Marine Corps Major Arrested for Capitol Riot

A serving officer was arrested for his part in events of 6 January

WaPo (“Marine Corps officer is first known active-duty service member charged in Capitol riot“):

A Marine Corps officer was arrested Thursday for alleged crimes during the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, becoming the first known active-duty service member charged in the violent attempt to thwart the certification of Joe Biden’s election as president.

Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, 40, stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico, was charged with five counts, including assaulting and obstructing police during a civil disorder and obstructing an official proceeding of Congress, federal prosecutors said. He made his first appearance in federal court in Alexandria on Wednesday afternoon.

The attack on the Capitol prompted the Pentagon to refocus efforts on weeding possible extremists out of the active-duty ranks, with a recent military-wide “stand-down” for service members to discuss the issue.

Warnagiris joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and serves as a field artillery officer, officials said. He served on four deployments, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. His current assignment includes training to “improve the warfighting skills” of senior commanders.

“There is no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps,” said Maj. J.A. Hernandez, a Marine Corps spokesman. “Our strength is derived from the individual excellence of every Marine regardless of background. Bigotry and racial extremism run contrary to our core values.”

Four other people who have military ties and were charged in the riot serve part-time in the National Guard or Army Reserve. At least 42 others are military veterans, according to service records obtained by The Washington Post, of more than 400 arrested on federal charges.

Obviously, this is disturbing news, indeed.

Warnagiris is a recent (2019) graduate of my institution and, while I never taught him (aside from two one-over-220 lectures to the whole class) his name and face are familiar. I have a few relevant insights into his character, disposition, and nature of service that I only know because of my work and don’t believe it would be proper to share them in a public forum.

One hopes this was the only officer, indeed only active duty servicemember, involved in the events of 6 January. But make no mistake: this is not the only officer or servicemember sympathetic to the movement that led to those events or who otherwise hold extremist views.

President Biden, Secretary of Defense Austin, and other senior and lower-level Defense Department leaders take the problem seriously and are taking reasonable measures to reinforce the oath of office and spread the message that these views are incompatible with that oath and service in the armed forces. Alas, I have little confidence that it will do much to weed out the bad actors.

To be clear: I don’t think there’s a widespread problem with violent white supremacists in the armed forces. The screening procedures are likely to weed out the worst of the worst and the percentages are almost certainly far lower in the military than in the larger society from which it’s drawn. And the percentages are lower still in the officer corps. But that’s not the same as nonexistent.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Capitol Riot, Military Affairs, National Security
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Can he face a court martial in addition to federal charges?

    5
  2. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy: Oh, absolutely. My JAG friends say that, if he’s convicted, he’ll likely just get an Other Than Honorable administrative separation. Easier that way and it means loss of any veteran’s benefits and the pension that he was pretty close to earning.

    7
  3. CSK says:

    I’m undecided whether the people who participated the invading and trashing the Capitol were a) convinced they were doing nothing wrong or b) knew they were doing wrong but believed Trump would pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

    One of the Proud Boys is on Twitter yelling “Fuck Trump!” because he feels Trump pardoned a bunch of slugs and abandoned him and the Other Proud Boys.

    7
  4. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    That’s not enough. He swore an oath, willingly, to defend the country and the Constitution against all enemies, and then he became, again willingly, one of those enemies. If there was ever a case for making an example of someone, this is it.

    11
  5. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    I can’t resist:

    All slugs are equal. But some Slugs are more Equal than others.

    4
  6. Jon says:

    @CSK: Yup, although I’m currently leaning towards ‘b’. via Atrios

    1
  7. CSK says:

    @Jon:
    Thanks so much for finding that.

    The parable about the scorpion and the frog has never seemed so apt. They followed Trump blindly for 4 years, and when they committed crimes and risked serious prison time for him, he threw them under the bus and walked away laughing.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK:

    I’m undecided whether the people who participated the invading and trashing the Capitol were a) convinced they were doing nothing wrong or b) knew they were doing wrong but believed Trump would pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

    Your question implies a level of foresight and planning that I believe eluded them.

    2
  9. CSK says:

    @gVOR08:
    I think many of them did plan to trash the place. And kill people. That gallows didn’t magically appear. It doesn’t take much brains or foresight to hatch a pillaging operation.

    Some of them deluded themselves that they were patriots. A lot of them deluded themselves that Trump would rescue them. And some, when they realized they were going to get arrested, decided to blame infiltrators from Antifa and BLM.

    2
  10. JohnMcC says:

    What has become clear about the 400+ already arrested would put Maj Warnagiris among his peers in a socio-economic and demographic sorting. Something like 90% or greater are in the 35-50 yr old cohort. Not just a few were successful in professions and business.

    Another common finding about them: They came from areas/communities where non-white populations are increasing and white populations declining.

