Taylor Taranto, a defendant arrested Jan. 6 near Obama’s home, threatened to blow up a van at the government facility, feds say

Chicago
By Chicago 10 Min Read

Washington – A defendant on Jan. 6 who was arrested near former President Barack Obama’s home in Washington, DC, with guns and ammunition in his van had threatened to blow up the vehicle at a government facility the day before, i Federal prosecutors said in a new judicial filing.

Taylor Taranto, a 37-year-old from Washington state, was taken into custody in Obama’s Kalorama neighborhood on June 29 after Secret Service agents spotted him several blocks from the residence. He was wanted with an arrest warrant related to his alleged actions on January 6 and faces four misdemeanor charges related to the riot. Prosecutors have indicated they could bring further charges.

In a hearing on whether Taranto should remain behind bars pending trial, Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui said on Wednesday that he should hear further arguments and consider the case law before issuing a ruling at the prosecutors’ request. Taranto’s defense attorney strongly disagreed with the prosecutors’ findings, saying that Taranto does not pose a flight risk and should be released.

New charges

Ahead of the hearing, which will continue on Thursday, the government unveiled new details about its investigation into Taranto in a memorandum asking a judge to keep him behind bars pending trial.

According to prosecutors, Taranto was broadcasting live on his public YouTube channel on June 28 when he claimed he was headed with a detonator to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, an agency within the Department of Commerce headquartered in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

“He made several statements indicating he intended to blow up his vehicle at NIST, including a statement that it had a detonator, that it was on a ‘one-way mission,’ and that the vehicle was self-driving, so it would not be anywhere near when it ‘blew up,'” prosecutors said, noting that there is a nuclear reactor on the agency’s 579-acre campus.

Those statements prompted the FBI to begin a search for Taranto, according to the filing. The office had already “monitored [his] online activities” for his presence in the Capitol on 6 January.

Taylor Taranto, shown on January 6, 2021, during the US Capitol riot.

Taylor Taranto, shown on January 6, 2021, during the US Capitol riot. Department of Justice

The next day, a federal judge in Washington, DC, issued a warrant for his arrest on the January 6 charges. Shortly thereafter, Taranto began broadcasting again from his van, saying he was driving on a street in Obama’s neighborhood, according to prosecutors. Finally he stopped and got out of the van, continuing to broadcast.

“As he walked, he made several troubling statements about residences in the area, saying he was looking for ‘entry points,’ that he was ‘in control’ of the block and ‘surrounded them,’ and that he would find a way to the ‘tunnels.’ under their homes,'” prosecutors said.

Secret Service agents tried to take him into custody, finally arresting him after a short foot chase. A bomb squad from the FBI and a K9 unit from the Metropolitan Police Department were called to the scene, and the dog detected gunpowder in Taranto’s van. Investigators discovered “hundreds of nine-millimeter rounds and two firearms inside,” prosecutors said, as well as a machete. No explosives were found in the vehicle.

A court filing showing photos of firearms found in Taylor Taranto's van following his arrest near former President Barack Obama's home in Washington, DC on June 29, 2023.

A court filing showing photos of firearms found in Taylor Taranto’s van following his arrest near former President Barack Obama’s home in Washington, DC on June 29, 2023. Department of Justice

Prosecutors said Taranto appeared to have moved across the country two months ago and was living in his van. He had been a fixture outside the Washington DC jail, where many Jan. 6 defendants are being held before he was banned from the area by other protesters, the filing said. He has spoken online of his presence at the Capitol in the two-and-a-half years following the riot, according to prosecutors.

The filing also accuses Taranto of threatening members of Congress, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.

In the same video in which he allegedly threatened to blow up NIST headquarters, Taranto “made threatening comments referring to spokesman McCarthy, saying, ‘I’m coming to you McCarthy. I can’t stop what’s coming. Nothing can stop what’s coming. it’s coming,'” prosecutors said. Taranto’s wife allegedly told investigators that her move to Washington two months ago was motivated by McCarthy’s offer to release more security footage from Jan. 6.

In another alarming allegation, prosecutors said Taranto and his associates entered an elementary school in Takoma Park, Maryland outside Washington on June 18. Taranto streamed their procession through the building: “[The video] it depicted Taranto and his associates walking around the school, entering the gymnasium and using a projector to show a film relating to January 6th.

“[H]stated that he specifically chose the elementary school because of its proximity to Congressman Raskin’s home and that he’s targeting Raskin because “he’s one of the January 6 people-hating kids, or more like Trump supporters, and it’s kind of like sending a shock wave through him because I haven’t done anything wrong,'” prosecutors said citing Taranto.

The government said Taranto’s actions justified his detention as he faces charges.

“Given the depth of his antigovernment beliefs and his broadcast threats against political figures and government property, it is difficult to imagine that he will be able to meet the conditions to ensure community safety and secure his appearance before this Court,” i prosecutors wrote.

Taranto has yet to file a complaint and his public defender disputed the government’s initial request to detain him last week, offering custody alternatives that included staying with the family.

The appearance in court of Taranto

In court Wednesday, prosecutors reiterated much of their filing, telling Faruqui, the judge, that the Taranto investigation has been ongoing since the Capitol attack. A government lawyer said Taranto had “made some increasingly erratic statements” in recent weeks that have forced investigators to actively monitor his social media. The investigation, said the prosecutor, “is still very active”, while admitting that the government has only brought four charges of crime against him.

Taranto, the Justice Department said in court, “is very much at issue with the legitimacy of the US government,” which puts it at risk of not complying with court orders and poses a greater risk to the community.

But Faruqui wondered whether federal law required him to consider only Taranto’s flight risk – which the judge said he considered less worrisome – or whether he could consider Taranto’s more recent conduct, which he described as “worrying”.

The judge and Taranto’s defense attorney both highlighted the defendant’s mental health history, discussing the PTSD that he has treated since serving in the Iraq war.

“What we’re talking about here is a protected business under the Constitution,” defense attorney Katherine Guevara said. “What we have is a lot of talk. A lot of hyperbole… a lot of inflammatory language to get attention.”

“Mr. Taranto remained in plain sight,” she said of her client’s weeks-long stay in Washington, adding that she had previously attended a Jan. 6 sentencing without issue or attention from law enforcement. Attempts by the Justice Department to classify him as a risk, Taranto’s attorney said, have been “false.”

Faruqui will hear more arguments on Thursday, including potentially from the defendant’s wife, before speaking.

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