unimpeded to smash a Capitol window. And at the archway’s edge, a woman sprawled on the ground, unconscious.

This was Rosanne Boyland, 34, from Kennesaw, Ga., a passionate Trump supporter whose embrace of conspiracy theories had worried her family. It was as if these outlandish beliefs — including that top Democrats belonged to a global pedophile ring — had become a replacement addiction for Ms. Boyland, who had worked hard at sobriety after years of substance abuse.

She had come to Washington with a friend, Justin Winchell, who earlier in the day had taken a photograph of her in all her “Save America March” splendor: holding a large yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and wearing red-white-and-blue sunglasses. But now she was on the marble terrace, out, her friend kneeling beside her, pleading for help.

Mr. Mullins stood close by. He later said he was trying to stand over Ms. Boyland to protect her, with the undulating crush of people so strong that he temporarily lost his shoes.

Then Mr. Mullins either stepped away or was shoved, as the roiling crowd began another push. Some shouted a taunting appropriation of a Black Lives Matter chant, echoing the final words of Eric Garner, an unarmed Black man who died after being choked by a New York City police officer in 2014.

“I can’t breathe!” they yelled over the body of a woman slipping from life. “I can’t breathe!”

Metropolitan Police Department officers in protective gear were now positioned at the threshold. Among them were members of a specially trained Civil Disturbance Unit that included Officers Blake Miller, Carter Moore and Andrew Wayte, all with less than four years on the force. They had just arrived in response to an emergency call: officers in need of assistance.

By now Mr. Trump had issued a video by tweet, falsely asserting once again that the election was “fraudulent.” He told the rioters he loved them, then said, “I know how you feel, but go home — and go home in peace.”

They did not.

In an instant, at 4:27, the fraught scene exploded. A roar went up as insurgents and police officers fought hand to hand. Someone threw a riot shield; someone swung a hockey stick; someone stumbled away with his face awash in blood. In the middle of it all stood a man dressed as a red-white-and-blue bald eagle.

“U.S.A.!” the trespassers sang again. “U.S.A.!”

From the back of the crowd, a man in a “Trump 2020” cap raised a middle finger high and rushed up like a cornerback intent on a tackle. This was Jack Wade Whitton, the fencing contractor from Georgia. He and his six future co-defendants were all within yards of one another, all about to play their roles in the 90 seconds of brutality to come, as reflected in court documents, crowdsourced video and footage from officers’ body cameras.

From the officers’ perspective, the scene as framed by the archway was like a stained-glass window brought to violent life, with the reds and blues of Trump regalia coming toward them — and the majestic Washington Monument in the far distance. Now the menacing mob was upon them.

An unidentified rioter grabbed Officer Wayte by the face and knocked him to the ground. Jeffrey Sabol — the geophysicist from Colorado, wearing a green military-style helmet — then yanked a baton from the officer’s hand with such force that Sabol fell backward down the steps.

Mr. Whitton, meanwhile, began thrusting a metal crutch at those guarding the archway, targeting Officer Miller in particular. He climbed over a railing, kicked at the fallen Officer Wayte and wrestled with Officer Miller, pulling the man by his helmet and dragging him down face first. Several rioters helped him, including Logan Barnhart, the heavy-machine operator and body builder from Michigan.

Returning to the fray, Mr. Sabol held the stolen police baton against Officer Miller’s neck, then jerked the officer into the mob while punching him in the back.

Mr. Sabol would later claim that he was merely patting the officer and saying, “We got you, man.” He would also claim that he was a “patriot warrior,” answering a call to battle.

A few steps down stood Peter Stager, the bearded truck driver and family man from Arkansas; in his hand was the American flag, attached to a pole. As Mr. Barnhart, Mr. Sabol and others dragged Officer Miller down the steps, Mr. Stager raised the flagpole and struck the defenseless policeman three times.

He would later be filmed pointing at the Capitol and saying, “Death’s the only remedy for what’s in that building,” and “Everybody in there is a treasonous traitor.”

