Capitol Riot

FBI arrests man on Jan. 6 assault charges with help of online sleuths and matching moles

Thomas "Tommy" Joseph Kelly, Jr. faces charges of assaulting officers; assaulting officers with a deadly or dangerous weapon; and civil disorder, along with several misdemeanors

A split image. On the left, a crowd with a figure highlighted by a red circle; on the right, an image of a man's face.
Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI arrested an alleged Jan. 6 participant in Maryland on Wednesday and charged him with assaults on law enforcement after identifying him with the help of online sleuths and matching moles on his face to footage from the 2021 Capitol attack.

Thomas "Tommy" Joseph Kelly, Jr. faces charges of assaulting officers; assaulting officers with a deadly or dangerous weapon; and civil disorder, along with several misdemeanors. The bureau said Kelly used a long pole to repeatedly strike officers inside the lower west tunnel leading into the Capitol building, where some of the worst violence of the day took place.

Kelly, the FBI said, was listed as no. 189 on the FBI's Capitol Violence webpage, essentially its "most wanted" list for Jan. 6 suspects. Online "sedition hunters" who have aided the bureau with hundreds of Jan. 6 arrests referred to him as #Zionor due to the brand of the snow goggles he was wearing during the attack.

Online sleuths have routinely used facial recognition to identify rioters, and the FBI said that it was tipped off about publicly available photos of Kelly on a wedding and engagement photography website. The bureau put particular focus on the “size and position of two moles” that helped confirm the identification, according to an FBI affidavit.

On Jan. 6, 2021, supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol during the certification of Electoral College votes. NBCLX Political Editor Noah Pransky brings you a timeline of the day and the aftermath.

Kelly, the bureau said, was also with his wife on Jan. 6, which helped confirm the identification. To nail it down, the bureau even checked Kelly's wife's Amazon records, finding that she'd purchased running shoes on Nov. 22, 2020 that matched the ones the bureau says she wore on Jan. 6, a few weeks later. The bureau also noted that she'd purchased Zionor snow googles in October 2020 that matched the ones Kelly wore as well as a flag listed as "Trump Law & Order 2nd Amendment Guns Flag Trump Flag Make America Great Again" on Dec. 15, 2020.

The FBI said that a video from outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, shows Kelly talking about the need to rush police officers when then the officers reformed a police line after the initial barriers were breached. "They initially were back there! We jumped the fence, and they ran back! They're scared! They're scared!" the FBI quotes Kelly saying in the video.

Video also showed Kelly celebrating when another rioter hit police with pepper spray, and using a giant "TRUMP" sign to assault police.

Later, the FBI said, Kelly joined a mob pushing against police, made physical contact with another officer, flipped off officers as the mob chased them down and joined the rioters fight law enforcement inside of the lower west tunnel with a pole that "had a mottled wood-like finish, a metal endcap, and metal screw eyes protruding from the side."

Inside the tunnel, the FBI said, Kelly "jabbed and thrust the pole directly into the police line" and hit an officer in the head. The officer he hit ended up with a cracked helmet, and was briefly knocked unconscious, the FBI said. "Even after he regained consciousness, Officer C.M. struggled to remain conscious," the FBI affidavit stated. "Officer C.M. continued to experience symptoms from this blow to his head during the remainder of January 6, 2021, including symptoms such as vision loss and degraded consciousness."

Kelly then handed the pole to another rioter who broke it while striking police officers, according to the bureau.

Since the attack on the Capitol nearly 3.5 years ago, federal prosecutors have charged more than 1,425 rioters and secured more than 1,019 convictions against Jan. 6 defendants. Of the more than 884 defendants who have been sentenced, 541 have received periods of incarceration that have ranged from a few days behind bars to 22 years in federal prison.

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