FBI agents surrounded the three-bedroom home in Little River just before dawn, search warrant in hand, chasing a troubling tip to this quiet beach town a few miles below the North Carolina border.
“This man is unstable and needs to be detained,” the tipster had warned.
Investigators with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force scoured the makeshift bedroom of Nicholas Languerand, a 26-year-old man who had moved in with his grandparents just weeks before. Among his belongings they found a familiar set of clues.
QAnon stickers and memorabilia. A cell phone containing photos of white nationalist symbols and far-right cult heroes, including Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio. A journal where Languerand had scribbled stream-of-consciousness musings about election fraud, QAnon prophecies and 9/11 conspiracy theories. A military-style rifle tucked into a gap in the pullout couch where Languerand slept.
Federal prosecutors say the evidence helps explain what possessed Languerand to hitch a ride to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6 and join a mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol, briefly stopping Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 election.
Investigators have found similar clues across the Palmetto State as they have apprehended eight other South Carolinians connected with the deadly attack over the past six months.
The Post and Courier examined hours of court testimony from those cases and nearly 900 pages of legal filings. That analysis points to clear takeaways about who the Capitol rioters are, why these self-described “patriots” felt entitled to assault the seat of U.S. democracy, and how their lives have spiraled in the months since.
Most of South Carolina’s Capitol defendants had no significant criminal record.
All but one are men, ranging from teenagers to 40-somethings with wives and families. Few, if any, had consistent, full-time employment.
They traveled to Washington from all over the Palmetto State, with little connecting them aside from the ideology that led them there.
Case records show they were devoted to Republican President Donald Trump. In text messages and social media posts, they laid bare their belief in politicians, nationalist groups and far-right conspiracy theorists who told them that the 2020 election was stolen, and that it was their responsibility to do something about it.
Some traveled to the nation’s capital that day prepared for violence, decked out in tactical gear. Others later claimed they intended only to protest peacefully before they were swept up in the Capitol-bound mob.
But like Languerand, most of them were turned in to the FBI by people who knew them, often by close friends and relatives, a sign their actions weren’t condoned back home.
The South Carolina cases make up a tiny fraction of the more than 550 people who have been charged with storming the Capitol, attacking the tiny police force that guarded it, smashing windows and ransacking the building as members of Congress fled to safety.
Taken together, their files offer a window into the early findings of one of the largest criminal investigations in American history, even as prosecutors continue to bring charges against those responsible.
‘Hang ‘em high’
James Giannakos Jr.’s friends and family members know him as a gentle soul. He brought meals to elderly neighbors, took care of household chores for friends in need, and sat for hours in the hospital to keep a sick friend company.
But 2020 came with a dark shift in the 47-year-old Gilbert man’s outlook.
The coronavirus pandemic left him shut up at home, unemployed. He stayed up late at night, drinking and scrolling the internet.
A self-described patriot from a family of police officers, Giannakos became disturbed that summer by news accounts of the destructive riots and looting that emerged in American cities from protests after a Minnesota Black man, George Floyd, was killed by police.
He found refuge in researching nationalist militia groups online, like the Proud Boys and Oathkeepers, that clashed with Antifa and other radical left-wing groups. He traveled several times to events for those groups, seeking their approval. He even applied to become a member of the Proud Boys but was told he wasn’t a good fit, his attorney told The Post and Courier.
He also became fixated on last year’s presidential election. When Trump lost, Giannakos fully bought into the Stop the Steal movement, subscribing to baseless conspiracy theories that held Trump had won in a landslide and was denied a second term by strategic fraud in key battleground states.
Friends and relatives were concerned at the change in “Jimmy,” they would later tell a judge.
But they were unable to discourage him before he packed a duffle bag of tactical gear and headed to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. Ultimately, Giannakos offered to plead guilty to attending the riot and stealing Capitol Police equipment, including a riot shield. But he was instead sentenced to 28 months in prison for threatening a federal prosecutor in a related case.
“It started out from an emotion of patriotism,” federal public defender Alan Burnside said of Giannakos’ downward spiral. “A lot of what was out on the internet, he believed was true.”
The same was true for South Carolina’s other Capitol defendants.
