WASHINGTON — Aided by citizen sleuths who keep identifying Jan. 6 rioters, the Justice Department is finding that it has more cases than lawyers to prosecute them.
Fifteen months after a mob stormed the Capitol in support of then-President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, more than 775 defendants have been arrested. More than 225 have pleaded guilty so far, and two have been convicted at trial: one by a jury and one by a judge. More than 50 have been sentenced to prison.
That leaves more than 500 active cases that still need to be resolved, either by plea deal or trial.
The Justice Department is asking Congress for additional funds to prosecute those cases — a list that keeps growing.
And even as the Justice Department closes in on the 800 arrest mark, there’s still an incredibly long road ahead. Multiple online sleuths in a network of “Sedition Hunters” working to find Jan. 6 participants have told NBC News that they’ve successfully identified to the FBI hundreds of additional Jan. 6 rioters — including dozens who are pictured on the FBI’s Capitol Violence website.
“There are hundreds still to go,” said one online sleuth closely involved in the investigation, speaking anonymously to avoid retaliation from supporters of the rioters.
Some of the Jan. 6 participants who haven’t been arrested were successfully identified months ago using open-source information publicly available on the internet — like public records, social media and internet photos.
By pouring over terabytes of photos and video footage from Jan. 6, citizen investigators have been able to identify hundreds of participants in the Capitol attack. More than 2,500 people made their way inside the Capitol, officials have estimated, and there are more than 350 individuals still listed on the FBI’s Capitol Violence website who have not yet been arrested.
“We’re maybe 30 percent into arrests, with more to come,” the sleuth said. “And still not all crimes discovered.”
Another sleuth who also requested to speak anonymously to detail their progress in helping law enforcement said it was clear that the FBI was “backlogged so far” with cases still awaiting action.
“Sometimes I kind of lose faith, and then they keep plugging away,” that sleuth said, noting they were sometimes left scratching their head over the timing of certain arrests.
“I still can’t explain the order,” the sleuth said. “They have arrested people on lesser charges, but there are others we’ve identified from the FBI list who committed more serious crimes and are still out there.”
The sprawling Jan. 6 investigation is overwhelming the Justice Department and FBI, according to law enforcement sources and those familiar with the investigation, and the federal courthouse in D.C., where every trial must be held.
The federal investigation is also expanding into legally complex areas of the law like seditious conspiracy, and broaching more complicated topics, like the planning behind the rally that proceeded the attack on the Capitol.
Given the resource needs, the proposed Justice Department budget for the 2023 fiscal year includes an additional $34 million and 130 positions for Capitol prosecutions.
Speaking about the budget request last week, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, told reporters that the Jan. 6 probe was among the “most complex that this department has ever undertaken.” The Justice Department is currently spending $15 million with 68 people dedicated to the Jan. 6 prosecution effort, in addition to drawing on existing budgeted resources at the FBI and DOJ. A budget document described the investigation as “resource-intensive” and said additional prosecutors and litigation support are necessary “to address the magnitude and complexity of the casework.”
The delayed arrests have had an impact. In one instance, a man who was identified to the FBI in February 2021 as a person who flashed a gun on the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6 went on to fatally stab a 19-year-old in a park in Salt Lake City.
Delays in arrest can affect cases once they’re brought forward as well. In February, the FBI arrested a Trump supporter from North Carolina who was out on bail on an attempted first-degree murder charge when he traveled to D.C. and stormed the Capitol. The government moved to detain the man, Matthew Beddingfield, who was arrested more than 10 months after he was first identified, until his trial. But a federal magistrate judge — in part citing the length of time between Jan. 6 and Beddingfield’s arrest in February 2022 — said he could be released pretrial.
Had Beddingfield been arrested in early 2021, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui said, “I would be hard-pressed not to detain him.” Beddingfield was ultimately released into his grandfather’s custody.
But given the overwhelming scope of the investigation, some of the average citizens who have been aiding the Jan. 6 probe said they understand that things could take a lot longer than they hoped.
“The scope of the investigation is so large that even 15 months in, to expect the government to scale in such a way that all cases have already been brought forward, is just unrealistic,” a third sleuth involved in the investigation said. “As long as justice continues to be served, even if it’s slower than I would like, I’m OK with it. As long as I see them arresting people, and finalizing the cases, and pushing the plea deals through where it makes sense, I’m Ok with that.”