    According to the NPR analysis, ‘…experts say there’s little evidence that current or former members of the military are more susceptible than the general population’.

    http://www.npr.org/2021/02/09/965472049/the-capital-siege-the-arrested-and-their-stories#database

    GWU and West Point jointly operate a ‘Combatting Terrorism Center’ and have published a report which notes: “43 of 357 individuals (12%) charged in federal court for their role in the Capital Hill siege had some form of military experience. Of these 43 individuals, the vast majority (93%) were veterans and not currently serving in an Active Duty, reservist, or Guard status. Individuals with military experience had, on average, 9 years of service experience…from 3 years…to 25 years. Over one-quarter were commissioned officers, and 44% deployed at least once. Around one-third joined before 2000, and around 50% left the service over a decade ago.” (from a pdf at https://extremism.gwu.edu titled This Is War)

    I looked into this fairly deeply because the fascism of the ’30s had such deep roots in the veteran communities of Italy and Germany. It did not seem to me that the military contributed to the insurrection either more or less that demographics would have predicted. In other words, military service did not make one more likely to be a rioter. Hope I’m correct. It was a comforting conclusion.

    2
  11. just nutha says:

    @CSK: Does that come under “first-world redneck” problems or “karma is a beeyotch?”

  12. CSK says:

    @just nutha:
    Both?

  13. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    Easier that way and it means loss of any veteran’s benefits and the pension that he was pretty close to earning.

    I don’t love the idea of taking away people’s pensions and deferred employment benefits.

    This dude might deserve it, but I really don’t like it.

    You work time, you deserve the total compensation, deferred or not. I also don’t like the cliff where at N-1 years you get nothing and at N years you get it all.

    1
  14. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    That’s not enough. He swore an oath, willingly, to defend the country and the Constitution against all enemies, and then he became, again willingly, one of those enemies. If there was ever a case for making an example of someone, this is it.

    Beg to differ slightly. He probably thought he was defending the Constitution. In fact that is what the POTUS was telling everyone, that the voting was fraudulent, and thereby unconstitutional. Should he be discharged for being a dumbass? Absolutely. But as far as making an example out of this guy, not so much. The extraordinary situation of a POTUS refusing to accept the results of a certified election and the hazy nature of what the Constitution means makes that, to me, unnecessary, indeed unjust, considering the POTUS will skate scot free for his actions. If we can’t “make an example” out of the guy who caused it, we shouldn’t out of one of his poor suckers.

    4
  15. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: I don’t love it either, but that’s the system. If you get a less than Honorable discharge, you lose veteran benefits. We did away with the 20-year “cliff” for new guys four or five years ago, putting them into something like a 401(k) and then having a smaller pension at 30 years. But I doubt this guy opted into that system given the generosity of the old one.

  16. SKI says:

    I have a few relevant insights into his character, disposition, and nature of service that I only know because of my work and don’t believe it would be proper to share them in a public forum.

    James, while I understand and respect this stance, I do have questions that I hope you can answer:

    1. Would those relevant insights be of the type that would make you unsurprised that he was involved in something like this?

    2. I take it from your other comments that he was not a unicorn and there are others you have encountered with similar character and disposition. Does anyone at your institution do anything with these insights when they arise? Is there any pathway for raising concerns?

    1
  17. Kathy says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    If he’d received legal orders through the chain of command, I’d be willing to argue the matter. he can’t just make up his own course of action, as if it were a lawful order.

    It’s true the Orange Turd won’t face a reckoning for his actions (though I’m hopeful he’ll get one for other actions), but it’s also true he’d have had no means to stir up so much trouble without willing accomplices like the officer under discussion.

    It’s important all the insurrection participants get prosecuted and convicted, and then pay the consequences proportionally to their wrong doing.

    2
  18. Jay L Gischer says:

    I don’t know. I think by the time you get to be a Major in the USMC, you should understand what “rule of law” means, and that even if you think it wasn’t legit, the fact that Trump had his day in court and yet did not prevail should have closed the matter for him.

    And yet it didn’t. For so many of these people, it didn’t. I’m shaking my head. And also, disinclined to hold much sympathy for him. Mind you, I support UBI, and I would support it for him just like I would support it for convicted felons (on release from prison, of course).

    2
  19. Barry says:

    @James Joyner: “Oh, absolutely. My JAG friends say that, if he’s convicted, he’ll likely just get an Other Than Honorable administrative separation. Easier that way and it means loss of any veteran’s benefits and the pension that he was pretty close to earning.”

    I can’t find the correct reference, but at this point he falls under ‘mutiny/sedition’.

    He needs to spend a few decades in prison.

    1
  20. James Joyner says:

    @SKI: In the particular case, while I think everyone was surprised, I don’t think anyone was shocked. In the general case, while I’d guess 99% of our students think the Capitol riot was an outrage, I’d guess 20% sympathetic to the cause. The vast majority are highly intelligent and well-informed. But, alas, too many watch too much Fox News.

    1
  21. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    Yes but the POTUS being the top of that chain hazes the issue.