Near one vanguard of the mob that formed Wednesday afternoon outside the U.S. Capitol, his back turned to the steps that rioters had yet to overrun, Tom Lemons turned his camera on himself.
An “End CCP” mask — a reference to the Chinese Communist Party — covered his mouth, and his first words were swallowed by the chanting surrounding him. The end of his sentence, though, came out clear: “Storm the Capitol.”
Lemons, a blogger who became well-known in Hernando County through a website focused on local crime and conspiracy theories he spreads on social media, was shoulder-to-shoulder with the front line of rioters who pushed their way through barriers outside the Capitol, forced police to retreat to the building’s steps and ultimately pressed their way toward the entrance.
A video posted to his YouTube page showed his place during the insurrection. At times, he was camera-to-face with officers.
Lemons said in an interview Thursday that he never actually entered the Capitol — he “didn’t want to face any type of charges for entering the building.”
But he got close: Part of the video was taken just outside a door leading into the building, as police pushed rioters out.
The video also included interviews with unidentified rioters and demonstrators, including one man who advocated for violent insurrection: “Take it down.”
By 6:06 p.m., Lemons had apparently returned to his lodging, as he sat before beige and green hotel-room walls for a live video posted to his pseudonymous Facebook page, Thomas Newcastle III.
”If you think these people are wrong for wanting to open the door and go inside and say, this is our place, we’re making a statement, get out — I see nothing wrong with that,” he said.
Lemons said Thursday he was sympathetic with those who laid siege to the building, but that “my primary job was to work as a journalist in documenting the events.” It’s the same explanation given by Derrick Evans, a lawmaker from West Virginia who was recorded wearing a helmet and clamoring at the door to breach the Capitol.
Lemons doesn’t believe he’ll be charged for his participation.
He began posting to Facebook about gathering in Washington shortly after Trump’s Dec. 19 tweet about a “big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” which the president promised would “be wild.” In the ensuing weeks, among posts that included coronavirus misinformation and climate change denialism, he posted about traveling to Washington and what he saw as a “war.”
”Who’s ready for battle this week?” read a Jan. 3 post. On Tuesday, he added: “Don’t start the war in DC until I get there!!!”
Lemons rose to prominence in Hernando County with Real News Real Fast, a blog that covered crime and other local news.
In 2019, he was charged with two counts of battery and a concealed weapons charge after an altercation with two women at a Brooksville bar. Later that year, he was accused of stealing advertising revenue from Real News Real Fast, which he had sold and was no longer running.
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Both cases are still open.
In 2018, he drew criticism for staging a child kidnapping at an elementary school bus stop to “test” security in the Hernando School District. The child’s mother was in on the ruse and no charges were filed.
”I don’t think that it’s over,” Lemons said of the coup attempt. “I think that it’s only begun.”
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Tampa Bay Times U.S. Capitol coverage
REACTING TO RESPONSE : Did race play a role in police treatment of the U.S. Capitol mob?
CALL TO ACTION: Charlie Crist: Remove Donald Trump from office by invoking 25th Amendment
25TH AMENDMENT: When can it be used against a president?
EDITORIAL: The ugly spectacle perfectly captured the Trump-era GOP.
CLASSROOM TOPICS: Tampa Bay teachers, parents brace for tough conversations after U.S. Capitol siege
POLITIFACT FACT-CHECKS THE SIEGE: Here’s a look at the day’s short session, and the chaos that interrupted it.
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