Self-Described Virginia Militiaman Is Arrested in Capitol Breach

Prosecutors did not charge the suspect, Fi Duong, with crimes of violence but accused him of planning to use Molotov cocktails and of conducting surveillance at the Capitol after Jan. 6.

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In mid-June, a self-described Virginia militiaman drove with a new acquaintance from his home in Alexandria to a former prison in the nearby town of Lorton, about 15 miles away. His mission was a secret one, prosecutors say: He was scouting a location where he could test a batch of Molotov cocktails he was planning to make.

The man, Fi Duong, apparently liked the prison and, according to court papers, he told his friend — and another man who joined them — that it was “the perfect place” to do the job. “Technically,” the papers quote him as saying before the group departed, “you’re engaging in war or conflict. But again, what is the price we ultimately pay for peace?”

What Mr. Duong did not know, however, was that the other men were not like-minded activists who shared his beliefs in a pending civil war and the need for Virginia to secede from the union. They were instead federal agents who had been spying on him and some of his associates since shortly after the riot at the Capitol six months ago.

On Tuesday, federal prosecutors unsealed a complaint against Mr. Duong, charging him not with making bombs but with illegally breaching the Capitol on Jan. 6. In the complaint, they did not accuse Mr. Duong of committing any violence, but rather accused him of repeatedly using violent rhetoric and conducting surveillance at the Capitol in the weeks after the attack by the pro-Trump mob.

At a court hearing in Washington on Friday, Mr. Duong’s lawyer, Sabrina Schroff, argued that the F.B.I. had sought to entrap her client and had offered no evidence that he had done anything beyond talk about recipes for bombs. A federal judge released Mr. Duong on bond before his trial. Ms. Schroff declined to discuss her client’s case on Tuesday.

According to the complaint, the authorities first learned of Mr. Duong on the morning of Jan. 6 when he and a man they described as Associate 1 encountered an undercover Metropolitan Police Department officer near Freedom Plaza in Washington. Mr. Duong, 27, asked the officer whether he was a “patriot,” court papers say, and the officer said he was. When asked the same question, Mr. Duong, a Marine Corps veteran of Vietnamese and Chinese heritage, told the officer that he was an “operator,” prosecutors say.

Within a week, court papers say, the undercover police officer had introduced Mr. Duong to an undercover F.B.I. agent. Speaking freely, Mr. Duong told the agent that he was part of a “cloak and dagger” militia-style group trying to assemble a “robust network” of “freedom-loving, liberty-minded” Second Amendment supporters. He explained that his family had “spent two generations running from Communists” in China and Vietnam and then admitted he had been at the Capitol on Jan. 6 “wearing all black in an effort to look like a member of antifa.”

By February, prosecutors say, the undercover agent had won Mr. Duong’s trust and was invited to a meeting of the militia group at Mr. Duong’s home in Alexandria — a get-together that the members referred to as “Bible study.” During the meeting, court papers say, the undercover agent saw multiple firearms and boxes of ammunition, and the militiamen discussed weapons and training classes in physical fitness, hand-to-hand combat and driving. They also discussed a plan to obtain a private internet server so that members could “subvert potential law enforcement surveillance.”

Days before the meeting, according to the complaint, Mr. Duong had told the undercover agent on an encrypted message app about his own surveillance at the Capitol, mentioning that one of his “guys” was putting together a report on the size, activity, location, uniforms, time and equipment of law-enforcement personnel. After the meeting, court papers say, Mr. Duong and Associate 1 discussed yet another surveillance operation on the same encrypted channels.

“How do we feel about an Intel run around the Capitol tonight?” Associate 1 wrote, adding that a light police presence there was a “good opportunity to expose weaknesses.” According to court papers, Mr. Duong agreed it was good time to go but suggested having “a legitimate reason.”

“Visit a restaurant or something,” he wrote. “Get something cheap. Walk around a bit.”

By April, prosecutors say, new people attended the militia group meetings, including someone whom Mr. Duong described as his “three percenter contact.” The Three Percenters are far-right extremists whose radical views tend to focus on gun rights. Last month, federal prosecutors charged six men, including two political operatives, with ties to the movement in Southern California.

Prosecutors acknowledge that Mr. Duong was not a formal member of the Three Percenter movement but said in their complaint that he had often expressed his willingness to engage in violence “against groups that shared different views than his own.”

In March, for instance, he sent a message on his group’s encrypted platform with a news article about vandalism stemming from a Black Lives Matter protest, adding, “Make sure your rifles are zeroed.” Responding to a conversation about more stringent U.S. gun laws, he wrote, “The consequences will be tremendous, potentially the spark to kick off the next hot civil conflict.”

According to the complaint, the F.B.I. agent first discovered Mr. Duong’s interest in incendiary devices toward the end of May when he arrived for another meeting at Mr. Duong’s house and saw five cardboard boxes containing about 50 glass bottles in the driveway. Court papers say that Mr. Duong and others at the meeting talked about making Molotov cocktails and homemade bombs with a form of tear gas and the heating packets from packaged military meals. A few days later, when the F.B.I. agent asked Mr. Duong how he could get some Molotov cocktails, Mr. Duong replied that they would have to test them first — something that he could not do in his own backyard in Alexandria.

It was a few weeks later, court papers say, when Mr. Duong followed the F.B.I. agent to a 7-Eleven store on a quiet street in Lorton. From there, they drove to the prison, prosecutors say, where the second agent joined them and Mr. Duong approved the place as a testing site.

“We’re not at a point where people are out in the street rioting,” Mr. Duong told the two men, who were secretly recording him. But then he quickly added, “It’s coming soon.”

“I’d give it another six weeks,” he said. “Whatever supplies you can get now, get ’em now.”

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