Prompted by his belief that the 2020 election was unfair and fraudulent, Marine Corps Cpl. Micah Coomer, along with two friends, traveled from their station at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, to participate in the Jan. 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally in support of former President Donald Trump.
When the rally turned into a riot and Trump supporters broke past barriers to enter the U.S. Capitol, Coomer and his friends joined, spending 52 minutes inside, according to the Department of Justice.
This week, the 24-year-old Marine became the first active duty service member convicted of taking part in the Capitol riot.
The FBI had tracked his movements minute by minute using security footage, which showed Coomer and his two friends moving from room to room and using their phones to take photos, videos and answer phone calls. At one point, they placed a red MAGA hat atop a statue and took photos with it.
Coomer later posted photos from inside the Capitol on Instagram ― posts that became FBI evidence against him.
“Everything in this country is corrupt,” he wrote. “We honestly need a fresh restart. I’m waiting for the boogaloo.”
“Boogaloo” is a term referencing a future civil war. When asked to explain the word by the person he was Instagram-messaging, Coomer responded, “Civil war 2.”
On Wednesday, Coomer pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to one misdemeanor count of illegally parading or demonstrating in the Capitol. His attorney, Phillip Stackhouse, did not respond to request for comment following the hearing. Judge Ana C. Reyes set his sentencing for Aug. 30.
As part of Coomer’s plea agreement, he agreed to pay $500 in restitution to the Architect of the Capitol for damages he may have caused. An estimated $2.8 million worth of damage was done to the Capitol and grounds during the riot. He also agreed to cooperate with investigators who are still probing the Jan. 6 attack, answering their questions and giving them access to his social media accounts, according to the plea documents.
Four other active-duty troops, including Coomer’s two friends, also have been charged in the siege. Dozens more rioters with military backgrounds were charged — and some convicted — in the years since the attack.
As of Thursday, Coomer remained on active duty and was assigned to Camp Pendleton in California, where he works as an intelligence surveillance reconnaissance system engineer, according to information provided to Military Times by the Pentagon’s Marine Corps public affairs office. He enlisted in 2018.
Police arrested Coomer in January, along with Sgt. Joshua Abate and Sgt. Dodge Dale Hellonen. All three Marines work in intelligence-gathering. This occurrence of anti-government sentiments infiltrating the intelligence community is “dangerous,” said Tom O’Connor, a retired FBI agent who focused on domestic extremism for 20 years.
“This guy mentioned ‘boogaloo,’ and he mentioned the second Civil War — that’s a dangerous thing to have within our U.S. government because it’s completely anti-government,” O’Connor said. “To have somebody like that in there, he’s a danger to the public and to people who are working within that government entity.”
He pointed to the recent harm caused in the case of Jack Teixeira, a Massachusetts Air National Guard member who leaked highly classified military documents about top national security issues on the social media platform Discord.
As of Thursday, Abate was still assigned to National Security Agency headquarters at Fort Meade in Maryland, where he works as part of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion. Abate enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2018 and was interviewed in 2022 as part of his security clearance for the NSA job. During the interview, he discussed entering the Capitol on Jan. 6, according to the FBI’s complaint.
Abate told the interviewer that he entered the Capitol with two buddies, one of whom smoked a cigarette while they “walked around and tried not to get hit with tear gas.” Like Coomer, Abate was charged with a misdemeanor count of illegally parading or demonstrating in the Capitol. A district court hearing for Abate has not yet been scheduled.
Hellonen, who enlisted in 2017, was working as a special communications signals analyst at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina as of Thursday. He was charged with the same misdemeanor as Abate and Coomer. His case was assigned to Judge Reyes, and a hearing hasn’t been scheduled for his charge yet, either.
All three Marines are recipients of the Navy and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the National Defense Service Medal, according to their service records.
While the Marine Corps provided information about the Marines’ current assignments, officials didn’t expound on the nature of their job duties while their criminal trials progress.
“I hope they’ve been put in positions where they have no access [to intelligence], and the military is letting the investigations continue before going after their security clearances,” O’Connor said.
FBI agents used security footage, social media and the help of three other Marines who worked with Coomer, Abate and Hellonen to identify the men and track their movements on Jan. 6. Meta, which owns Instagram, granted access to the FBI to view Coomer’s Instagram messages. The messages revealed Coomer’s anti-government feelings and his belief that the 2020 presidential election wasn’t legitimate.
Footage showed Hellonen carrying the Gadsden flag inside the Capitol. The flag depicts a coiled snake over the phrase, “Don’t tread on me,” against a yellow background. It was first flown in 1776 in protest against British rule and later became a symbol of libertarianism. More recently, it’s been used by anti-government groups to promote the fear of government overreach, according to George Washington University.
The symbols and language used by the Marines align with the creed of the Boogaloo Movement, O’Connor said. Boogaloo is an anti-government, anti-authority and anti-police extremist movement that began on the website 4chan over a decade ago. The group’s in-person activities increased since 2020 and have included rallies around gun rights, pandemic restrictions and police-related killings.
It’s not uncommon to see service members join the Boogaloo Movement. According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, known as START, a handful of other people with military backgrounds who participated in the Jan. 6 attack were forthcoming about their affiliation with the Boogaloos.
START, which keeps database of veterans and service members charged with extremist crimes, said that 25 of the 628 people in the repository were part of the Boogaloo Movement.
People with military backgrounds were over-represented on Jan. 6. Of the rioters, 17% were veterans, Harvard University found. In addition to the three Marines, two other active-duty service members were charged: Marine Corps Maj. Christopher Warnagiris and Navy sailor David Elizalde.
In addition to the Boogaloo Movement, participants with military backgrounds were representing other extremist groups that day, including the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and Aryan Nations, among others.
Mollie Saltskog, a senior intelligence analyst at The Soufan Group, a global intelligence and security consultancy, said the cases of Coomer, Abate and Hellonen highlight the need to bolster educational resources given to service members about false or misleading narratives they may find online — for the sake of national security.
“Foreign entities pushing polarizing and anti-government disinformation narratives to active or former service members is concerning, as these individuals may have had or currently have access to classified information that could be attractive to foreign entities seeking to harm the United States,” Saltskog said.
We The Veterans, a pro-democracy nonprofit created by veterans and military families in 2021, said that service members themselves are the best people to combat these types of extremist sentiments among the military community.
“Fellow military members and military family members are often the closest people to an active duty member who has been targeted with misinformation or expresses extreme anti-democratic views,” said Ellen Gustafson, a co-founder of the group. “We the Veterans is working to bolster civic knowledge and patriotic engagement among veterans and military family members so they are prepared to push back against this targeting.”
This story was produced in partnership with Military Veterans in Journalism.