J6 report highlights two women with ties to militant groups ‘central to the violence’

While the final report of the January 6th Committee emphasizes Donald Trump’s responsibility for the violence on the US Capitol, a passage in the chapter detailing the role of the militant groups illuminates the organizing infrastructure built over the two months leading up to the attack.

“Marsha Lessard, the leader of a vaccine-skeptic group, Virginia Freedom Keepers, worked to stage an event with Bianca Gracia, the leader of Latinos for Trump on January 6th,” the report notes. “The women had ties to the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, respectively — two groups central to the violence on January 6. Latinos for Trump reportedly advertised their January 6th event with the same QAnon-inspired banner, ‘Operation Occupy the Capitol.’”

While the prosecution of members of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys for seditious conspiracy has preceded on separate tracks, evidence from thousands of pages of depositions released by the committee over the past two weeks shows that the two militant groups were intertwined, and its leaders were working closely with rally organizers and influencers.

The report also highlights the Phoenix Park Hotel as a hub for the militants on Jan. 5 and 6, similar to the role played the Willard Hotel for figures like Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, and strategist Roger Stone in the political echelon of the effort to overturn the election.

A map of the web of relationships among militant actors emerges from the testimony of Kellye SoRelle, a former prosecutor from Texas who got involved with the Oath Keepers and came to serve as the far-right group’s general counsel.

SoRelle testified that she got to know Lessard through the “Friends of Stone” Signal chat [link to previous story], which she joined in early November while investigating allegations of election fraud in Detroit. It remains unclear who set up and administered “Friends of Stone” — described by SoRelle as a clearinghouse for coordinating “Stop the Steal” rallies and compiling “data” on election irregularities — but SoRelle testified that she believed that Jason Sullivan, a one-time social media consultant for Stone, added her to the chat. Sullivan declined to answer questions from the committee about his involvement in the chat, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to avoid giving testimony that might expose him to criminal prosecution.

SoRelle and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who traveled together to multiple rallies in Washington, DC, as well as Atlanta and Dallas, during the critical period following the election, forged a close relationship with Lessard.

SoRelle testified that she and Rhodes joined Lessard at her home in northern Virginia for dinner while they were staying nearby around the time of the Nov. 14, 2020 Millions for MAGA Rally in DC. In her deposition, SoRelle also confirmed that Rhodes sent night-vision devices and a rifle sight to Lessard’s home one day before the attack on the Capitol. The New York Times has reported that members of Lessard’s group, Virginia Freedom Keepers, took part in a Dec. 30, 2020 conference call in which Sullivan said Trump supporters should “descend on the Capitol.”

Sometime in the period between the Nov. 3, 2020 election and the Jan. 6 attack, SoRelle also became acquainted with Gracia, who was the president of Latinos for Trump (since renamed Latinos for America First).

Gracia was close to Proud Boys national chairman Enrique Tarrio, who served as the Florida state director for Latinos for Trump. Gracia reportedly made a Facebook post in November 2019 displaying a photo of Tarrio posing alongside Donald Trump Jr. During a Dec. 12 pro-Trump rally, Gracia and Tarrio took a public tour of the White House. SoRelle testified that she learned about a Proud Boy named Jeremy Bertino getting stabbed during a confrontation outside Harry’s Bar through a text from Gracia.

The January 6th Committee concluded in its final report that Tarrio’s travel to DC for the Nov. 14 rally “appears to have been paid for by Patrick Byrne,” the former Overstock.com CEO who met with Trump on Dec. 18 and urged him to mobilize the National Guard to seize election machines and re-run the election in swing states. Tarrio told the committee that Gracia booked the flight.

The Oath Keepers and Proud Boys were working together as early as Nov. 14, according to SoRelle’s testimony. She told the committee that members of the Oath Keepers flanked a group of VIPs that included herself, Lessard, Jones and his InfoWars crew and cancer treatment skeptic Charlene Bollinger, as they marched from Freedom Plaza to the Supreme Court, SoRelle said Rhodes was personally responsible for providing security to herself, Lessard and Bollinger. She added that members of the Proud Boys formed an outside “box” to protect the contingent from counter-demonstrators.

Later, following Trump’s infamous “be there,will be wild” tweet, the January 6th Committee reports that Florida Oath Keepers leader Kelly Meggs called Tarrio and the two spoke for more than three minutes. As detailed in court documents Meggs bragged on Facebook that he formed an alliance between the Oath Keepers, the Florida Three Percenters and the Proud Boys “to work together to shut this s*** down.” The Florida Oath Keepers also became increasingly close to Stone during that period, and SoRelle testified that she learned from one of the members that they were going to pick up Stone from the airport in late December.

During her deposition, SoRelle identified both Gracia and Lessard as members of a core group assembled around Stone, Jones and organizer Ali Alexander that helped coordinate “Stop the Steal” rallies. The group also included members of 1st Amendment Praetorian, or 1AP, a security group associated with retired Lt. General Michael Flynn, according to SoRelle.

SoRelle testified that she observed 1AP co-founder Robert Patrick Lewis and “Yoda” — the nickname for 1AP member Geoffrey Flohr — “coordinating with everyone else.” She added, “And that’s Bianca Gracia, Marsha Lessard. Like, basically they kind of become, like, this — Ali and them are the ones coordinating everything.”

