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Politics
AP
Hunt for Capitol attackers still on 6 months after Jan. 6

The first waves of arrests in the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol focused on the easy targets. Dozens in the pro-Trump mob openly bragged about their actions on Jan. 6 on social media and were captured in shocking footage broadcast live by national news outlets.

But six months after the insurrection, the Justice Department is still hunting for scores of rioters, even as the first of more than 500 people already arrested have pleaded guilty. The struggle reflects the massive scale of the investigation and the grueling work still ahead for authorities in the face of an increasing effort by some Republican lawmakers to rewrite what happened that day.

In a statement Tuesday noting the six-month anniversary of the attack, President Joe Biden called on “people of goodwill and courage” — including Republicans and Democrats — “to stand up to the hate, the lies, and the extremism that led to this vicious attack, including determining what happened so that we can remember it and not bury it hoping we forget.”

Among those who still haven’t been caught: the person who put two pipe bombs outside the offices of the Republican and Democratic national committees the night before the melee, as well as many people accused of attacks on law enforcement officers or violence and threats against journalists.

The FBI website seeking information about those involved in the Capitol violence includes more than 900 pictures of roughly 300 people labeled “unidentified.”

Part of the problem is that authorities made very few arrests on Jan. 6. They were focused instead on clearing the building of members of the mob that attacked police, damaged historic property and combed the halls for lawmakers they threatened to kill. Federal investigators are forced to go back and hunt down participants.

The FBI has since received countless tips and pieces of digital media from the public. But a tip is only the first step of a painstaking process — involving things like search warrants and interviews — to confirm people’s identities and their presence at the insurrection in order to bring a case in court. And authorities have no record of many of the attackers because this was their first run-in with the law.

“Most of these people never showed up on the radar screen before,” said Frank Montoya Jr., a retired FBI special agent who led the bureau’s field offices in Seattle and Honolulu. “You watch the movies and a name comes up on the radar screen and they know all the aliases and the last place he ate dinner, all with a click of a button. Unfortunately, that’s not how it is in reality.”

The FBI has been helped by “sedition hunters,” or armchair detectives who have teamed up to identify some of the most elusive suspects, using crowdsourcing to pore over the vast trove of videos and photos from the assault.

Forrest Rogers, a business consultant who helped form a group of sedition hunters called “Deep State Dogs,” said the group has reported the possible identities of about 100 suspects to the FBI based on evidence it collected.

Sometimes, a distinctive article of clothing helps the group make a match. In one case, a woman carrying a unique iPhone case on Jan. 6 had been photographed with the same case at an earlier protest, Rogers said.

“It’s seeking justice,” he said. “This is something that’s unprecedented in the history of our country.” Rogers asked, “Where else have you had several thousands of people who commit a crime and then immediately disperse all over the United States?”

John Scott-Railton is a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto who has been collaborating with journalists and others to identify suspects using digital clues. He said that while much is known about the “small fish” who committed crimes that day, a deeper understanding is needed of the actions of organized group leaders.

“We all need to be in a place where we can have conversations about what Jan. 6th was that go beyond a bunch of individuals motivated by a set of ideologies who showed up at the Capitol,” he said.

Those being sought include many accused of violent attacks on officers. One video released by the FBI shows an unidentified man attacking officers with a baton. In another, a man is seen ripping the gas mask off an officer who screamed in pain as he was being crushed into a doorway by the angry mob.

The FBI on Tuesday released 11 new videos of rioters attacking law enforcement officers and appealed for the public’s help in identifying the suspects. More than 100 people already have been arrested on suspicion of assaulting law enforcement officers at the Capitol.

In some cases, social media platforms have turned over incriminating posts that defendants tried to delete after their gleeful celebrations of the siege gave way to fears of being arrested. Often, the attackers’ own family, friends or acquaintances tipped off authorities.

In one case, the FBI used facial comparison software to find a suspect on his girlfriend’s Instagram account. Agents then went undercover, secretly recorded the man at work and got him on tape admitting to being in the crowd, which he described as “fun.”

