LARGO — Jeremy Michael Brown, the lone Republican awaiting the Democratic primary winner for a Florida House seat representing parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, is facing charges related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
And he’s running his campaign from the Pinellas County Jail, where he is being held on felony federal weapons charges stemming from his arrest for misdemeanor trespassing and disruptive conduct in connection to the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Brown was photographed outside the Capitol in full tactical gear as hundreds disrupted congressional certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory. He said he believes fraud was involved in the 2020 presidential election.
Now Brown, 47, is running for public office in the same electoral system he says is tainted. Unless convicted of one of the felonies, he will be on the November ballot against the Democratic nominee.
A spokesperson for the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections said lawyers are still looking into whether there are any issues that would affect his candidacy.
“We don’t know, the state office doesn’t know and to be honest, I don’t care,” Brown told the Tampa Bay Times during a jailhouse visit Friday. “I’m gonna run until they tell me no. It’s almost like our government is incompetent.”
The cases against Brown
In Washington D.C., Brown is accused of being among scores of rioters who breached a secure area outside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, though he is not accused of entering the building.
Federal prosecutors say Brown claims to be a member of the Oath Keepers extremist group, several of whom have been charged with seditious conspiracy and other crimes. He coordinated travel plans via chat messages, writing that he would bring his recreational vehicle, which he referred to as “Ground Force One,” according to a criminal complaint.
In a separate but related criminal case, Brown faces a litany of charges after federal authorities said they found two illegal guns and a set of hand grenades when they executed a search warrant at his Tampa home. A federal judge previously ordered Brown to remain detained pending trial, expressing concern over a profane handwritten sign he placed outside his home after an earlier visit from law enforcement officers. The sign stated that if they came back, they should “bring a bigger tactical package.”
Brown is mounting legal challenges to the searches authorities conducted of his property. A judge has yet to rule on the issue. A trial date in the Tampa case is set for October.
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A grand jury this spring brought new charges alleging that Brown also had unauthorized possession of secret national defense documents related to his time in the military. Eight of the nine counts against Brown in the Tampa case are felony charges with 10 years maximum imprisonment.
Brown denies the accusations. He maintains that FBI agents in December 2020 tried to recruit him as a confidential informant, but that he refused and later felt compelled to speak out.
Supporters have raised thousands for his defense and held rallies outside the jail for Brown. They accuse the federal government of making political prisoners out of conservatives who went to Washington D.C. last year.
One of Brown’s biggest supporters is Cathi Chamberlain of Defend Florida, a right-wing group against government mandates and federal overreach that claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen. The two met after Chamberlain invited Brown onto her podcast.
Chamberlain said she introduced Brown to the idea of running for office from jail, “because it’s very difficult for any conservative to get the word out about anything that we’re doing.”
She challenged him to get exposure for what he’s going through as well as “the socialism that’s overtaking our country.” Brown previously ran for Florida’s 14th Congressional District in 2020 but withdrew before the primary.
“I told Jeremy if he ran for office, I would put my entire career on hold and become his campaign manager, which he now calls me his ‘campaign commander,’” Chamberlain said. “He gives everything a military name.”
Campaigning from jail
Chamberlain worked in information technology and at one point ran an all-women construction crew. On the right-wing speech circuit, she gathered signatures to qualify Brown as a candidate instead of paying a fee.
Chamberlain carries a life-size cutout photo of Brown from his 2020 congressional run. She wears orange jail scrubs that sell for $50 a pop to fund his campaign. They read “Inmate #1875858 Brown for Florida State House 2022″ outlined in barbed wire.
Brown’s campaign has raised nearly $16,000 and has spent about half of that.
Brown said from jail that he’s running to bring attention to the problems in this country, including voter fraud on “both sides” that helps the establishment. No widespread voter fraud occurred in 2020.
J. Edwin Benton, a Florida elections expert and professor at the University of South Florida, said he’s not aware of a case of a candidate running for office while incarcerated. He said if Brown wins, he could be sworn in from jail and serve as an elected representative in absentia. Only a felony conviction would end his candidacy as Brown would lose his right to vote under Florida law.
“We are in, as far as I understand it, uncharted waters,” Benton said. “There’s nothing in constitutional state law that would prevent him from doing this simply because no one has thought about this possibility.”
Brown is a long shot for the Florida Legislature. The redrawn House District 62 includes the heavily Democratic areas of southern St. Petersburg and East Hillsborough, including East Tampa, Riverview and Gibsonton. According to a Times analysis, 72.4% of the area voted for Biden.
The Aug. 24 primary is between House District 70 representative Michele Rayner (D-St. Petersburg), her predecessor Wengay Newton and newcomer Jesse Philippe. Brown was uncontested in the primary by another Republican candidate and therefore advanced to the general ballot.
Times staff writer Dan Sullivan contributed to this report.