SoRelle testified that separate from the “Friends of Stone” group, there was an “organizational” chat she was not privy to.

“I know Bianca was” part of the chat, SoRelle told the committee, adding, “I know Marsha was because she was kind of telling me — like she was giving me details one time when she called, you know, like it looks like it’s going to be like this or whatever.”

SoRelle also included Flynn in the mix in her testimony to the committee.

“So, General Flynn is then the one that’s kind of over that,” she said. “So, as time goes by, I start realizing the controller of 1AP is General Flynn.

“Flynn is the one coordinating,” SoRelle added. “Bianca after that. So, I’m watching that Flynn is the one coordinating; then transitioning into, like, a giant speaking thing and all of that.”

Shortly after her indictment last August on charges of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, SoRelle told Raw Story: “Only thing I have to say, I hope they get the real perpetrators. Flynn, Byrne, Powell, etc those behind the Big Lie that set up the conservatives.”

Powell told Raw Story in response that she “urged everyone not to be in DC” on Jan. 6, adding that “Ms. SoRelle is way out of line.” Byrne called SoRelle’s statement “silly.”

Gracia and Lessard cohosted a “Freedom Rally” in front of the Russell Senate Office Building, a couple blocks from the Capitol, on Jan. 6. SoRelle told the committee that Alexander wanted the women to merge their event into a rally he had planned at the Capitol, but they declined. Gracia, SoRelle said, was “upset because she basically was, like, I’ve sunk all this money into this and I’m not going to go, you know, just because Ali wants to.”

Lessard joined Gracia for a Dec. 29 appearance on InfoWars to promote the rally.

“Being at the previous rallies, we realized that a lot of speakers on this particular topic — a lot of people who knew the truth about the Gates Foundation and what’s going on behind the scenes here really weren’t getting stage time,” Lessard told host Owen Shroyer, explaining the anti-vaccine focus of the event. “So, we just went ahead and we got a permit, and Bianca was so great; she helped me with that. And we decided to split the time.”

In response to an inquiry submitted on its website contact form, Virginia Freedom Keepers emailed Raw Story late Monday night: "We were not involved in anything other than a medical freedom event that day. The stage hosted separate events that day. Bianca had a morning event (we did not participate) and we had a separate afternoon event; this was detailed in the permit process. We never worked with or collaborated any of the other events that day and declined when offered.

"We had no other interactions with the Oath Keepers or their other associates outside of agreeing to let them do security," the statement continued. "The only capacity we known them in is free security. We do not condone any violence, ever. We were never aware of any planning or conversations for anything other than our specific event. If we had any indications this was going to be anything other than a peaceful event we would have reported that and canceled."

The organization referred additional questions to its attorney, who did not respond to an email from Raw Story.

Gracia could not be reached for comment for this story.

SoRelle and Rhodes arrived in DC on Jan. 5, the eve of the attack on the Capitol, and went to Freedom Plaza, where high-profile Trump supporters like Flynn were giving fiery speeches. While they were there, SoRelle told the committee, she received a phone call from Gracia. Up until then, the two had only exchanged texts, but Gracia invited them come by her room at the Phoenix Garden Hotel to pick up their VIP passes for the Freedom Rally the following day.

While they were visiting, Gracia received a phone call from Tarrio, who had just gotten out of jail for charges of burning a Black Lives Matter banner stolen from an African-American church and bringing an illegal firearms magazine into DC. SoRelle said she had been asked to help find a lawyer for Tarrio, and she testified that Gracia invited them to go down to a nearby parking garage to meet Tarrio. During the meeting, the committee noted in its final report, Tarrio told Gracia that the authorities had confiscated his phone, but assured her “they couldn’t get in there,” apparently referencing the two-factor authentication. Footage of the infamous meeting recorded by a documentary film crew captured Rhodes telling Tarrio that he “has three groups in Tyson’s Corner,” an apparent reference to quick reaction forces that he had mustered, according to the committee.

Later, during a car ride from DC to Baltimore, the committee reported that footage recorded by the film crew captured Tarrio expressing appreciation for Rhodes and saying that “for situations like this where there is a need to unite regardless of our differences… what he did today was commendable.”

After the parking-garage meeting with Tarrio, SoRelle testified that she, Rhodes and Gracia went back to the hotel and joined a large group in a lobby on one of the upper floors that included Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, along with members of 1AP and Latinos for Trump.

“We were drinking,” SoRelle told the committee. “There was lots of — and this is where the ‘storm the Capitol’ stuff will come into play.”

Around 4 p.m. on Jan. 6, Rhodes and SoRelle huddled with several members of the Oath Keepers who had gone into the Capitol. Later, they went back to the Phoenix to meet Gracia again. Looking back on it, SoRelle would tell the committee that she felt angry.

“So, after that, we go back to the Phoenix because Bianca, at that point, is checking in,” she said. “I don’t even know where Bianca’s at. That’s when she tells me that she came back and took a nap. And I’m like, ‘You had a staged event.’ I think it was kind of odd that she went and took a nap while her event was going on.”