Active-duty Marine arrested for allegedly pushing officer during Capitol riot

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(CBS NEWS) — An active-duty U.S. Marine Corps officer was arrested Thursday for his alleged actions during the January 6 Capitol riot. Christopher Warnagiris is accused of violently entering the Capitol building and pushing a police officer in order to hold open a door for other rioters. 

Warnagiris, a 40-year-old Marine Major who was stationed at the Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, is the first known active duty service member charged in the riot investigation, and joins a list of at least 44 other Capitol riot defendants who have served in the U.S. military.

In the approximately four months since the Capitol attack, as dozens of former service members have been charged for their alleged participation in the riot, the Pentagon has condemned extremism in its ranks, and committed to rooting out the problem.

Prosecutors said that during the siege on January 6, Warnagiris was the first among a group of rioters to breach a police line guarding doors of the Capitol East Rotunda. Once Warnagiris was inside, other rioters followed, “one by one,” prosecutors said, each fighting and pushing their way past officers attempting to guard the entrance. 

The officer ordered Warnagiris to get out of the doorway, but prosecutors said he did not comply, and instead pushed the officer back in an effort to maintain his position in the open door.

According to military records obtained by CBS News, Warnagiris has served in the military since 2002 and has held the rank of Major since 2013. He specializes as a Field Artillery Officer and has deployed to operations in Iraq in Afghanistan, and his current assignment is at the Marine Air-Ground Task Force Staff Training Program, in Quantico, Virginia.

In some cases where veterans have been charged in connection with the riot, prosecutors have pointed to what they said were sophisticated, military-style techniques that defendants used to breach the Capitol.

On the day of the attack, prosecutors said Warnagiris wore a dark jacket with green zippers, a military green backpack and black and tan gloves. Photos of Warnagiris were later posted to the FBI’s online wanted list, where a tipster recognized him. The tipster identified Warnagiris as an active duty Marine, and said they had worked together for approximately six months in 2019.

FBI agents later visited Warnagiris’ military command, where a colleague who had worked with him for approximately nine months confirmed his identity.

Warnagiris faces federal charges that include assaulting, resisting or impeding officers and obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder. In a court hearing Thursday, the government said they did not seek his detention before trial, and he was ordered to be released from jail.

During the hearing, prosecutors outlined his maximum potential prison sentence if he is found guilty of each of his five charges. On his most serious charge — for obstructing influencing or impeding an official proceeding — he faces up to 20 years imprisonment. For two charges related to his alleged interference with officers, he faces maximum sentences of five and eight years each. The government did not indicate whether the sentences could be served concurrently.

In a statement, the Marine Corps said they would assist authorities in their investigations, and noted that “negative behaviors” such as “certain dissident and protest activity” are prohibited under a revised Marine Corps policy.

Prosecutors said Christopher Warnagiris entered the Capitol through the doorway to the East Rotunda. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE

“The Marine Corps is clear on this: There is no place for racial hatred or extremism in the Marine Corps,” the statement said. “Our strength is derived from the individual excellence of every Marine regardless of background.”

The statement continued, “Participation with hate or extremist groups of any kind is directly contradictory to the core values of honor, courage, and commitment that we stand for as Marines and isn’t tolerated by the Marine Corps.”

Pentagon Press secretary John Kirby said it was too soon to speculate on whether Warnagiris could face additional penalties under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a federal law that can impose both criminal and nonjudicial punishment.

In a March interview with “60 Minutes,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the Pentagon was still coming to grips with extremism in the ranks. 

“I don’t expect to see significant numbers inside our ranks, although I think the numbers would be probably a bit larger than that we would have believed,” he said. “But I will tell you that a small number of people can have an outsized effect.”

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