In a federal courtroom in Tampa, the trial of Jeremy Brown — a self-described Oath Keepers member, lauded 20-year U.S. Army Special Forces soldier and recently defeated Republican legislative candidate — is set to begin Monday, 14 months after he was arrested and detained in jail in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Brown, 48, faces nine federal felony counts and one misdemeanor: Two counts related to unlawfully owning two guns, two counts of possessing explosives, five counts of illegally possessing national security documents and one misdemeanor count of knowingly storing explosive material illegally, according to court documents from the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Tampa division.
Each of the nine felonies carry penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, and the misdemeanor, up to one year.
Brown is one of about 900 people charged with crimes stemming from the Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol, an event described as an act of domestic terrorism by the FBI and considered by historians as one of the worst days ever for American democracy.
But his legal case is unusual and controversial, as his supporters contend that he is a political prisoner who’s been unfairly detained in the Pinellas County jail for more than a year, allegedly on trumped-up charges.
While Brown was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, he did not enter the building that day and the government does not claim that he committed violence at that time, court records show. He wasn’t arrested until Sept. 30, 2021, on accusations of trespassing near the Capitol and engaging in disorderly conduct, both federal misdemeanors in Washington, D.C.
However, those misdemeanors are not the focus of the trial starting Monday.
The Tampa trial is about the nine felony counts and one misdemeanor — that occurred during a search of Brown’s home and RV in Tampa at the time of his arrest.
Brown told the Florida Phoenix in a phone interview last week that it’s unlikely he’ll be found not guilty because everything about this trial is “rigged” against him – though he believes that what he considers “the truth” will be exposed after the trial.
“Everything is stacked against me, but once the trial happens, once the verdict is given, there’s no more changing the story,” he said. “They are going to say everything that they’re going to say, they’ll present everything that they’re going to present, and then after that you can’t go back and change it. The game’s over. Then the revelations will happen. Then all the evidence that was excluded at trial will come out, not only during the appeal process, but I predict that there are going to be many more whistleblowers from inside the FBI, inside the Department of Justice and other government agencies.”
The government intends to call six FBI forensic examiners as expert witnesses in the trial, as well as three members from U.S. Central Command, part of the U.S. Department of Defense. Brown’s defense has listed up to nine witnesses and the trial is expected to last around six or seven days, Brown’s attorneys say.
“All are encouraged to attend this historic trial in which Jeremy Brown will be arguing the fight for his life,” according to Tylene Aldridge, a contact on a Nov. 23 press release and who is included on the defense witness list. “This is a battle between an over-zealous federal prosecution that has disregarded almost every Constitutional right in his case that our Founding Fathers fought for and a decorated war hero who exposed their failed recruitment of him to become a spy against the American people.”
Agents spoke to Brown before Jan. 6
Brown’s case began in November 2020, when anger in right-wing circles was building about the presidential election being somehow “stolen” from Donald Trump, with federal authorities tracking “chatter” about potential violence to stop the peaceful transfer of power.
That chatter included a social media post by Brown “about trying to recruit people for civil war” that drew the attention of two government agents who spoke to Brown in Tampa on Dec. 9, 2020, according to court records from the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida.
Brown spoke with Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents Brett Lindsey and Paul Ura for about 20 minutes. The meeting was recorded by Brown and the transcript of that audio is included in court records.
It reveals that after discussing the social media post and being assured that Brown didn’t intend to “hurt anybody,” the agents pivoted to inquiring if he could provide information if he was aware of any “pending, imminent situation” in Tampa relating to domestic terrorism and suggested that they might pay him for providing such information to prevent a violent attack.
Ura said to Brown, “If you’re hearing stuff and you being around your group. And someone’s like, ‘Hey, we’re training tonight and tomorrow. Some sh—-‘s going to go down.’ You calling us and letting us know and we can prevent the next big thing,” the records show.
Ura goes on to say: “We’re not here adversarial. We’re here to clear your name and we’re also here if you wanna work with us in the future and you hear stuff in your circles…if you hear of a pending, imminent situation in Tampa. We would love to hear from you. And if we – and again – I can’t make any promises, but like if you provide information that prevents something big. The government pays for that.”
Brown responded: “If I hear anything, I’ll let you know.” About a month later, Brown was outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Law enforcement agents called Brown and spoke to him on Jan. 6 and 7, 2021, according to a description of facts from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia: “He told them that he was present in Washington, D.C. and provided security for VIPs at the ‘Stop the Steal’ rally.”
The U.S. government announced last week that it wanted to exclude that December 2020 audio recording from being admitted as evidence in the trial, considering it “hearsay.”