Evidence introduced in their cases suggests they subscribed to the president’s unfounded election fraud claims.
In social media posts, text threads, journal entries and browser histories, these defendants showed they took cues from online conspiracy theories and dismissed the “mainstream media.”
They expressed disillusionment with traditional power structures, career politicians and federal law enforcement. They invested their faith in far-right figureheads and commentators. They perceived threats everywhere — in the summer 2020 riots, in undocumented immigrants, in the supposed rise of radical socialism in America.
They saw Trump as a messianic figure, cut down by dark forces before he could drain the swamp.
William Norwood III of Greer is charged with violent entry and disorderly conduct at the Capitol and theft of government property. He had made a habit of watching livestreamed videos of the George Floyd riots in Portland, Ore., – flabbergasted with how the same violent protesters kept getting away with destruction.
He had argued politics in family group chats with his more liberal sister, blaming her for relying only on mainstream media sources instead of doing her own research.
John Getsinger Jr. and Stacie Hargis-Getsinger, a married couple from Hanahan, admitted on Facebook that they entered the Capitol after hearing speeches that day from Trump and far-right radio host Alex Jones.
Elliot Bishai, a graduate of Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, is accused of storming the Capitol. The 20-year-old aspiring military pilot possessed material “of a radical and political far-right nature” when agents searched his house, a prosecutor said.
George Tenney III, an Anderson man accused of attacking police inside the Capitol building, helped run a political Facebook page that trumpets conspiracies about election fraud and the coronavirus vaccine, charging documents state.
Like Giannakos, Tenney sought to join up with far-right militia groups ahead of Jan. 6, according to Facebook messages referenced in court filings. In other texts, he detailed his plans leading up to the attack.
“It’s starting to look like we may siege the capital (sic) building and congress if the electoral votes don’t go right,” Tenney wrote to a friend on Dec. 28. “We are forming plans for every scenario.”
“I’ve been watching these pod cast things from this guy,” Tenney wrote the next day. “He says (Vice President Mike) Pence is a traitor and will betray the US on the 6th.”
Languerand, the 26-year-old arrested in Little River, wrote notes describing himself as a “sleeper agent” who was just waiting to be activated, prosecutors said. While living in Vermont before the Jan. 6 riot, he had repeatedly called local police alleging that local pizza parlors were running child sex rings out of their basements. An FBI agent testified that Languerand’s calls were connected to the alt-right Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which in 2016 inspired a North Carolina man to shoot up a Washington, D.C., pizza shop.
Languerand thought the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were an inside job by President George Bush’s administration. He wrote, confidently, that members of the U.S. government would be tried for treason.
“Hang ‘em high,” he wrote.
Those ideologies aren’t why Languerand — or any other Capitol defendant — is being charged, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliott Daniels told a judge in April.
“The problem we have is that he is willing to be violent to enforce his views,” Daniels said.
Tips pour in
A day after the riot, Traci DuBois’ phone lit up with texts from her brother.
By then, the gravity of the attack had sunk in – with every major news outlet devoting wall-to-wall coverage to the destruction and upheaval at the Capitol.
But here was DuBois’ brother, William “Robbie” Norwood, texting gleefully in the family group chat about his experience storming the building.
Norwood boasted to DuBois and their parents about dressing up as Antifa and fighting police who tried to guard the Capitol. “I got away with things that others were shot or arrested for,” he claimed.
DuBois called her brother out, at one point asking: “What the actual f*** is wrong with you?”
Days later, she would show those texts to the FBI, which used them to bring seven federal charges against her brother.
The case is a textbook example of how the FBI has tracked down hundreds of Capitol rioting suspects since Jan. 6.
At least seven of the nine South Carolinians linked to the Capitol riot were turned in by people who knew them, often after they publicly boasted about attending the riot or posted photos documenting their involvement.
Close companions and relatives, Facebook friends and Instagram followers who were disturbed by their actions turned to an FBI hotline that has fielded more than 210,000 tips since Jan. 6.
Agents then contacted the tipsters directly before zeroing in on the suspects with other methods.
