Rioters scale a wall at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Rioters scale a wall at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

A trial has been set for April. One of the insurrectionists has been in jail since he violated the terms of his release.

Two former Rocky Mount police officers awaiting trial will face a jury over a year after their participation in the Jan. 6 US Capitol insurrection. US District Judge Christopher Cooper set a trial in Washington, DC, for April. 

As insurrectionists face trials across the country for their role in attempting to undermine democracy by blocking Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory, a common theme has been the use of social media posts as evidence against them. Such is the case for Thomas Robertson and Jacob Fracker. Both Virginia men were active on social media before, during, and after the siege. You may even remember the selfie of the two in the Capitol rotunda, making obscene gestures. 

The Day They ‘Took The F***ing US Capitol’

On Jan. 6, Robertson and Fracker arrived at the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, DC. There they heard President Donald Trump repeat his baseless claims that Democrats stole the election from him. After spouting lie after lie about fraud, he told his gathered supporters to march to the halls of Congress.

“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them,” the president told the crowd of thousands. “Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong.”

Federal officials charged Fracker and Robertson with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Officials also charged them with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. 

Of the more than 700 people facing federal charges related to the insurrection, over 150 of them have pleaded guilty. So far, 31 people were arrested in Virginia and charged with connections to the Capitol breach. Of those, at least seven have been sentenced after pleading guilty. 

Both Robertson and Fracker pleaded not guilty to all charges. During their indictment, they acknowledged walking into the Capitol building but said they didn’t contribute to the violence.

According to screenshots obtained by Dogwood, Robertson posted to Facebook a couple times after the attack: “The Right IN ONE DAY (without weapons) took the f***ing US Capitol. Keep poking us.” In a message to a friend, Fracker boasted, “it was f***ing amazing. Flash bangs going off, CS gas, rubber bullets flying by. Felt so good to be back in the s*** hahaha. I was like 8th person inside the building. S*** was f***ing LIT.” 

Robertson and Fracker were released on bond in February under some conditions. Both turned over their passports and were ordered to stay within the Western District of Virginia. They also were prohibited from joining any type of public assembly. The last condition, to not possess any firearms or explosives, proved problematic for Robertson. 

In July, Judge Cooper, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2014, determined that Robertson violated the terms of his release, and has been in jail since then. Of Virginians charged so far, Robertson is the only one to violate the terms of his release and be committed, according to the DOJ. FBI agents discovered he purchased and handled dozens of guns during his release. 

What Might Sentencing Look Like If There’s a Conviction?

The former Rocky Mount police officers aren’t the only alleged perpetrators with connections to the insurrection on Cooper’s docket. He recently sentenced Gracyn Courtright, a West Virginia resident and the youngest participant at 23, to 30 days in prison, one year of supervised release, and 60 hours of community service. Because she did not injure anyone, her sentence reflected that, but the judge had some important remarks.

“That is your choice obviously,” Cooper said last year, “If any citizen wants to participate in our democracy, casting a vote is the price of admission because when you do that, you have to study the issues and the candidates, learn what their policies are, figure out how those policies are affecting your community.”

According to her attorney, she didn’t even vote in the election she was there to protest. 

Participating in a democracy isn’t like going to a University of Kentucky game and “rooting for a team just because of the color of their jerseys,” Cooper added. “It’s certainly not resorting to violence when your team doesn’t win the game.”.

Can We Prevent an Insurrection From Happening Again?

Less than a month after the attack, former Rocky Mount Town Manager James Ervin announced the officers’ firings. Initially, the Rocky Mount Police Department put both men on administrative leave until the department finished investigating. There was backlash from citizens across Franklin County at the lack of initial response by the town, even calling for the removal of Ervin and Police Chief Ken Criner. 

“We’re past the firings now and now we can proceed to these other issues that we have with the town manager, the police chief themselves,” Franklin County Voters Matter director Eddie Saey told Dogwood last January. “I think they created an environment where policemen could do anything they wanted to, be members of anything, any organizations they wanted to.”

Ervin retired last April after 14 years as manager. Criner also qualified for retirement, stepping down last September after facing federal discrimination complaints. 

The harshest punishment of the 50 Capitol insurrectionists sentenced thus far is a little more than five years behind bars. This went to a Florida man who was in the middle of the chaos and pleaded guilty to attacking police officers. 

“It has to be made clear … trying to stop the peaceful transition of power and assaulting law enforcement officers is going to be met with certain punishment,” U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said during the sentencing. 

Stephen Farnsworth, political science professor at University of Mary Washington, agrees. “As anyone who is the parent of a toddler knows,” he told Dogwood, “rewarded behavior is repeated behavior, so if there is not sufficiently aggressive punishment for the people who invaded the Capitol, who spread the lies of 2021 in January … it will happen again.” 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

READ MORE: One Year Later: The Virginia Republicans Who Played a Role in the Big Lie and the Jan. 6 Insurrection