The young man in the blue jacket with the bright green hood appears at the top of the platform set up for Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. He has a fire extinguisher. He looks down upon the D.C. and Capitol Police officers below as they attempt to fend off a pro-Trump mob trying to storm the U.S. Capitol and stop the certification of Biden’s 2020 win.
The man in the hood unleashes a thick cloud of smoke, blinding officers below to the actions of the growing mob. Some move away to escape the irritant. Not long afterward, the young man jumps through a broken window and enters the building.
FBI suspect no. 255-AFO, wanted for assaulting federal officers at the Capitol, has been a top target in the bureau’s nationwide manhunt for the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. The bureau even put out a compilation video of images of the suspect whom online sleuths had dubbed “Green Horn Hoodlum.”
Law enforcement officers wanted the man’s name.
He’d already given it to them.
Nicholas James Brockhoff, a 20-year-old from Covington, Kentucky, was arrested on Thursday and charged with a number of federal charges including assaulting, resisting or impeding officers; using a deadly or dangerous weapon; and obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder.
But it wasn’t a tip from the public that led to charges against Brockhoff. It was evidence already in the government’s possession. Brockhoff, on police body camera, identified himself by his name on Jan. 6. Until recently, the evidence had slipped through the cracks.
After he climbed through a broken Capitol window, Brockhoff encountered officers with the Metropolitan Police Department while holding a stolen MPD helmet, according to an FBI special agent’s affidavit.
One officer told Brockhoff he was “locked up.” But members of law enforcement were so unprepared and overwhelmed on Jan. 6 that they didn’t actually make many arrests, and in fact, released people they’d detained because making an arrest could put officers in further jeopardy. There weren’t even enough people to process those arrested.
Before officers evidently released Brockhoff, they did get a key piece of information.
“What’s your name?” the officer asked.
“Nick,” Nick responded.
“Nick what?” the officer asked.
“Brockhoff,” Brockhoff responded.
The sprawling federal probe into the Capitol attack will go down as one of the largest investigations in American history. It’s unprecedented. More than 400 defendants have already been charged, and hundreds more arrests are on the way. The FBI has received literally hundreds of thousands of tips. It’s a logistical nightmare, and easy to imagine how a critical piece of evidence against one of the most wanted Capitol defendants could be buried when evidence is siloed into bunkers and not readily searchable or organized.
Another Capitol defendant who also attacked officers with a fire extinguisher was identified through crowdsourcing efforts because he had also named himself on video after his attack. The difference was that Robert Scott Palmer gave his name to a livestreamer in a video that was publicly available on YouTube, while Brockhoff identified himself on police body camera footage that is only accessible to the government and not readily searchable internally.
The FBI’s oversight in the Brockhoff case does raise questions about the bureau’s use of facial recognition technology, which has been used to identify Capitol rioters through images publicly posted to social media websites like Instagram.
If organized properly, facial recognition and comparison tools should have been able to connect the varying images of Brockhoff to the police body camera footage in the bureau’s possession. (There’s much less publicly available footage from inside the Capitol building, which is why Capitol sleuthing networks didn’t appear to pick up much of Brockhoff’s activities inside.)
Brockhoff was arrested in Tennessee, and federal court records show that the government intends to seek pretrial detention in his case. Magistrate Judge Jon A. York ordered Brockhoff temporarily held and set a probable cause and detention hearing for June 3.
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