“The more of these people you identify — potentially through search warrants and social media communications — you’re going to be able to identify others,” said Tom O’Connor, who focused on counterterrorism as a special agent before leaving the bureau in 2019. “Those people who have been arrested will then be given the opportunity to cooperate and identify other persons involved.”

The FBI has offered a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible for planting the pipe bombs in Washington on Jan. 5. Footage shows a person in a gray hooded sweatshirt, a mask and gloves appearing to place one of the explosives under a bench outside the Democratic National Committee and the person walking in an alley near the Republican National Committee before the bomb was placed there. It remains unclear whether the bombs were related to planning for the insurrection.

Justice Department officials say arresting everyone involved in the insurrection remains a top priority. Authorities recently arrested the 100th person accused of assaulting law enforcement as well as the first person accused of assaulting a member of the press — a man prosecutors say tackled a cameraman.

“They will find them,” said Robert Anderson Jr., former executive assistant director of the FBI’s Crimi- nal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch. “I don’t care how long it takes. If they are looking for them, they will find them.”

More than a dozen Jan. 6 defendants have pleaded guilty, including two members of the Oath Keepers militia group who admitted to conspiring with other extremists to block the certification of Biden’s victory.

Most of the other plea deals reached so far are in cases where defendants were charged only with misdemeanors for illegally entering the Capitol. The only defendant who has been sentenced is an Indiana woman who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and was spared any time behind bars.


News
centerpiece
Watch now: Gray man builds Wiffle ball field of dreams

GRAY — In the woods behind Hales Chapel Christian Church in Gray sits a hidden gem, a small-scale ball field built for the sole purpose of hosting Wiffle ball games.

The Sandlot, as it is called, is the product of 18 years worth of work for Vaughn Burgess, who has played Wiffle ball for 50 years.

“It’s been a dream of mine,” said Burgess, who is planning on playing host to the inaugural Fun Fest Wiffle ball tournament this month — if he can get enough teams to register. “I played it, and I thought if I built the right facility, I could get people to come and enjoy the game. They do when they get here.”

THE FIELD

Burgess’ field of dreams sits in a peaceful setting, surrounded by perfectly manicured landscaping. The outfield fences are anywhere from 95 to 100 feet from home plate. The smooth infield grass is surrounded by sandy base paths.

Joe Avento 

The Sandlot, the product of 18 years worth of work for Gray’s Vaughn Burgess, is scheduled to be the site of the preliminary games for the upcoming Fun Fest Wiffle ball tournament. More teams are needed to sign up for the tournament, which is set to begin on Friday, July 16.

The question that comes to mind during a brief tour of the Sandlot is, “Who wouldn’t want to play here?”

That’s what Burgess hears most often from those seeing the facility for the first time. Everything is topnotch, and it seems as if no detail has been left to chance.

Just getting the people here is the trick, especially for the Fun Fest tournament.

“Most people don’t know anything about this,” he said. “We’ve never marketed this place, ever. For Fun Fest, I need to get the word out to the kids that we’re here. If you ever wanted to play Wiffle ball, here’s your chance. Here’s a field to play on.”

FUN FEST

The Fun Fest tournament is for teams of six players, all of whom have to be 17 years old or younger.

The hopeful field of 12 teams in the double-elimination tournament will begin on Friday, July 16. All of the games will be played at the Sandlot, with the championship game being held at the Miracle Field in Kingsport.

“We need to get some teams in here,” Burgess said, pointing to the bracket. “There’s a few signed up, but we need to get 12 and they’ve got less than two weeks.”

PASSION FOR THE GAME

Burgess’ love affair with Wiffle ball began years ago, and his passion hasn’t waned. There’s pure excitement in his voice as he talks about his favorite game.

“I just love the game,” he said. “I’ve been drawn to it since I was a kid.”

The field is the site of numerous events, from a Sunday league for all comers to hosting youth groups.

“Everybody who plays Wiffle ball has their own rules,” Burgess said. “We have our own rules, too. Those have been developed over 50 years. We’ve developed rules that let girls play, children under 10 play, men and women over 65, and it’s fair for everybody. It’s really nice. You can come out here at any age and play Wiffle ball with us.”

One of the little-known rules is that you can throw the ball at a base runner to get them out.

