Despite letters from family and friends of 24-year-old Robert Gieswein that described him as gentle and kind with aspirations of becoming a law enforcement officer, a federal judge has ordered the Woodland Park man accused of storming the U.S. Capitol building to stay in jail ahead of his preliminary hearing.
Magistrate Judge Scott T. Varholak clearly struggled with the decision during a virtual court appearance Friday. He acknowledged that he let another Colorado defendant facing charges associated with the U.S. Capitol riot, Patrick Montgomery, out on a no-bail personal recognizance bond ahead of his court dates. Montgomery is charged with illegally entering a federal building.
“But Mr. Gieswein’s actions were different and they were different because they weren’t just from that mob mentality,” Varholak said. “He traveled to D.C. for this — he did not travel to D.C. to protest lawfully, he came for battle, he wore paramilitary gear, an Army-style helmet. He had a baseball bat and he had an aerosol spray.”
Gieswein faces criminal charges for assaulting a U.S. Capitol Police officer with a baseball bat and spraying aerosol towards officers from a black canister, encouraging people to break into the Capitol and intimidating officers with the bat he carried into the Capitol building.
Federal prosecutors also said on Friday that Gieswein violently evaded arrest on Jan. 6. Gieswein wasn’t taken into custody until he turned himself in earlier this week at the Teller County Sheriff’s Office.
FBI officials and federal prosecutors say that Gieswein was a member of a radical right-wing militia group called the 3 percenters, or III percenters, which advocates for gun rights. Federal officials dubbed this group dangerous.
Judge Varholak said that, ahead of the detention hearing, he received several letters from Gieswein’s family and friends that noted he had no criminal record, that he has a gentle personality and previously worked at a nursing facility. His godmother wrote a letter saying that Gieswein eventually wanted to become a law enforcement officer.
“I have these letters (that) were submitted by family members and non-family members who describe an individual who was considerate, caring, funny, someone who spent time caring for the elderly and someone who wanted to be a police officer,” Varholak said.
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Though compelling, Varholak said, it wasn’t enough to trust that Gieswein wouldn’t be a danger to society if he was let out of custody ahead of his preliminary hearing next week.
“We have an individual who did nothing less than make a fundamental attack on our democracy,” he said. “He attempted to stop the Congress, and it’s frankly hard to imagine … anything less dangerous to our very democracy than what occurred that day.”
Judge Varholak laid blame for the riot at the hands of former President Donald Trump and members of Congress who lied about the validity of election results. He also said the coronavirus pandemic aided the mob mentality that led up to the Jan. 6 incident.
“People have largely been locked up in isolation for 10 months and many people are at the breaking point,” he said. “The president at the time was telling supporters that the election was stolen (and) that theory was supported by members of Congress. It’s not like they were listening to some fringe group on the Internet.”
Gieswein could be heard weeping at the end of the hour-long hearing Friday morning. His preliminary hearing is next Friday.
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