By the time the FBI showed up to his mom’s house in Southern California to arrest him in late March, 38-year-old Donald Trump supporter Danny Rodriguez knew he was in trouble. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger Trump fan than Rodriguez: He even tried to join the Army when Trump became president, showing up to a recruiting office with a Trump shirt on. So when Trump said that the election had been stolen, Rodriguez actually believed him, and when the president tweeted “Be there, will be wild!” about a protest in D.C. on Jan. 6, Rodriguez started making plans.
In a Telegram chat called “PATRIOTS 45 MAGA Gang,” Rodriguez laid out his agenda. “We gotta go handle this shit in DC,” he wrote, later adding: “Congress can hang. I’ll do it. Please let us get these people dear God.” Days before the Capitol attack, before he left the Los Angeles area, federal authorities say Rodriguez told an associate that he’d “assassinate Joe Biden” if he got the chance and “would rather die than live under a Biden administration.”
When he arrived in D.C., Rodriguez did put it all on the line for the former real estate mogul he’d watched on “The Apprentice,” the reality-television personality who Rodriguez said was “almost like an old friend.” As the pro-Trump mob seized Mike Fanone, a D.C. Metropolitan Police officer who self-deployed to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Rodriguez drove a stun gun into Fanone’s neck, shocking him. Fanone suffered a heart attack and barely made it out alive.
After attacking Fanone, Rodriguez went into the Capitol through a broken window, tried to smash out another window, and ransacked an office in search of “intel.” He later posed for a photo outside the Capitol building, and was in a celebratory mood when he returned to an Airbnb in northern Virginia where he was staying with other Trump supporters he knew from Trump rallies in California.
But Rodriguez was in a much less cheerful mood when he was arrested on March 31, one month after he was identified in a HuffPost story as the Capitol rioter who delivered the electric shock to Fanone. Sitting in an FBI interview room that morning, wearing a white tie-dyed sweatshirt, Rodriguez broke down in tears as he told the FBI how he came to shock Fanone on Jan. 6 after a steady diet of pro-Trump propaganda from right-wing media outlets like InfoWars.
The FBI special agents who questioned Rodriguez referenced HuffPost’s coverage of Rodriguez’s attack on Fanone, with one telling Rodriguez that “antifa, BLM and the Huffington Post” were telling “the Danny Rodriguez story” and that he needed to talk to them to get his own story out there.
“The court of public opinion has a story from the Huffington Post, has a story from Waterspider on Twitter, from antifa and BLM,” said special agent Nate Elias. “They’re all telling the Danny Rodriguez story. But here’s your opportunity to tell us your story.”
“My story is just that we thought that we were going to save America, and we were wrong,” Rodriguez replied.
The video of the FBI’s March 31 interview of Rodriguez, released to members of the media by federal prosecutors this week after an order from U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, is a remarkable look at how a radical Trump supporter came to engage in an act of domestic terrorism in hopes of keeping the former president in office for a second term. An emotional Rodriguez explains how he actually believed Trump’s dangerous lies about the 2020 election, referring to himself as “fucking piece of shit,” “so stupid,” “an asshole,” and “not smart” as he confesses his crimes.
“I thought we were going to occupy the building,” Rodriguez said. “We felt that they stole the election. We thought they ― we felt that they stole this country, that it’s gone, it’s wiped out. America’s over. It’s destroyed now. … It’s very stupid and ignorant, and I see that it’s a big joke, that we thought that we were going to save this country, we were doing the right thing and stuff.”
“I thought that Trump was going to stay president and they were going to find all this crooked stuff,” Rodriguez said. “We thought we were being used as a part of a plan to save the country, to save America, save the Constitution, and the election, the integrity.”
“I thought we were doing the fucking right thing. I thought we were going to be ― I’m so stupid. I thought I was going to be awesome,” he said. “I thought I was a good guy.”
Rodriguez, who is represented by federal public defenders, is attempting to get his videotaped FBI interview and confession tossed, arguing that the Miranda warnings given by the FBI special agents who arrested him weren’t thorough enough and that Rodriguez was traumatized by the early-morning arrest at his mother’s house.
In a motion last month, his lawyers argued the FBI “violated Mr. Rodriguez’s Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination when they (1) began asking him questions before reading him his Miranda rights; (2) failed to obtain a valid Miranda waiver; (3) questioned Mr. Rodriguez using an impermissible ‘two-step interrogation technique’; and (4) obtained statements from Mr. Rodriguez that were involuntary.”
Jackson, who ordered a brief portion of Rodriguez’s interview before he was formally advised of his rights suppressed if the case goes to trial, is expected to rule on the broader motion at a hearing on Dec. 9.
As HuffPost reported this week, Rodriguez has now been indicted alongside his friend Ed Badalian ― a fellow member of the “PATRIOTS 45 MAGA Gang” chat ― and a man whom online sleuths have dubbed #SwedishScarf because he was wearing a rare scarf from a city in Sweden when he first arrived at the Capitol. Gina Bisignano, a pro-Trump Beverly Hills salon owner who knew both Badalian and Rodriguez and stormed the U.S. Capitol while wearing a Louis Vuitton sweater, pleaded guilty under seal in August as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors. On Tuesday, Judge Carl J. Nichols allowed her to come off home confinement.
The FBI has made more than 675 arrests in connection with the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, a figure that represents a little over one-fourth of the total number of potential defendants who engaged in chargeable criminal conduct that day by either entering the building or engaging in violence outside. The FBI’s Capitol Violence page features more than 350 suspects wanted for violent crimes, including more than 250 members of the pro-Trump mob wanted for assaults on law enforcement.