'Storm the Capitol': Recent arrest puts spotlight on Salt and Light Brigade's involvement in Jan. 6 attack
Screengrab from video published by Pam Hemphill

Dave Daubenmire, a former football coach from central Ohio who leads the militant Christian group Salt & Light Brigade, broadcast his daily morning podcast “Coach Dave Live!” as he rode the Metro with legions of Trump supporters streaming to the Ellipse on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021.

“We’re at war,” Daubenmire said. “We’re going to war. We’re prepared for war — spiritual war — but if a physical war breaks out, there’s gonna be four million of us. They better have a bunch. They better have a bunch of people because this is a boiling….”

Conversing with a guest on how many law enforcement officers were available to assist in Washington, DC, Daubenmire reached his point.

“Do they have enough to push back?” he asked. “What if five-hundred thousand people said they’d had enough? What if just ten percent — what if two-hundred thousand people said they’d had enough and decided they were going to storm the Capitol building? I don’t know if they’re going to. I don’t know if they’re going to. What if that were to happen, folks? We don’t have any idea what might break loose here.”

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The Facebook page for Salt and Light Brigade describes it as “the sharp end of the spiritual warfare spear that Coach employs to fight evil.” The group has active Facebook pages in at least four states that share Daubenmire’s podcasts. Daubenmire also organizes and promotes his message under the name Pass the Salt Ministries, which is described as being “committed to bringing together the body of Christ across denominational, racial, and economical borders to demonstrate the power of Biblical unity.”

By 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 6 — more than three hours before Donald Trump began his speech at the Ellipse — an Ohio pastor named Bill Dunfee addressed a growing crowd gathered on the east plaza of the Capitol through a bullhorn.

“This election has been stolen right out from underneath our noses, and it’s time for the American people to rise up,” said Dunfee, who Daubenmire describes as a friend. “Rise up. Rise up. Today is the day in which it is that these elected officials realize we are no longer playing games.”

Dunfee, who is the pastor of New Beginnings Ministries in Warsaw, Ohio, was arrested at his home last week for disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds and obstruction of an official proceeding, among other violations.

The next morning, Daubenmire acknowledged their association, telling listeners on his podcast that Daubenmire “went to Washington, DC with us; we all went there together,” and issued a plea for donations to help support his friend’s legal defense.

Dunfee is the first person associated with Salt & Light Brigade to be arrested in connection with the attack on the US Capitol, but Daubenmire said he doesn’t expect him to be the last.

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“I don’t want to talk too much, because I’ll tell you the truth: I expect a knock on my door,” he told his listeners.

If he is arrested, Daubenmire urged his listeners to let it inspire them to “stand up and fight harder” lest they lose the battle and face “five-hundred years of darkness.”

“My grandkids are gonna know that their grampy went down with his boots on,” the 69-year-old Daubenmire vowed. “Somebody’s gonna have to bone up, hmm? Get a martyr’s crown? Maybe not death. Maybe locked up in a gulag for the Lord? There’s a crown waiting for you, buddy.”

With a presence in a dozen states from Pennsylvania to Oregon, Salt & Light Brigade members flanked both sides of the Capitol on Jan. 6. While Daubenmire raised the specter of 200,000 people storming the Capitol, Dunfee is alleged to have warned police officers that “the crowd of rioters would breach the US Capitol by force if necessary” and to have pushed a metal barricade against the police during a key breach that allowed the mob to surge past police and overtake the East Plaza.

Dunfee’s case also opens a lens on extensive communication between rioters on the two sides of the Capitol that sheds light on how those on the east side timed their attack.

READ: Text messages reveal Oath Keepers sought 'alliance' with other far-right groups ahead of Jan. 6

Ironically, the Salt & Light Brigade members’ provocative rhetoric and Dunfee’s role in the east-side breach have thrust the Christian militant network into the center of a right-wing conspiracy theory that cast its members as provocateurs and suspected federal assets. The relative dearth of criminal charges has only fueled suspicions among fellow rioters who have already been charged and in at least one case has already completed a short jail sentence.

Bill Dunfee paced back and forth on the raised flowerbed at the edge of the East Plaza outside the Capitol on the morning of Jan. 6.

“We will stand for our country,” the pastor told the growing crowd, according to charging documents. “We are standing for our freedoms. We are standing for our president. And today is the day these elected officials, these senators and congressmen, understand that we are not going to allow this to continue any longer.”

Later, according to the government, open-source video shows Dunfee saying, “I am not talking about any of the nonsense of burning buildings and destroying another man’s property, but they need to fear us.”

Before breaking for lunch at a line of food trucks parked along Constitution Avenue, a contingent of hundreds of Proud Boys led by Ethan Nordean and Joe Biggs circled the Capitol and stopped at the East Plaza to pose for a photo.

