Allen Groat attended two “Million MAGA” marches in Washington, D.C., after the November 2020 election, when thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump descended on the nation’s capital to push the “big lie” about widespread voter fraud. At the second march, Groat, 36, wore a black baseball cap with a U.S. flag on it and took selfies with a who’s-who of far-right figures who weeks later would be key players in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
There was a selfie with Ali Alexander, main organizer of the “Stop the Steal” demonstration Jan. 6 that turned into the attack on the Capitol; one with Doug Mastriano, who was at the center of the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and who is now the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania; another with Enrique Tarrio, leader of the violent neo-fascist gang the Proud Boys; and one with Alex Jones, the notorious Infowars conspiracist. (Groat later claimed to have worked as “impromptu” security for Jones during a rally.)
Groat was a true believer in the cause, writing in since-deleted tweets that those who “love America” need to “defend the republic by any means necessary.” Soon, he wrote, “blood will be shed to prevent the theft of our republic.” He shared his “Make America Great Again” brethren’s hated for anti-racist activists, tweeting an image of a Black Lives Matter mural with the capition, “Fuck BLM!!! Time to uninstall!!!” And then, in early January, he announced his plans to attend a Jan. 6 demonstration that Trump promised would be “wild!” Groat wrote that he was “so excited to join all the #Patriots…to force congress to the right thing and #DoNotCertify the fraudulent election.” He took Jan. 6 off from work ― reportedly telling his employer that he had to take his wife to the doctor — and went to Washington.
Videos and photos from Jan. 6 show Groat marching toward the Capitol as part of the Jones-Alexander entourage before breaking off and climbing the northwest stairs of the Capitol, entering the building at 2:37 p.m. Body-worn police camera footage shows officers asking him and other rioters to leave.
“We love you guys… it’s their fault, not ours,” Groat can be heard telling officers, gesturing toward Congress. He walked through the Rotunda and eventually exited through the central east doors.
Then, after the dust settled from that historic day — five deaths, $30 million in damages, a democracy even more imperiled — Groat returned to his home near Charlottesville, Virginia, and went back to work as an IT analyst for the city’s police department, sheriff’s office, fire department and rescue squad.
In the weeks that followed, many of Groat’s fellow insurrectionists were exposed by a small army of online researchers, resulting in a daily melodrama, played out in headlines across the country — arrests, jobs lost, relationships upended — that in many ways mirrored what had happened in Charlottesville years earlier after another deadly fascist riot: Unite the Right.
But Groat’s Jan. 6 activities went unreported for a year and a half, until this June, when local anti-fascist activist Molly Conger uncovered Groat’s social media posts — which he confirmed to C-VILLE Weekly were his — and found footage of him in the U.S. Capitol.
As Charlottesville marks the fifth anniversary this week of the deadly Unite the Right rally — the 2017 demonstration in which about 1,000 Trump-emboldened white supremacists invaded the city for the largest such gathering in a generation — locals are pressuring city officials to fire Groat.
Charlottesville should know better than most places, they say, how important it is to make sure extremists face consequences for their actions.
“In many ways, you can draw a straight line from 2017′s Unite the Right rally here in Charlottesville to January 6th, 2021 in DC,” Conger tweeted earlier this week. “I guess it’s fitting that as we approach the five-year anniversary, city leadership continues to downplay and ignore the dangers that put us on that road.”
Both the mayor and interim city manager have insisted that city policies preclude them from firing Groat because he has not been charged with a crime related to the Capitol insurrection, according to a detailed report that the C-VILLE Weekly published Tuesday.
“The employee in question admits he attended the events at the Capitol,” City Manager Michael Rogers said at an Aug. 1 city government meeting. “He posted his presence on his social media page, he shared this information with the FBI and he was not arrested.”
“He is very sorrowful of his activities,” Rogers added. “He’s experienced a great deal of personal loss. Considering the totality of circumstances, including that it’s been a year and half without any action, I conclude that no further action or review is warranted in this case.”
But just two days later, a message posted from a Truth Social account appearing to belong to Groat didn’t sound all that contrite. “Please pray for me as I was recently doxxed for my patriotic participation and it is affecting me in my career and relationships,” it read. The message was deleted after Conger posted a screenshot to Twitter.
Groat did not respond to a HuffPost request for comment for this story.
Rogers also claimed at the city meeting that the approximately 900 individuals arrested for their involvement in the insurrection were charged with “criminal activity” that included acts of destruction, “not merely their presence in the Capitol” — seeming to suggest Groat likely didn’t break any laws on Jan. 6.
But Rogers, who declined to comment for this story, is incorrect. Many of the arrests stemming from Jan. 6, 2021, involve charges for simply being inside the Capitol. Those charges include “entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds” and “parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building” — which raises the prospect that Groat could still be charged. (The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this story about Groat’s case. Groat, according to Rogers, has claimed he has given three interviews to FBI agents.)
“Five years ago our community raised the alarm with city officials about the white supremacist terror attacks that were coming and those concerns were woefully neglected,” Rev. Seth Wispelwey, the pastor at Charlottesville’s United Church of Christ, told HuffPost in a statement this week. “I find it alarming that clear moral leadership is still lacking when the call is now clearly coming from inside the house.”
Whisperley helped mobilize counterprotesters ahead of the rally on Aug. 12, 2017. The event ended with a neo-Nazi driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many more, in what became one of the defining episodes of the Trump era. The then-president infamously responded to the day’s traumatic events by saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of the demonstration.
In the ensuing years leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, Whisperley and others in Charlottesville felt like modern-day Cassandras, warning that the wider MAGA movement was likely to commit worse political violence, to little avail.
“The city of Charlottesville’s continued support of Groat undermines the credibility of city government and any anti-racist statements they make on paper,” Lisa Woolfork, another local anti-racist organizer, told HuffPost. “It reveals that the city, too, still accommodates white supremacy and fascism to the detriment of those who live here.”
A major connection between Unite the Right and the attack on the Capitol, Woolfork argued, is apathy among government officials toward the threat posed by the far right in America.
“Apathy claims that white supremacy is merely a contentious point of view rather than an actual practice that harms people,” she said. “Too many people advised activists and organizers to passively accept white supremacists marching in our streets, only to be shocked later by the deadly consequence of their presence.”
Kathryn Laughon, a University of Virginia professor of nursing and local anti-racist activist, said Groat had “profited from a risk-averse system that privileges status quo over making waves, and thus has kept his job.”
“Charlottesville is not unique,” Laughon said. “Given the number of participants in the Jan. 6 insurrection, we know there must be hundreds of white supremacists all over the country who have not faced consequences. As a country, we have to continue to fight back.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of Rev. Seth Wispelwey.