A Bucks County man is the first local Capitol rioter to plead guilty. More are on the horizon.
In all, 82 of the more than 620 people charged with participating in the Jan. 6 riot have pleaded guilty — most to misdemeanor charges. Another 26 are scheduled to join them by the end of October.
A Bucks County man whose wife’s Facebook postings tipped off the FBI to his presence among the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 pleaded guilty Monday to a federal misdemeanor charge, making him the first Philadelphia-area defendant convicted for participating in the riot.
Under a deal struck with prosecutors, Gary Edwards, 68, of Churchville, admitted to one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol — a charge that could result in probation or as much as six months in prison when he is sentenced in December.
He said little as U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg quizzed him during a 15-minute hearing via videoconference from Washington on whether he understood the implications of his plea.
“I entered the building,” Edwards said. “I am guilty.”
Edwards’ plea came as prosecutors leading the Capitol riot investigation have rapidly increased the rate at which they are bringing cases toward a resolution.
By the end of the day Monday, 82 of the more than 620 people charged nationwide had entered guilty pleas — and 26 more are set to join them by the end of next month. Most have been defendants facing misdemeanor charges alleging they simply entered the Capitol building without permission and were not directly involved in more serious attacks on police or in planning the attack.
In all, more than 55 Pennsylvanians have been charged in the nearly nine months since the riot. Edwards becomes the eighth to admit guilt in court.
Two more suburban Philadelphia residents are expected to join those ranks this week. Dawn Bancroft, 59, and the owner of a CrossFit gym in Doylestown, and Diana Santos-Smith, of Fort Washington, are scheduled to plead guilty Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan.
Both women were identified from a selfie video that Bancroft allegedly shot as she and Santos-Smith were leaving the Capitol building.
“We were looking for [House Speaker] Nancy [Pelosi] to shoot her in the friggin’ brain,” Bancroft said, as she pushed her way out through the crowd. “We didn’t find her.”
Like them, Edwards was implicated by social media. In his case, it was his wife’s Facebook postings, according to court filings in his case.
In the days after the riot, she took to Facebook to defend her husband’s actions.
“Okay ladies, let me tell you what happened as my husband was there inside the Capitol,” Lynn Feiler Edwards wrote.
Public records show that up until at least 2012, Edwards was a registered Democrat and had changed his voter status to “unaffiliated” sometime thereafter.
There was little on his own public-facing Facebook account to suggest what brought him to Washington in January.
But his wife, in her own posts, described how her husband had followed a “small group of young men dressed in military garb” into the building after watching them break down police barricades, smash a window to climb inside, and then break furniture on their way toward storming the upper floors.
She claimed her husband spent his time in the building helping to flush tear gas from the eyes of other rioters, chatting amicably with police and singing “The Star Spangled-Banner.”
“These were people who watched their rights being taken away,” she wrote. “Their votes stolen from them, their state officials violating the constitutions of their country.”
At least one member of her friend group disagreed and forwarded screen shots of her postings to the FBI. Agents identified him in surveillance footage of the building and arrested Edwards in May.
As he appeared before the court on Monday, the account he offered of his time in the building was much more concise. He acknowledged he followed a crowd streaming through the doors just after 3 p.m., milled around the hallways with others, entered a Senate office and left once again, spending no more than 24 minutes in the building.
“You did that despite knowing you were not permitted inside the Capitol building?” the judge asked.
Edwards replied: “That is correct.”