Breaking News
More () »

Judge to release Jan. 6 defendant who called for violence over concerns jail conditions could hamper trial prep

Ryan Nichols, of Longview, Texas, faces nine counts for his alleged role in the Capitol riot, including assaulting police with a dangerous weapon.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Thursday say he would temporarily release a Capitol riot defendant accused of assaulting police and encouraging others toward violence so he can prepare for trial — despite saying he continued to believe he was a danger to the community.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan said Thursday he’d decided to release Ryan Nichols, of Longview, Texas, to house arrest under extreme restrictions. A hearing to formalize that order was set for Nov. 22, with attorneys from both sides given until Nov. 18 to file any objections or concerns, including about Nichols’ proposed third-party custodian, his wife Bonnie.

Nichols, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, has been in pretrial detention since his arrest in January 2021. He was indicted along with co-defendant Alex Harkrider the following month on nine counts, including multiple felony charges of obstruction of an official proceeding, civil disorder and assaulting police with a dangerous weapon. Nichols had spent the entirety of that time at the D.C. Jail – where the majority of Jan. 6 defendants in pretrial detention have been held – but was one of a number of defendants moved out of the facility in September following an incident involving several Jan. 6 detainees and corrections officers. Nichols was not convicted of any wrongdoing in connection with that incident. Harkrider was initially detained after his arrest but was granted pretrial release in April 2021.

Credit: Department of Justice
Ryan Nichols, of Longview, Texas, records himself while walking to the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021.

The decision to transfer Nichols out of the D.C. Jail ultimately led to Hogan’s decision Thursday to grant him temporary release. While Jan. 6 defendants at the D.C. facility have been given expanded access to electronic discovery not normally available to pretrial detainees – in no small part because of the massive amount of evidence produced in the ongoing Capitol riot prosecutions – detainees at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Stafford, Virginia, where Nichols was moved, are not. Nichols’ attorneys said in court Thursday that not only has he not been able to access electronic discovery on his own, but they were also not allowed to bring a laptop and hard drive into the facility to view it with him during an attorney-client visit.

Nichols’ attorney, Joseph McBride, has repeatedly sought his client’s release from jail on various grounds but has been rebuffed by Hogan just as often – including on Thursday, when the judge rejected McBride’s claim that the alleged disappearance of a thumb drive Nichols said went missing from his jail cell was a “plot” against his client. Hogan described McBride’s theory that the government had intentionally taken the drive to copy it and use the information contained within against his client as “all conjecture.”

“You remind me of a man trying to leap over a chasm in two bounds,” Hogan said.

But, he took far more seriously the concerns about Nichols’ lack of access to discovery at the Rappahannock jail, and said he knew from the case of another Jan. 6 defendant currently at the federal correctional facility in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, that it wouldn’t be a suitable alternative either. Hogan said he believed the situation was serious enough to warrant a temporary release from custody under a provision of the Bail Reform Act covering extraordinary circumstances.

Despite saying he would grant Nichols’ release at the Nov. 22 hearing, Hogan expressed concerns about Nichols’ wife, Bonnie, serving as his third-party custodian. Hogan said he’d seen statements from her attacking the Justice Department and suggesting her husband was a “political prisoner” that made him wonder whether she would actually report in if he violated his terms of release. He also said repeatedly that nothing had changed with regard to his determination that Nichols posed an ongoing danger to the community.

Nichols is accused of carrying a crowbar and assaulting police with pepper spray on Jan. 6, and also of repeatedly glorifying the violence and calling for others to bring weapons to the Capitol.

Credit: Department of Justice
A man prosecutors have identified as Ryan Nichols, of Longview, Texas, sprays a large canister of chemical irritant at police in the Lower West Terrace Tunnel of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021.

In a video recorded on the evening of Jan. 5, Nichols can be heard berating police and warning of violence the following day, yelling at one point, “Heads will f***ing roll! We will not be told ‘no’ any longer!”

On the day of the riot, Nichols recorded a video of himself and Harkrider walking to the Capitol from the Ellipse with hundreds of others. In the video, Nichols says, “I’m hearing reports that Pence caved. If Pence caved, I’m telling you, we’re going to drag motherf***ers through the streets. You f***ing politicians are going to get drug through the streets.”

To make his point even clearer, Nichols added in the video, “Everybody here ain’t here to fight. I am.”

At the Capitol, Nichols can be seen in multiple videos inciting the crowd. In one, he brandishes a crowbar while yelling, “This is our country!” In another, Nichols can be seen standing on a ledge near a shattered window and yelling, “If you have a weapon, you need to get your weapon!” In yet another video, Nichols can be seen spraying a large canister of chemical irritant at police inside the Lower West Terrace Tunnel – the site of some of the most violent and prolonged attacks on officers that day.

Once back at his hotel room on the night of Jan. 6, Nichols continued recording.

“So if you want to know where Ryan Nichols stands, Ryan Nichols stands for violence,” he said in one. “Ryan Nichols is done allowing his country to be stolen. And I understand that the first Revolutionary War, folks, it was violent. We had to be violent and take our country back. Well guess what? The second Revolutionary War, right now, the American Revolutionary War that’s going on right now, it started today on a Wednesday. It’s going to be violent.”

Later in the same video, Nichols picked up his crowbar and said, “So, yes, today, Ryan Nichols… Ryan Nichols grabbed his f***ing weapon and he stormed the Capitol and fought for freedom."

In addition to the hearing on Nov. 22, the DOJ asked Hogan to set a status conference soon to set a new trial date for Nichols and Harkrider. The pair had been scheduled to go to trial in July, and then this month, but both trial dates were vacated at the request of Nichols’ attorney.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

Before You Leave, Check This Out