Pam Hemphill, who traveled to Washington from her home in Boise, Idaho, intercepted them at the southwest corner near the United States Botanic Garden, and approached Nordean.

“Are we going inside?” Hemphill asked Nordean, as shown in video she filmed on Jan. 6.

“Nah, we’re not going inside,” Nordean responded.

Contradicting his statement to Hemphill, Nordean did go inside the Capitol. He is currently awaiting trial on a charge of seditious conspiracy, along with four other members of the Proud Boys. One of Nordean’s co-defendants, Dominic Pezzola, is accused of stealing a police riot shield and breaking out a window, allowing the first stream of rioters to enter the building at 2:11 p.m.

Hemphill told Raw Story that in retrospect, she recognizes her words sound “awful.” During the exchange, she told Nordean that “we did” go in a capitol building “in Boise, with Ammon Bundy,” referring to the far-right leader whose family defied the Bureau of Land Management in an armed standoff in Nevada in 2014 and who is currently running for governor of Idaho.

Prosecutors highlighted Hemphill’s statements about her involvement in an occupation of the Idaho state capitol in August 2020 during her sentencing in May following her guilty plea for parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. Assistant US Attorney Sonia Mittal told the court that Hemphill bragged to other rioters on Jan. 6: “We broke the same glass in Boise.”

Hemphill told Raw Story that she misspoke, and that she should have said “they” instead of “we.” Hemphill said she made the statement during a livestream in which she assumed most of her audience was comprised of people back home in Boise, and that they would have understood that she was talking about events she observed.

Hemphill also told other members of a crowd at a rally in Washington, DC on the eve of the attack that she intended on “going in the Capitol” and advised the others to “occupy the Capitol,” according to her statement of offense. Hemphill denied making those statements in an interview with Raw Story, but the plea agreement she signed in January states that she “agrees that the attached statement of offense fairly and accurately describes” her actions.

Hemphill told Raw Story she went to the Capitol ahead of the larger crowd because she showed up too late to get a good spot at the Ellipse. She said the reason she asked the Proud Boys if they were intending to go inside the Capitol is because she had heard Trump say, “Proud Boys, stand down and standby,” during his debate with Biden. She told Raw Story she thought maybe the Proud Boys were “going to stand with Trump, because Trump was going to the Capitol.”

As a live-streamer she hoped to get footage of Trump inside the Capitol, and looked to the Proud Boys as a point of access.

Hemphill eventually made her way to the barricades on the East Plaza, where Dunfee had been preaching since about 9:30 a.m.

“Remember this: If they let us down, we are going to our house,” Dunfee told the crowd at 1:21 p.m., according to the government. Then, five minutes later, the government alleges that Dunfee said, “Reinforcements around back. If you are able to move around back, they need some support around back.”

Then, at 1:35 p.m., according to the government, Dunfee said, “Mister police officers, we want you to understand something. We want you to understand something. We want Donald Trump, and if Donald Trump is not coming, we are taking our house.”

The crowd erupted in cheers. A YouTube live-streamer named Samuel Di Gangi announced to his viewers: “There you have it, friends.

“They’re saying that if Trump is cheated of this, they’re taking it to the steps,” he added. “They’re insisting on it.”

Di Gangi’s video shows Dunfee reporting to the crowd that he was negotiating a deal with the police to “get us to the steps.” He pointed to a Capitol police officer and said, “He is talking to his leadership.”

Hemphill told Raw Story she blames Dunfee for her arrest.

“He had everybody believing that the officer was working on getting us to the steps legally,” she said in video she posted on YouTube last month. Hemphill’s original video from Jan. 6 shows a man arguing with Dunfee.

“What you’re doing is you’re buying them enough time to bring in reinforcements,” the man told Dunfee. “You know they’re going to bring the goddamn National Guard up. They don’t want us near that building.”

Then, the man began describing events on the other side of the Capitol, suggesting the conditions were right to launch an assault from the east.

“On the other side — Tony just came back — they were throwing smoke grenades at the crowd because they were starting to bum-rush the building,” the man said. “They’re so overwhelmed with two million people on the other side. That’s why they’re understaffed over here.”

“I understand all of that,” Dunfee said.

“Now is the time,” the man insisted. “Now is the time.”

Hemphill’s video then shows Dunfee turning back to the police line and saying, “Sir, I need an answer.”

Soon afterward, the rioters — allegedly including Dunfee — pushed through the barricades and eventually broke the police line, allowing them to surge into the East Plaza and fill the steps leading up to the front door.

Dunfee could not be reached for comment.