Andrew Hatley, the first South Carolinian to be charged, was identified by two associates, court filings state. One, who “has a close relationship” with Hatley, spoke to the FBI five days after the riot and identified Hatley in a photo taken in front of the Capitol’s John C. Calhoun statue.
A tipster led the FBI to an Instagram selfie Nicholas Languerand had taken during the riot, weeks before agents searched his Little River home.
Elias Irizarry and Elliot Bishai were turned in by fellow cadets from the Civil Air Patrol Unit they had served in during high school.
Four separate tipsters reported the Getsinger couple to the FBI. One of them, a family member, provided an investigator a screenshot of a Facebook post in which Stacie Hargis-Getsinger admitted to going into the Capitol building during the attack. Another provided agents screenshots of Facebook posts that showed the Hanahan couple at the Capitol.
One claimed a video existed of the Getsingers shouting: “This is war! We’re storming the Capitol.”
In many ways, Capitol defendants told on themselves. Their cellphone signals and GPS apps, retrieved easily by FBI agents, pinned them inside or around the Capitol building at the time of the riot.
They bragged about being there on Facebook and posted selfies on Instagram.
When an investigator came by to interview George Tenney about his involvement in the riot, the Anderson man wore the same black jacket he had worn inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.
While some of the rioters initially bragged about storming the Capitol, they soon became nervous about being arrested, texts and social media messages obtained by investigators show.
In a Facebook group chat five days after the attack, Stacie Hargis-Getsinger noted how investigators were “looking for every single one” who entered the Capitol building.
Friends tried to comfort the Getsingers. “All we can do is pray and contact … Donald Trump if they try to arrest you.”
William Norwood felt sure he would be taken in, at one point removing all the guns from his home so federal agents couldn’t claim he was preparing for a fight when they came to arrest him.
Norwood and others would later seek to minimize their involvement in the Capitol assault.
Though he had bragged in a family group chat about assaulting police officers and stealing their equipment, Norwood told FBI agents that wasn’t true. In reality, he said, he was swept into the Capitol building by the fast-moving mob and wandered around until he could find a way out.
Tenney estimated he stayed inside the building only for three or four minutes, using his time to help trampled police officers get to their feet. Surveillance footage, however, showed him harassing and fighting Capitol police officers as he tried to open the building’s outer doors and let more rioters inside.
“Stand up, patriots, stand up!” Tenney yelled in the Capitol Rotunda, according to charging documents.
At an April hearing, an attorney for Languerand argued that while video footage shows his client hurling a series of objects at police guarding the Capitol, there was no evidence he successfully hit them.
Donald Brown, an attorney for 20-year-old Elliot Bishai, said prosecutors have no evidence his client committed any violence at the Capitol.
He criticized the Department of Justice for throwing the book at Bishai for what amounts to a trespassing charge, insisting the investigation is being driven by politics in an effort to punish Trump supporters.
“The government seems to be wanting to paint everyone with a very broad brush and use phrases like ‘insurrection’ and to paint everyone in the same vein, which is absolutely unfortunate,” Brown said.
Bishai, an aspiring pilot who had been accepted into the U.S. Army’s flight school, has had his student pilot license revoked by the Federal Aviation Authority, his attorney said. Bishai was set to report to basic training at Fort Jackson in April, but the Army has put that on hold, too, until his federal charges are resolved.
“There is no end in sight,” Brown said. “The lives of these kids are put on ice.”
Elias Irizarry, a Citadel cadet accused of entering the Capitol alongside Bishai, was kicked out of his college’s Republican club shortly after his indictment.
Two of the defendants, Languerand and Giannakos, were detained without bail while their cases played out. Prosecutors argued the pair were a danger to the public because of their willingness to commit political violence.
Efforts by a reporter to interview South Carolina Capitol defendants and their relatives were mostly unsuccessful. Several declined comment, citing their lawyers’ advice to stay quiet while their cases are pending. Others didn’t respond at all.
A few have expressed remorse for their involvement.
Giannakos, for instance, “sees everything that happened on Jan. 6 as a horrible thing for the country,” his attorney told the newspaper.
Stacie Hargis-Getsinger said she and her husband had been advised not to speak with reporters. But she did offer three words before hanging up the phone.
“We have regrets,” she said.