“It’s like baseball and dodge ball all in one game,” Burgess said. “We throw the ball at them here. You peg ’em. It’s a fast-paced game of baseball and dodge ball.”

Pitching is a different matter. There are no fastballs at this field. “Half speed” is how the style of pitching is described under the local rules, and every pitch has to have some arc on it. The games are self-umpired by the players.

“We’ve never had a fight here in 18 years,” Burgess said. “We’ve had some bumped heads, but never a fight.”

There is a Hall of Fame of sorts in the building next to the field. It houses game balls from special moments, like the time a player hit his 73rd home run in a season to set the Sandlot record or when Burgess became the first player to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game.

There’s also a pyramid of special balls, with the top spot being saved for the game ball from the first Fun Fest game.

“Fun Fest has been my goal for a long time,” Burgess said. “I’ve wanted to try to get an organized event going. It’s really a fun game. I know the players are out there. I just have to find them.”

Registration for teams in the Wiffle ball tournament — and all Fun Fest events — can be done on the website, www.funfest.net.


Arts-entertainment
featured
The reunion returns: BCM announces artist schedule

BRISTOL — Those waiting on the details on Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion won’t have to wait any longer.

The Bristol Birthplace of Country Music Museum released the artist schedule for its 20th anniversary festival on Tuesday. Headliners Tanya Tucker, The SteelDrivers, Yola, Amythyst Kiah and Hayes Carll will perform on Friday, Sept. 10. Blackberry Smoke, The Steel Woods and Dr. Dog will play on Saturday, Sept. 11, and Town Mountain, Son Little, Rhonda Vincent and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit will perform on Sunday, Sept. 12.

The lineup was announced earlier this year after the festival was canceled due to the pandemic in 2020. For 2021, the festival’s music committee worked to return the names on the 2020 lineup for the 20th anniversary event.

“The music committee nailed it,” said Brent Treash, incoming president of the Bristol Country Music Board of Directors. “We were able to bring back most of the lineup from 2020. The response to our lineup has been amazing. Everywhere I go to see live music, people are talking about it. It’s humbling.”

This year’s festival will also include an additional music event.

Cruz Contreras, the lead singer of The Black Lillies, will perform at the festival’s kickoff event on Thursday along with special musical guests who are yet to be announced. Tickets for that event are on sale now at https://www.tixr.com/groups/bcm/events/bristol-rhythm-roots-reunion- 20167.

The 2021 festival poster by English designer Matt Bridges was also unveiled on Tuesday. The poster, along with this year’s T-shirt, is now available online and in the museum shop.

BCM also announced the festival will not include the typical booklets. Instead, a pocket schedule and map will be printed in Bristol’s local papers and at festival gates. A festival app will also help provide info to concertgoers.

“We felt our resources were best put to use by producing a quality mobile app ...” said Leah Ross, the executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music. “Changes can be made at a moment’s notice and without waste.”

Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion will be held Sept. 9-12. The full festival lineup can be viewed at https://birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/festival/lineup/schedule/#/. Tickets are also available at https://birthplaceofcountrymusic.org/festival/buy-tickets/.


Local-news
featured
VSP investigating fatal fire in Appalachia

APPALACHIA — The Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation’s Wytheville Field Office is investigating a fatal fire that occurred at a residence in Wise County.

At 6:09 a.m. on Monday, the Appalachia Fire Department responded to a residential fire in the 1300 block of Lower Exeter Road. A 30-year-old female and 3-year-old male were able to escape the burning residence. The adult female was transported to Lonesome Pine Hospital, where she was treated for injuries sustained in the blaze and released.

Once the fire was extinguished, the remains of an 8-month-old female were discovered inside the residence, VSP spokeswoman Corinne Geller said in a news release. The child’s remains have been transported to the office of the chief medical examiner in Roanoke for examination and autopsy.

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office reported that internet and phone service were interrupted in the Exeter area.

At this stage of the investigation, the fire does not appear to be suspicious in nature, Geller said.

The origin and cause of the fire remain under investigation, Geller noted.


National champion gymnast Brody Malone, shown competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials in St. Louis on June 26, will make his Olympic debut in Tokyo later this month.


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