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WASHINGTON — An Alabama man is set to plead guilty after allegedly bringing five loaded firearms and 11 Molotov cocktails with napalm-like properties to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, prosecutors and his defense told a judge Wednesday.
Lonnie Leroy Coffman, of Falkville, Ala., was charged in a 17-count indictment with possessing some of the deadliest unregistered weapons and explosives on the day of the pro-Trump riot that led to assaults on nearly 140 police officers, breached the Capitol and forced the evacuation of Congress.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly had tentatively set a Sept. 29 plea hearing for Coffman, a 71-year-old Army veteran and the first person indicted in the Capitol riot probe, and gave both sides a deadline of Wednesday to act on a plea offer extended by the government in July. In a late-afternoon joint notice with Coffman’s defense, prosecutors wrote, “The parties have reached an agreement to resolve this case prior to trial through a plea agreement” and that Coffman was ready to plead as scheduled.
The notice did not specify what Coffman would plead guilty to or if he was cooperating with prosecutors.
A plea is not final until accepted by a judge. But the investigation of Coffman case could shed light on the lingering mysteries of his case: what prompted him to come to Capitol while allegedly heavily armed and whether he was working in concert with others.
Coffman has been jailed since his arrest Jan. 6. According to charging papers, police spotted weapons in his red pickup truck while searching an area of Capitol Hill that had been sealed off because unexploded pipe bombs had been reported near the headquarters of the Republican and Democratic parties minutes before the mob assault began at about 1 p.m.
No arrests related to the pipe bombs have been made. Coffman was arrested while returning to his truck.
In ordering Coffman’s detention pending trial, a judge in May cited evidence that he had potential plans to coordinate with others and was prepared for political violence.
Coffman approached Sen. Ted Cruz’s, R-Texas, Washington home and office weeks earlier to discuss “election fraud” and previously joined an armed-citizen camp at the Texas border, prosecutors alleged in court filings.
In a 24-page decision, Kollar-Kotelly found that sealed government filings and his cache of weapons”convincingly demonstrate[d]” his planned intentions to disrupt Congress in potential coordination with others.
The judge did not say that coordination was realized.
Coffman kept additional firearms, improvised explosives and papers in his home related to a second armed group, the judge said. A list he kept with names of a federal judge and Democratic lawmakers, combined with other evidence, “raises serious concerns about Mr. Coffman’s desire and ability to engage in politically motivated violence” and shows that he poses too great a risk of flight and public dangerousness to free him, the opinion concluded.
FBI charging papers alleged that on Coffman’s person and in his truck, authorities found 11 homemade, Molotov-cocktail-type incendiary devices; a rifle, a shotgun, two 9mm pistols and a .22-caliber pistol, all loaded; as well as a crossbow, several machetes, a stun gun and smoke devices.
Prosecutors alleged that the 11 jars held substances made with gasoline and melted plastic foam to produce a dangerous “napalm-like” explosion of sticky, flammable liquid.
In 2014, the FBI identified Coffman as a participant at Camp Lonestar, an encampment set up that year in Brownsville, Texas, by armed citizens, some wearing military fatigues, with the stated goal of pushing back illegal immigrants crossing the border, the judge’s opinion said.
Coffman was armed with a “crack barrel 12 gauge shotgun and a 9mm pistol” at the time, the judge said, citing a prosecutor’s filing.
The camp subsequently disbanded, and several volunteer members and leaders were found guilty of weapons violations, according to news accounts.
On the evening of Jan. 6, when Coffman was arrested returning to his truck, his wallet contained a piece of paper with the address for Camp Lonestar and contact information for a member of the American Patriots armed group of Southeast Texas, prosecutors alleged, according to the ruling.
The opinion did not further identify the group. The papers in his home referred to a second group, the Southwest Desert Militia, the ruling said.
A tracking device in Coffman’s GMC truck also showed that Dec. 11 he drove around the U.S. Capitol and attempted to drive to the Cruz’s D.C.-area residence, prosecutors said, according to the judge. That same day, Coffman called Cruz’s Senate office.
Staffers for the Texas Republican concluded that Coffman “did not seem threatening” but seemed “unbalanced” or “not 100% there” and deemed his comments “odd enough to record,” Capitol Police noted, according to Kollar-Kotelly’s May court ruling.
Office notes of Coffman’s call stated: “Man says that he went to [Cruz’s] DC home to visit him with no answer at the door, and then called to try to arrange a meeting with him over the phone. Directed him to the scheduler’s email address. He is also looking for contact info for S. Hannity, M. Levin, and R. Limbaugh,” the judge’s ruling said, referring to conservative commentators Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh.
A Cruz aide also noted that Coffman seemed “to be coming from the ‘friend’ angle in wanting to . . . help with the election fraud he saw,” according to the filing.
The FBI has said it found handwritten notes in Coffman’s truck, including one with a quote attributed to President Abraham Lincoln, stating: “We The People Are The Rightful Masters Of Both The Congress And The Courts, Not To Overthrow The Constitution But To Overthrow The Men Who Pervert The Constitution.”
That note allegedly named a federal judge as a “bad guy” and referred to a Democratic House member using terms the court order redacted. Another handwritten note listed supposed contact information for Hannity, Levin and Cruz, according to charging papers and court filings.
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