The rioters breached police barricades on the east side of the Capitol about an hour after doing so on the west side. As the crowds filled the steps on the east side, members of the Oath Keepers militia group — some of whom are now on trial for seditious conspiracy — ascended the steps and followed the mob into the building. By the time the rioters streamed onto the plaza on the east side of the Capitol at 2 p.m., their counterparts on the west side had been battling police for about an hour. Two men who were involved in the skirmishes on the west plaza led rioters from the west to the east to provide reinforcement.

One of the men, Ronald Loehrke, was recruited by Ethan Nordean, according to court documents. According to the statement of fact for Loehrke, who is charged with assaulting officers and other violations, Nordean told Loehrke in a text message on Dec. 29 that he wanted Loehrke “on the front line” with him. Loehrke reportedly responded by saying, “Sounds good, man,” and reporting that he was bringing “three bad mother***ers” with him.

Loehrke and another man, James Haffner, reportedly marched with the Proud Boys, and took part in the initial breach of the police line at the pedestrian gate at the northwest corner of the Capitol grounds. According to the statement of fact attached to their cases, Loehrke and Haffner made their way to a line of police officers in riot gear on the West Plaza, and then walked around to the east side of the building.

Along the way, Loehrke reportedly urged on bystanders on the Capitol lawn by saying, “Don’t back down, patriots! The whole f***ing world is watching. Stand the f*** up today.”

When they arrived at the east side, Loehrke and Haffner reportedly dismantled police barricades, moved them aside and stacked them, while Loehrke encouraged the other rioters by saying, “Let’s go! Get in there!”

Joe Biggs, who led the Proud Boys contingent alongside Ethan Nordean, also reportedly came around to the east side. The indictment against Biggs, Nordean and three other Proud Boys leaders for seditious conspiracy alleges that Biggs “forcibly re-entered the Capitol through the Columbus Doors on the east side of the Capitol” at 2:40 p.m. — 30 minutes after first entering the building from the west side.

Investigators have drawn a tight link between Bill Dunfee’s actions at the Capitol and the effort to prevent Congress from certifying Biden’s election. The FBI special agent who authored the statement of facts “believes Dunfee advised the crowd that the riot had been successful in disrupting the certification proceeding, which had been ongoing inside the US Capitol,” the document reads.

The government alleges that Dunfee said, “Hallelujah,” in response to a man who told him: “We did it, we shut ’em all down. We did our job.” Soon after, Dunfee reportedly told the rioters: “Mission accomplished.”

Di Gangi’s video captures at least one man wearing a Pass the Salt Ministries sweatshirt in the mob as it made its final push against the barricades to break through a line of Capitol police in riot gear on the East Plaza.

One of Daubenmire’s callers on the June 15, 2021 edition of “Coach Dave Live,” a man named Jeff Cline, also reported that he was present at the east side of the Capitol.

“We started out three to four hundred people at ten o’clock,” Cline said. “Pastor Bill was there from ten to two preaching. The crowd grew to about seven thousand. And there was about forty cops on that side.”

Cline recounted that the police gave them a friendly reception, adding, “And that’s what [Dunfee] told them: ‘We’re taking the steps. That’s what we’re here for — to take the steps and let ’em know we’re out here.’ So, as we did that, he’s got a little video footage. It was powerful. All three of them big sets of steps were full of people standing packed full.”

Daubenmire indicated during his podcast last week that he was on the other side of the Capitol from Dunfee. Salt and Light Brigade members Clay Parker, Bobby Lee and Chad Estes were also present on the west side of the Capitol, Vice News reported shortly after the Jan. 6 attack.

“We didn’t need President Trump to come on today and tell us everything we already know,” Estes said in a video recorded that day on the west terrace of the Capitol. “We needed him to come on and tell us what it is that we needed to do.”

“He didn’t do any of that,” said Clark, who was wearing a Pass the Salt Ministries sweatshirt.

“No, he didn’t,” Estes agreed. “So, I feel like, hey, we got dropped. The people are going to react. That’s the way it is.”

Members of Salt and Light Brigade figure prominently in a document named “Suspicious Actors and Close Associates and/or Material Witnesses” that is attached to a motion filed in August by Bradford Geyer, the attorney for Oath Keeper Kenneth Harrelson.

Geyer characterized the information in the “Suspicious Actors” document as “exculpatory evidence” based on a legal theory that “others committed the crimes that have been attributed to Mr. Harrelson.” The motion argues that some of the so-called “Suspicious Actors” “planned the attack on the Capitol,” or “organized and coordinated” it. In his motion, Geyer unsuccessfully sought a six-month continuance for the seditious conspiracy trial, which is now underway.

First among the 43 individuals named in the “Suspicious Actors” document is Bill Dunfee. The document also lists Dave Daubenmire, Jeff Cline, Chad Estes, Bobby Lee, Clay Parker, and 14 other alleged members of associates of Salt and Light Brigade, along with Samuel Di Gangi.

