WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors unsealed a criminal complaint Wednesday charging five alleged members of a Three Percenters militia group known as “B Squad” in connection with the assault on the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6.
According to the Justice Department, all five men are residents of Florida. Though the complaint initially redacted the names of four defendants, the DOJ later confirmed the men charged were:
- Benjamin Cole, 38, of Leesburg;
- John Edward Crowley, 50, of Windermere;
- Brian Preller, 33, of Mount Dora;
- Jonathan Rockholt, 38, of Palm Coast
- Tyler Bensch, 20, of Casselberry.
In the criminal complaint, prosecutors say all five men are members of a militia that called itself the B Squad, which investigators said is a subgroup of a larger Three Percenters group called “Guardians of Freedom. In a footnote in the complaint, investigators said they believe the B Squad name refers to “an alternate plan to be in place if they do not get the desire electoral outcome (i.e., the former president remaining in power).”
According to the complaint, as many as 40 members of B Squad stayed on the same floor of a D.C. hotel. In a video posted to Facebook on Jan. 3, investigators say the group’s leader, who was not charged in the complaint, described “defensive tools” members could bring to D.C., including “the strongest pepper spray commercially available to use,” extendable metal batons, knives and Tasers. The group’s leader also reportedly told members, “We are going to have four more years of Trump, we all know that,” and warned about the possibility of violence due to “communist agitators like Black Lives Matter and Antifa.”
Investigators say members of B Squad wore riot gear and carried weapons, including metal batons, pepper spray and knives, when they joined other members of the mob outside the Capitol on Jan. 6. There, they allegedly joined at least one attempt by rioters to force their way through the line of police attempting to hold the Lower West Terrace Tunnel near the Inaugural Stage.
The Lower West Terrace Tunnel was the scene of some of the most prolonged and violent assaults on police on Jan. 6. On Tuesday, a federal judge in D.C. convicted three men in stipulated bench trials of assaulting police in the tunnel. Another man, Kyle Fitzsimons, went to trial last week on charges he assaulted three officers in the tunnel and is awaiting his verdict.
The complaint includes photographs of a man investigators have identified as Preller, the only B Squad member who name was unredacted in the initial complaint, wearing a shirt with the words “WATERBOARDING INSTRUCTOR” and a green tactical vest with pepper spray attached to the front. He was also carrying a walking stick – which prosecutors allege the group intended to use as impact weapons – and had a B Squad patch on the back of his vest.
Other alleged members of the group can be seen in photographs included in the complaint wearing similar tactical gear with B Squad and Three Percenters insignia, along with pepper spray, gas masks, knives and, in one case, a hat bearing a patch with the words “pedophile hunter.”
According to the complaint, when members of the group joined the mob’s effort to push back police in the tunnel, Preller penetrated deeper than others and was just one person away from direct contact with the police line. While members of B Squad joined a “heave, ho” effort to force police back, investigators said, rioters “came closer to breaching that entry into the Capitol than at any other point.”
Preller was identified in part thanks to an image he sent to a female acquaintance showing him lying underneath an American flag while holding what investigators say appears to be the same walking stick he carried on Jan. 6. The photo was joined by a message reading, “Washington DC January 6th… I was one of the ones in the capital.”
In a Facebook post on June 7 of last year appearing to show Preller holding the same black flag and flagpole he and other members of B Squad also carried on Jan. 6., investigators say Preller commented in coded language to another user, “Still got the flag my dude. The one that we carried together, at that one place when we followed our oaths.”
In other messages, investigators say Preller bragged he was “building an army of 3% patriots.” When asked what the army did, Preller allegedly responded, “community outreach… invade the capital building… you know stuff.” A month later, when an acquaintance asked what Preller was doing, he allegedly responded, “[c]ontinuing to build my 3% army so I can overthrow the federal government.”
In September, investigators say Preller wrote to another individual about “deep concealment training” he had been providing to others along with orders that “no one goes to jail at all cost.” When the other individual responded Preller should let police arrest them to make them look bad, Preller allegedly responded, “Flagler county sheriffs is on our side 80/20. But I’m not ever seeing the inside of a cell brother. Ever.”
According to court records, Preller was scheduled to make his initial appearance before a federal judge in Vermont on Wednesday afternoon.
In addition to Preller and other alleged members of the B Squad, federal prosecutors have now charged dozens of militia members for their alleged roles in Jan. 6. Last June, six alleged members of a California Three Percenters group that titled their Telegram chat “The California Patriots-DC Brigade” were accused of conspiring to bring hatchets and body armor with them to the Capitol on Jan. 6. Another Three Percenter, Guy Reffitt, was convicted in March of multiple felony counts for being at the front of a pro-Trump mob that overwhelmed police on Jan. 6 and sentenced earlier this month to more than seven years in prison. In January, Oath Keepers president Stewart Rhodes and 10 other members of his militia group became the first Jan. 6 defendants to be indicted for seditious conspiracy. The first group of Oath Keepers defendants in that case is scheduled to begin trial in late September.
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