A few steps above, as a Trump flag and a “Stop the Steal” sign were being weaponized against the police, Mr. Mullins joined the action. He began yanking on the booted right foot of the prostrate Officer Wayte, engaging in a tug of war with other officers trying to save their colleague.

Mr. Mullins would later say that he had been trying to rescue the officer by pulling him away from the dangerous front lines — “out of the storm.”

Ronald McAbee, the deputy from Tennessee, was now right outside the door, his intentions as confusing as the patches he wore: one saying “Sheriff,” the other featuring the emblem of the Three Percenters, the anti-government militia movement. He was bending over Officer Wayte — his lawyer would later say to provide aid — when he was hit with a baton, possibly by Officer Moore. An enraged Mr. McAbee began shoving, swinging and swearing.

At this point, a bearish, gray-bearded man in a Marines cap rushed up the steps, his T-shirt announcing a weariness with “Stupid Democrats.” This was Michael Lopatic, church volunteer and former Marine from Pennsylvania.

As Officer Moore tried to push past Mr. McAbee, Mr. Lopatic grabbed him by the head and began punching furiously. This freed up Mr. McAbee to grab Officer Wayte by the torso, drag him down the steps and pin him to the ground.

Officer Wayte was ultimately pulled into the violent sea. There, federal investigators say, rioters ripped off his helmet; stripped him of his baton, cellphone and gas mask; sprayed him with Mace; kicked him; struck him with poles; and stomped on him.

The assaults on the police were vicious and sustained. “Carter told me he thought for sure he was going to die,” Officer Moore’s mother, Stephanie Smith, later told The Seaford Star in his Delaware hometown.

When Officer Moore’s colleague, Officer Miller, who had been beaten about the head and body, tried to make his way up the steps with the help of some protesters, Mr. Mullins waved them back and pushed on the officer’s black helmet, as if to stop him.

“They wanted to turn him back to the crowd that was beating him,” Mr. Mullins said. “Why would we feed him back into what we had pulled him out of?”

Now even deeper in the mob, Officer Miller seemed dazed but still intent on returning to his post in the archway. As at least 14 protesters surrounded him, with some trying to protect him from others, Mr. Lopatic approached, his face cut and T-shirt bloodied. With one quick move, he reached over and removed the officer’s body-worn camera.

Throughout these frenetic 90 seconds, Ms. Boyland lay amid debris at the foot of the archway. Her stomach was exposed, her body jostled by rioters oblivious in their rage. In her outstretched hand were those red-white-and-blue sunglasses.

“I got my arm underneath her, and I was pulling her out, pulling her out, and then another guy fell on top of her, and then another guy was just walking,” her friend Mr. Winchell later told an Atlanta television station. “I mean, there was people crushed.”

Ms. Boyland was suffering the effects of acute amphetamine intoxication, but police officers close by were unable to reach her because of the mob’s furious offensive. Kneeling beside her, Mr. Winchell frantically called for assistance, but he could not be heard above the clattering batons and profane roars, including that of Mr. Stager, who was coming up the steps with an American flag in hand, yelling, “Traitors!”

Then came a lull. And someone screamed, “She’s fucking dead!”

Several of the defendants charged in the riot surrounded an officer wounded on the marble steps.


In the fresh wake of the deadly riot, a reeling country began to assess what just had happened, and why. This included quantifying the physical and psychological injuries to more than 140 officers, among them Officers Wayte, Moore and Miller. These officers, as well as the Metropolitan Police Department, declined to comment.

The assessment also required tracking down the many hundreds responsible, including seven particular men on the lower west terrace. If found and convicted, they would face years in prison.

Mr. Sabol, the geophysicist, returned home to Colorado. Fearing charges of sedition, federal prosecutors say, he destroyed anything that might be taken as anti-government and fried his electronic devices in a microwave oven. He then traveled to Boston with a plan to flee to Switzerland, where he would ski to make the trip “look natural.”

But once at the airport, he believed the police were talking about his backpack, so he aborted the plan and began driving a rental car west. Along the way, he tossed his cellphone.

On Jan. 11, police spotted a car moving erratically through New York’s Rockland County. The bloodied driver, who apparently had been slashing himself with a razor, was Mr. Sabol, who soon explained that he was “done fighting.”