“The planning executed in the east and the west seems to have included coordination for synchronized actions of individuals or small group actions,” Geyer wrote in his motion. “We now see extensive evidence of coordination and timing. That these individuals are more likely to remain unidentified, are more likely to have their own activities documented on video under protective order, are less likely to be charged if they are identified, and, if charged, the charges often involve long delays with undercharging compared to others, are more than indicative of affiliation with some government agency.”

Di Gangi told Raw Story he was questioned by law enforcement a couple days after Jan. 6. He said in an email he believes law enforcement likely considers him to be a “material witness” rather than a “suspicious actor.”

“They asked me about what I filmed, and I was honest,” Di Gangi said. “Honest to the FBI? Yep. My footage was for everyone. That is what journalists do.”

Hemphill has continued to harbor suspicions towards Dunfee, even after his arrest last week.

“I’m upset at this man because he got me in trouble in to start with,” she told Raw Story in a Twitter direct message on Sunday. “If he hadn’t pushed on the barrier or pushed officers I wouldn’t have been in trouble!”

While speculating to Raw Story that Dunfee might be an informant, she also reshared a tweet critical of the government’s prosecution from Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, who wrote, “So Biden DOJ just arrested a Christian pastor for his sermon?”

Amidst the circular firing squad that has materialized since arrests began 20 months ago in the Jan. 6 investigation, even Daubenmire has promoted the “fed-surrection” conspiracy theory.

“The truth of the matter is some of those agitators could have been three-letter agencies of the US government stirring up the crowd, couldn’t they brother?” Daubenmire asked during a June 15, 2021 episode of “Coach Dave Live.”

But following Dunfee’s arrest last week, Daubenmire characterized his friend as someone merely speaking his mind, as opposed to an agitator.

“See, they don’t understand figurative speech,” Daubenmire said, as his producer scrolled through the statement of facts outlining the evidence against Dunfee. “When somebody says, ‘Let’s take back our government,’ they don’t mean go in and overthrow it. That’s not what they’re talking about. They know that, right? It’s like me saying, ‘Oh, I should have kicked him right in the nuts.’ I wouldn’t have done it. It’s figurative!”

André Gagné, a professor of theological studies at Concordia University in Montreal, said the religious language deployed by Daubenmire and his associates works on two different levels, and it can be tricky for law enforcement to discern where figurative speech ends and motivation to commit violent acts begins.

“He’s playing on these two registers,” Gagné said. “He’s going to talk about Christianity: It has to be violent; it has to be aggressive. You have to take the kingdom of God, he says. At the same time, when they’re put in the face of justice, they’re going to resort to: ‘This is only figurative language. Why don’t people understand?’

Gagné said the concept of “spiritual war” — the term used by Daubenmire on the Metro while he was traveling to the Ellipse on Jan. 6 — is deeply rooted in Christianity. It’s often used in personal context such as when an individual is “fighting against fleshly sins” or praying “that God protects you against contagion,” Gagné said. The problem he sees is that the concept of “spiritual warfare” is becoming increasingly politicized.

“They come to the conclusion that you even have political parties that would be under the influence of a demonic force, in this case the Democratic Party,” Gagné said. “That becomes a problem because you’re labeling people as being controlled by demonic forces — that dehumanizes them…. When you’re politicizing it, that is a problem because you’re dehumanizing political parties and individuals and ideas.”

Daubenmire could not be reached for comment for this story.

In recent days, Daubenmire has cited Dunfee’s arrest as evidence of a government campaign of persecution against Christians. While announcing that he was launching a legal defense fund for Dunfee, Daubenmire predicted: “There’s gonna be more people who get caught up in this.”

Daubenmire warned his listeners that the FBI and the Department of Justice “are out to eliminate Christianity,” while specifying a day earlier that “the target is Christians — especially white, evangelical God-fearing Christians.” As the government prosecutes people involved in the Jan. 6 attack who are Christians, Daubenmire predicted that moderate clergy who remain neutral will lose influence, telling his listeners “that we’re moving from peacetime to wartime pastors.”

When Daubenmire mused on the DC Metro on Jan. 6 about what would happen if 200,000 Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, he quickly claimed that he wasn’t advocating for violence, while citing scripture to support his position.

Gagné told Raw Story that most Biblical scholars would not embrace the same interpretation of the scripture — a passage from the gospel according to Luke that describes people rushing towards Jesus and John the Baptist to hear their message with a fervor akin to people attacking a city — in the same way that Daubenmire does.

“None of us want violence,” Daubenmire told his listeners on Jan. 6. “None of us are advocating violence. But the truth of the matter is there’s violence all around us. The Bible says God suffers violence from the days of John the Baptist until now. The kingdom of God has suffered violence. Violent men have taken it by force.”

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