Editor’s note: This story was first published in the Tampa Bay Times.
TAMPA — A retired U.S. Army Special Forces soldier who is among those accused in the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol faces new charges that he held onto secret national defense documents from his time in the service.
A federal grand jury in Tampa last week returned an indictment alleging that Jeremy Brown had unauthorized possession of the documents, which relate to military activities that occurred in 2004 and 2005.
The new charges accompany previous allegations that Brown illegally possessed two guns and a set of hand grenades, which federal agents found when they executed a search warrant last year at his Tampa home.
The new indictment is the latest salvo in a complicated case that has seen prosecutors work hard to keep Brown locked up and prevent him from benefitting financially from public support he has received.
Days after the new indictment came a request from Brown’s defense: He wants to represent himself.
“He is not just competent but a highly intelligent individual,” defense attorney William Sansone wrote in a court paper filed Sunday.
While he has no prior experience with criminal trials, Brown is learning as he goes, with assistance from two pro bono attorneys who will continue to help him, Sansone wrote.
“Mr. Brown has the constitutional right to represent himself,” Sansone wrote, “and he is adamant that at this juncture of his case, he is the best person to lead his defense.”
Brown, 47, served in the Special Forces from 1992 to 2012. For most of that time, he held a “secret” security clearance, which gave him lawful access to national defense information that was closely held by the government, the indictment states.
The indictment alleges that Brown “willfully retained the documents and failed to deliver them to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it.”
One document is listed in the indictment as a “threat frequency report” of a “combined explosives exploitation cell” in Afghanistan. Another is labeled as an incident report related to an improvised explosive device. A third bears the title “Spider Device Testing Procedures and Results.” The fourth is labeled as a “fragmentary order.”
All four documents are classified as “secret,” a label that applies to information which, if disclosed, “could be expected to cause serious damage” to national security, the indictment states.
The classification is a step above “confidential,” which applies to information that could simply “cause damage” to national security. It is a step below “top secret,” which applies to information that could “cause exceptionally grave damage” to national security.
Brown is scheduled for an arraignment on the new charges later this week.
He was arrested last September on charges related to the Jan. 6 siege at the U.S. Capitol, which disrupted congressional certification of the 2020 election results.
Court documents allege that Brown was seen donning combat attire amid a crowd that breached a restricted area outside the building. Although he is not accused of entering the Capitol, federal prosecutors have noted ties to the Oath Keepers extremist group. In the days preceding Jan. 6, according to court records, Brown communicated with members of the group’s Florida chapter, several of whom have been charged separately with seditious conspiracy and other crimes.
A criminal complaint references messages in which Brown coordinated travel plans, writing that he would bring his recreational vehicle, which he referred to as “Ground Force One.”
A search warrant application, which federal agents used to authorize a search of Brown’s home in the Palm River area, references information agents received from a person identified as “Defendant 4,” who said the group caravanned to Washington D.C. in an RV that held weapons and ammunition.
Kelly Meggs, the purported leader of the Florida Oath Keepers, told Defendant 4 that Brown was a “loose cannon” and had explosives inside the RV, according to the court record. In their search of Brown’s home, agents seized a short-barrel rifle, a sawed-off shotgun, and three hand grenades, which they alleged he possessed illegally.
A federal judge previously ordered Brown to remain detained pending trial, expressing concern over a profane handwritten sign he placed outside his home after an earlier visit from law enforcement. The sign stated that if they came back, they should “bring a bigger tactical package.”
Brown asserted in court that the sign was not a threat and said he detests violence. He has said the criminal charges are an effort by the government to silence him.
As he fights his case, Brown has filed to run as a candidate for Florida House of Representatives in the 2022 election. He previously ran for congress in Tampa in the 2020 race, but withdrew before the primary.