Crime and Justice

Man arrested in Vermont in connection with Jan. 6 Capitol riot

The Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Brian Preller stands with a black flagpole, which he was seen carrying on Jan. 6. Photo via police affidavit

Updated at 7:13 p.m.

A man arrested in Vermont on Wednesday in connection with his alleged participation in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., was released from court later in the day with plans to return to an Airbnb.

Brian Preller, 33, of Mount Dora, Florida, faces a felony charge of civil disorder. He was also charged with two misdemeanors: entering and remaining in a restricted building, and disorderly conduct in a restricted building. 

Vermont State Police spokesperson Adam Silverman said it was his “understanding” that the arrest took place in Hardwick and that state police “had a few troopers on hand to assist in the arrest.” The Rutland Herald first reported the arrest. 

Preller appeared late Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Rutland for an initial court hearing. He was not required at the proceeding to enter a plea to the charges.

During the hearing, Judge Geoffrey Crawford said he understood that “a number of firearms” were seized as part of Preller’s arrest. 

“Is that your understanding,” the judge asked Preller.

“Yes,” Preller replied.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles did not ask the court to impose cash bail on Preller or keep him detained. Instead, the prosecutor sought several conditions of release, including that Preller not possess any firearms or dangerous weapons, that he stay in Vermont, and that he limit travel to Washington, D.C., only for court appearances or to speak with an attorney. 

Crawford agreed to impose those release conditions without objection from Preller’s attorney.

It was not made clear how long Preller had been in Vermont or why. He told the judge he planned to return to an Airbnb where he had been staying.

A Facebook account that federal authorities identified as Preller’s posted videos on Sunday showing Quechee Gorge in Hartford. Preller also posted an image identified as the Lamoille County town of Belvidere, and elsewhere wrote that he was “just shy of Canada.”

Preller declined comment following the hearing as he walked through the courthouse parking lot and into a vehicle driven by a woman described as his girlfriend during the proceeding. 

According to an affidavit written by FBI special agent Clarke Burns, Preller “participated in at least one attempt by rioters to force their way through into the Capital (sic) through the line of police officers.” More than 2,000 people stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s presidential victory. 

Preller attended the riot as a member of an organization called “B Squad,” a subgroup of the militia-style Florida organization the Guardians of Freedom, Burns wrote. Preller also identifies as a “three percenter,” a group of loosely organized anti-government militia groups, according to the affidavit.

Four other people, all from Florida, are also subjects of the affidavit, in which their names were redacted. However, they were named in a press release from the Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney’s Office as ​​Benjamin Cole, 38, of Leesburg; John Edward Crowley, 50, of Windermere; Jonathan Rockholt, 38, of Palm Coast; and Tyler Bensch, 20, of Casselberry.

On the day of the insurgency, Preller “wore riot gear,” according to the affidavit, and he and his unnamed co-conspirators carried weapons including metal batons and knives. 

Burns wrote that Preller rented a car in Leesburg, Florida, on Jan. 5, and returned the car on Jan. 8 having driven a similar number of miles as it would have taken to visit Washington, D.C. Cell phone data also placed Preller at the Capitol.

Using photos, the affidavit outlines Preller and the unnamed B Group members’ presence on the “Lower West Terrace” and in “The Tunnel,” two locations central to the riot. From inside the tunnel and “within a matter of feet of the police line,” Preller contributed to the “heave-ho” effort that attempted to break past police, Burns wrote.

In July 2021, Preller messaged a male friend that he was “continuing to build my 3% army so I can overthrow the federal government,” according to the affidavit.

Using images included in the court document, NBC News reported that the man referred to as “B Leader” in the affidavit is Jeremy Liggett. That person booked hotel rooms for more than 40 members of B Squad, Burns wrote.

Liggett, a former police officer, ran for U.S. House in Florida as a Republican this year. He is also an owner of Fight Training LLC, a Florida business teaching clients firearm skills. In a since-deleted Facebook post, Preller told friends to “Come see me at Fight Training LLC” to learn about firearms. 

The Washington, D.C., U.S. Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment on Wednesday. 

Mary Nerino, a federal public defender representing Preller, told the judge during his court appearance Wednesday that her client wanted to leave open the possibility of resolving the case in Vermont rather than in Washington, D.C. 

Crawford said that would require prosecutors from both jurisdictions agreeing to handle the case that way, adding, “I’m not sure that’s going to happen.” 

Cowles, the Vermont federal prosecutor, told the judge that Preller has a court hearing set for next week in Washington, D.C., and he can attend by video. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect age for Preller.

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Ethan Weinstein

About Ethan

Ethan Weinstein is a general assignment reporter focusing on Windsor County and the surrounding area. Previously, he worked as an assistant editor for the Mountain Times and wrote for the Vermont Standard.

Email: [email protected]

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