Wed, Jan 13, 2021 3:58 PM
By BEN FINLEY and DENISE LAVOIE, AP
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — A man photographed wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt during the U.S. Capitol riot last week was arrested Wednesday in Virginia, authorities said.
Robert Keith Packer, 56, was arrested in Newport News, where he lives. He was charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and unlawfully entering a restricted building.
President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building last week following a rally the president held to repeat baseless election grievances. Five people died during the siege, including a Capitol police officer, a woman shot by police and three people who had medical emergencies.
Packer entered the Capitol wearing a sweatshirt with the name of the Nazi concentration camp where about 1.1 million people were killed during World War II, according to a criminal complaint. The sweatshirt also contained the phrase, “Work brings freedom,” a translation of “Arbeit macht frei,” the German phrase that appeared on the camp’s entrance.
The photo of Packer in the sweatshirt caused an uproar on social media, and the images ultimately helped authorities track him down. The complaint said an FBI agent confirmed Packer’s identity by comparing rally photos with his driver’s license to security footage of him wearing the shirt at a store near where he lives.
During a federal court hearing Wednesday, a prosecutor said the government would not be seeking Packer's detention. A federal judge said Packer would be released promptly on a personal recognizance bond that bars him from visiting Washington unless it’s for a court appearance.
Packer said he intends to hire his own lawyer, as opposed to a court-appointed attorney. But he did not identify who would represent him in the case.
Two police officers from Rocky Mount, Virginia, face the same charges. Sgt. Thomas “T.J.” Robertson and officer Jacob Fracker were both placed on administrative leave by the Rocky Mount Police Department after they attended the rally while off-duty.
A statement of facts written by a U.S. Capitol Police special agent and unsealed Wednesday said Robertson and Fracker were photographed in the Capitol Building “making an obscene statement” in front of a statute of John Stark, an American Revolutionary War officer from New Hampshire famous for writing the state's “Live Free or Die” motto.
In social media posts, Robertson is quoted as saying: “CNN and the Left are just mad because we actually attacked the government who is the problem and not some random small business … The right IN ONE DAY took the f------ U.S. Capitol. Keep poking us.”
The statement also describes a now-deleted Facebook post by Fracker containing the caption, “Lol to anyone who's possibly concerned about the picture of me going around...Sorry I hate freedom? ...Not like I did anything illegal...”
The statement cites comments Robertson made to news outlets in which he said he broke no laws, did not know about the violence and that he had been escorted into the building by the Capitol Police.
“Moreover, at that date and time, the United States Capitol was on lockdown and the defendants' presence inside was without lawful authority,” Special Agent Vincent Veloz wrote.
Robertson told The Roanoke Times that he does not support the violence that happened inside the Capitol.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “For it to go like that is absolutely ridiculous.”
FBI spokeswoman Christina Pullen said another Virginia man, Douglas Allen Sweet, of Grimstead, also was arrested Wednesday on charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
Sweet was charged along with five other people who police said were on the upper level of the United States Capitol Visitors Center.
The criminal complaint against Sweet and five others described a scene in which a crowd of several dozen people were “making loud noises, and kicking chairs, throwing an unknown liquid substance at officers, and spraying an unknown substance at officers.”
Capitol police ordered the crowd to leave, and the crowd responded by shouting and cursing at the officers, the complaint states. Police said Sweet and the five others “were positioned towards the front of the crowd, close to the Capitol police officers who were responding.”
“The six individuals, like others in the larger crowd, willfully refused the order to leave,” the complaint says.
One of Sweet’s daughters, Robyn Sweet, said in a Facebook message to a reporter that her father "doesn’t mean any harm and is a good person at heart.”
"I think he truly believes that what he is doing is the right thing. But I feel he has become terribly misguided and disillusioned by the far-right groups he involves himself with,” she said.
Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia. Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.