TAMPA — Jeremy Michael Brown is a former U.S. Army special forces soldier and one-time congressional candidate in Tampa. He’s also a self-identified member of the far-right Oath Keepers extremist group.
Prosecutors say he was among the rioting crowd Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol, where he was photographed in military garb, a tactical vest and carrying surgical shears and zip ties. When federal agents searched his Palm River area home last week, they said they found a short-barrel rifle, a sawed-off shotgun, more than 8,000 rounds of ammunition and two hand grenades.
In a two-hour court hearing Tuesday, a prosecutor argued that Brown was a danger to the community, and that there was a substantial risk that he would flee if released on bond while awaiting trial on federal firearms charges.
U.S. District Judge Sean P. Flynn ordered Brown detained, but called it a difficult decision. He emphasized that it was not due to Brown’s political beliefs or his ownership of weapons.
“You made a specific threat to law enforcement,” the judge told Brown. “And that’s something I can’t ignore.”
The threat came in a profane handwritten sign Brown posted in front of his house after a visit from federal agents earlier this year. It bore a message addressed to the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.
It urged them to “re-read your oath,” saying they were being used as “pawns by the enemies of this republic,” and warning when they came back, they should “bring a bigger tactical package.”
The judge said that he could impose no conditions that would guarantee safety if authorities had to visit Brown again.
“If anything happened,” Flynn said, “they would have every right to blame me for putting them in that position.”
Brown, 47, is charged with entering restricted grounds and possession of unregistered firearms. The latter charge could net him as much as 10 years in prison.
Much of Tuesday’s hearing focused on Brown’s military background and the weapons, military gear and memorabilia that agents saw inside a recreational vehicle parked at his home. They also noted $6,000 in cash and a dry-erase board that listed food and other items necessary for life off the grid.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Risha Asokan highlighted social media posts that conveyed Brown’s extremist political bent. She expressed concern that Brown had a history of disappearing, and claimed that he wasn’t forthright about his mental health history. She noted two sheriff’s reports documenting times when Brown had been subject to the Baker Act, a Florida law that allows a person to be held for treatment if deemed a threat to themselves or others.
The prosecutor played excerpts from a June episode of a far-right political podcast on which Brown was a guest. In the clips, Brown said he joined the Oath Keepers shortly after the November 2020 presidential election. He voiced concerns that the group would be “infiltrated” and “targeted.”
About a month later, he said he got a visit from two federal agents who asked about things he’d posted online.
Brown spoke about attending the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot, where hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump disrupted congressional certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory. One of the agents who’d previously spoken to Brown called him during the rally, but he said little before hanging up.
A criminal complaint filed last week in federal court references encrypted chat messages Brown had with other people in the weeks leading up to the riot. In the messages, Brown coordinated travel plans and wrote that he would bring his RV, which he referred to as “Ground Force One.”
“Plenty of gun ports left to fill,” he wrote.
The chats were provided to authorities by a person identified in the complaint as “Defendant 4.”
On the podcast, he was asked why he hadn’t been arrested.
“Well, I’m hard to catch, I’m hard to kill,” he said with a laugh.
“He advocates openly for resistance,” Asokan said. “This is not somebody who should be released on bond.”
Defense attorney Bill Sansone accused prosecutors of using his client’s military special forces training against him. He emphasized that Brown has no history of violating the law and served his country honorably. He picked apart what prosecutors said was evidence of dangerousness.
“I heard freedom of speech,” Sansone said of the podcast. “I didn’t hear him inciting any violence. ... They want him incarcerated because, on a podcast, he expressed skepticism of law enforcement.”
Brown, 47, served 20 years in the U.S. Army, 17 of them in special forces. He was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, and settled in Tampa after his discharge. He filed to run in the 2020 election as a candidate in Florida’s 14th congressional district, but withdrew from the race before the primary.
In 2019, Tampa police sought a risk protection order against Brown to seize his guns after relatives reported him missing and expressed concern for his well-being. But a judge denied the request, finding that Brown did not pose a significant risk of danger.
Long-haired with a scraggly beard, Brown sat shackled and wearing orange at a defense table Tuesday. He spoke at length toward the end, professing respect for cops. He said he once ran a limousine business, and volunteered his services at the funerals of fallen officers. He said he posted the sign as a reminder to cops of their oath to uphold the constitution.
“The fact that I even posted the sign should be clear that it was not a threat,” he said. “It was simply a jab against them.”
Brown said he was not antigovernment, but “anti-tyrannical government.”
“This isn’t about evidence,” he said. “This isn’t about testimony. This is about locking me away so that I’ll stop talking.”
He claimed he has information that could help the more than 600 other people charged with partaking in the riot. He promised to bring out the truth in a trial.
“I am an expert at what’s going on in this country,” he said. “I am prepared to stay in prison for as long as the government says I need to be there.”