“I was fighting tyranny in the D.C. Capitol,” he told the police. “I am wanted by the F.B.I.”

Three days later, Mr. Stager — his identity revealed to the F.B.I. by an acquaintance who recognized the bearded man swinging the flagpole — was arrested in a lawyer’s office in Conway, his hair now short, his beard a trim goatee. As officers led him to his jail cell, he seemed almost jovial, as if not grasping the severity of the seven charges against him, including assaulting a police officer.

“Be safe!” he called out. “Have a good one.”

Mr. Lopatic, the former Marine, drove back to Pennsylvania the night of the riot, discarding along the way the body camera he had removed from a besieged Officer Miller just hours before. After a family member contacted the F.B.I., he was arrested on Feb. 3 at home, where investigators found the bloodstained T-shirt saying “Pretty Tired of Stupid Democrats.”

Mr. Whitton, the contractor, was arrested in Georgia on April 1, several weeks after a high school acquaintance tipped off the F.B.I. Investigators had been especially keen to find him in part because he had returned to the archway after the 90-second battle to threaten the officers (“You’re going to die tonight”) and because he had sent a text message bragging about sacrificing an officer to the mob (“Yea I fed him to the people. Idk his status. Don’t care tbh”).

Mr. Whitton’s grandmother, Sandra Bivins, dismissed one officer’s injuries as “a skinned chin and some bruises,” and said, “They made the whole thing political.” Still, she added, her incarcerated grandson is deeply remorseful. “He’s saying, ‘I’ve wasted my whole life,’” she said. “‘I’ve thrown my life away.’”

It took longer to find Mr. Barnhart, the Michigan bodybuilder in the Caterpillar sweatshirt, and Mr. McAbee, the now-former deputy sheriff from Tennessee. But with the help of online crowdsourcing efforts, both men were finally arrested in mid-August and charged with various federal offenses.

At some point on the evening of Jan. 6, Mr. Mullins left the fray. He made his way out of the Capitol’s restricted area, back to where his wife and sister were waiting. His stricken face told them that something was wrong.

On the long walk back to their rental car, they later said, Mr. Mullins wept. And on the long, two-day drive back to Kentucky, they said, he was silent.

He returned to life as it had been. But it was a life seemingly oblivious to the fact that his image was ricocheting around the internet, and that he, too, was a wanted man with a nickname: “Slickback,” in reference to his thick, combed-back brown hair.

Three weeks after the riot, the F.B.I. received a tip that ultimately led to a bank in Mayfield, where an employee who had known Mr. Mullins for decades said that he’d been in the lobby just the day before.

One evening in late February, Mr. Mullins drove his well-traveled Nissan Frontier out of his salvage yard and onto Highway 45, only to be pulled over minutes later by law enforcement officials. He spent a week in custody in Paducah before being granted house arrest.

Relatives and friends still puzzle over how a man they knew as apolitical and of deep faith wound up at the center of the Capitol riot. But they all echo Mr. Mullins’s contention that he was trying to help, not hinder, the officers he encountered. The one whose foot he had grabbed. The one whose head he had shoved.

Richard Heatherly, Mr. Mullins’s former pastor, said he was convinced the man had gone to Washington “to show support for the president, the country and law and order.” In defending his friend, the retired minister said that the Black Lives Matter movement had been “the spearhead of breaking into the building” — an assertion not based in fact.

The very real prospect of spending a long time away from Wingo looms over Mr. Mullins, who — along with his six co-defendants — has pleaded not guilty. But as he awaits his fate, he wears an ankle monitor and tries to carry on.

He salvages and repairs equipment at Mullins Machinery. He spends time at the Little Obion Baptist Church, tending to the maintenance, arranging for Sunday preachers. He watches reruns of “Gunsmoke.”

But never far from Mr. Mullins’s mind is what he thought to himself on the evening of Jan. 6, as he walked away from the profoundly damaged United States Capitol, his face wet with tears:

“We never should have come here.”

Joseph Rushmore

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