“The reality is it’s not hearsay. It’s literally (agents’) voices and my voice on a recording of which they knew they were being recorded, which is kind of crazy,” Brown told the Phoenix last week.
Melissa Loesch, one of Brown’s attorneys, argued in a court filing that the relevance of the recording to their case “cannot be overstated,” saying the defense believes federal agents planted evidence on Brown as “retaliation” because Brown later played the recorded conversation with the agents during an internet interview in March 2021.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew, who is presiding over the Brown trial, deferred on whether to allow the recording into the trial. She’ll likely decide later in the proceedings, according to attorney Roger Futerman, Brown’s lead counsel.
How Brown became a detainee
What happened during the nearly nine months between the attack on the U.S. Capitol and Brown being arrested?
He spent some time appearing on various right-wing online platforms, criticizing the federal government on various issues, boasting about his recorded conversation with the federal agents in December 2020, and how he refused to become an informant against the Oath Keepers, considered an extremist group.
Brown allegedly organized a trip to Washington, D.C., with other Oath Keeper members days before the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. “Prior to the riots, he deposited his guns with individuals in Virginia and retrieved them after the riots,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice “statement of facts” report.
On Jan. 6, Brown was captured on video outside the Capitol wearing full military gear, including a helmet, radio, a tactical vest, and prominently displayed large surgical trauma shears, according to that statement of facts.
Following his Sept. 30, 2021 arrest, federal authorities executed a search warrant of his Tampa home and RV, with law enforcement recovering tactical gear, a Palmetto Armory rifle, a 410-gauge sawed-off shotgun, two military ordinance M67 grenades and boxes of ammunition, according to the Middle District of Florida court records. That search led to the numerous felony charges.
At his initial bond hearing, records show, U.S. Magistrate Sean P. Flynn refused to release Brown from custody, writing that he “poses a danger to law enforcement officials,” and that “no condition or combination of conditions of release will reasonably assure the safety of any other person and the community.”
Flynn was particularly troubled by a sign that Brown posted on the front door of his home that was directed to federal and local law enforcement officials that said that they “Better bring a bigger Tactical PACKAGE,” referring to weapons.
At the same time, Flynn made the decision to detain Brown though he offered praise to him for his military service.
“The Court begins by recognizing that Brown is an American hero,” Flynn wrote. “He served this country with distinction for 20 years in the United States Army, including 17 years as a member of the elite United States Army Special Forces.”
What did Brown do in jail?
In the most unconventional state House race in Florida this year, Brown launched a quixotic run while campaigning in jail. He qualified as a Republican candidate for House District 62 seat, against Democratic incumbent and civil rights attorney Michele Rayner.
The district’s demographics (parts of eastern Hillsborough County and a section of South St. Petersburg) made it seemingly impossible for any Republican to win. And Brown ultimately lost by nearly 40 points. He ended up raising nearly $45,000 in the race, and spent almost $28,000, mostly for campaign supplies, according to campaign finance records.
It’s impossible to know how many of the 14,839 voters who supported Brown in the general election were aware of his legal situation.
Brown gives credit for his support to his “campaign commander,” Cathi Chamberlain, a Pinellas County conservative activist.
“As far as I’m concerned, Jeremy is the tip of the spear for saving our Constitution,” she said, “because every one of his constitutional rights has been abridged by the Department of Justice. By the prosecutors. By our court system. And if that can happen to Jeremy, that can happen to any one of us, especially now that they’ve assigned 87,000 new IRS agents out there.”
Oath Keepers and Brown
Brown explained how he became involved with the Oath Keepers, a group described by the Anti-Defamation League as “a large but loosely organized collection of right-wing anti-government extremists.”
“I joined the Oath Keepers shortly after the election,” Brown told the Phoenix on a call on Oct. 18. “The purpose in joining was I wanted to warn them that they were being set up, as ultimately which they’re being set up now, that they were going to be called ugly names and domestic terrorists.”
The U.S. Justice Department court records show that “the leader of the Florida branch of the Oath Keepers allegedly expressed concerns that Brown was a ‘loose cannon.'”
As Brown’s trial begins in Tampa Monday, a Washington D.C. jury last week found Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes and Florida Oath Keeper leader Kelly Meggs guilty of seditious conspiracy following a two-month trial. The two men are now facing a maximum 20-year sentence.
Brown also is listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Oath Keepers trial in Washington, and he said that leaves the door open for him to be indicted if he is found innocent in the upcoming Tampa trial.
“Let’s just say hypothetically there is truth and there is justice in the world and the jury finds me not guilty because clearly, it’s obvious what’s going on here,” Brown said last week. “I walk out of this jail as a free man, they’ll simply indict me on seditious conspiracy, rearrest me and carry me to the D.C. jail. This is the groundwork which they’re laying.”
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