A pro-Trump rioter involved in the storming of the US Capitol who allegedly hit police officers with a fire extinguisher travelled to Washington, DC on a bus organised by conservative group Turning Points USA (TPUSA).
A court filing by the attorney for Robert Sanford, 55, reveals that he “traveled to the District on a bus organised by Turning Point USA, a mainstream young conservative organisation, with approximately fifty other people”.
The bus rides were promoted ahead of time by the group and conservative youth activist Charlie Kirk, founder of student organisation Turning Point Action, an offshoot of TPUSA.
The group arranged transport to the 6 January Trump rally at the Ellipse between the White House and the Washington Monument to see president Donald Trump speak.
In the days after the storming of the Capitol by the rioters, The Daily Dot reported that Mr Kirk deleted a tweet he had posted on 4 January, saying that the group would be sending more than 80 buses to Washington to “fight for this president”.
“This historic event will likely be one of the largest and most consequential in American history,” Mr Kirk wrote. “The team at @TrumpStudents & Turning Point Action are honored to help make this happen, sending 80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president.”
According to the court filing, Mr Sanford, a retired firefighter and married father of three from Pennsylvania, listened to the speakers at the rally at the Ellipse and then marched to the Capitol with the crowd.
On arrival at the other end of the National Mall, the filing states, there was already a crowd of thousands. Mr Sanford does not recall any perimeter fence. The US government contends he was in the crowd that breached the fence.
While the attorney states his client did not travel with an extremist group, wear tactical gear, bring a weapon, nor coordinate with other individuals once on-site, the filing does concede that a video clearly shows him throwing a fire extinguisher.
The extinguisher “had the weight of being empty”, but when thrown it struck three police officers. The attorney says that while the potential for injury was there, none of the officers appeared harmed.
Mr Sanford is charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority; disorderly or disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds; civil disorder; and assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers while engaged in the performance of official duties.
A judge ruled that Mr Sanford could be released before his trial with GPS monitoring of his whereabouts.
In a statement to The Daily Dot in late January, TPA acknowledged that it did bus some students to the Trump rally. “Following the president’s remarks, and in keeping with itinerary, TPA bused those students immediately out of the area,” a spokesperson said.
“No TPA buses were involved, nor did TPA encourage participation in the march to the Capitol. TPA’s leadership condemns political violence and immediately did so as soon as news broke of the incident at the Capitol Building.”
The Independent has contacted TPUSA for further comment.
Mr Kirk condemned the actions of those at the Capitol on Twitter as they were happening, and said in the aftermath that the actions of the rioters were “not wise”, but that did not mean they were insurrectionists.
“Just because you do something regrettable does not mean you are planning an armed insurrection against the United States government,” he claimed.
The attack on Congress led to the deaths of five people on the day and two subsequent suicides.