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Crowd funds top $50K for Tampa man charged in Jan. 6 riots. Where should it go?

Jeremy Brown’s supporters gave more than $57,000 for his defense, though he has a court-appointed lawyer.
Jeremy Brown, 47, is accused of taking part in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Federal agents say they found unregistered guns and two hand grenades at his Tampa home.
Jeremy Brown, 47, is accused of taking part in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Federal agents say they found unregistered guns and two hand grenades at his Tampa home. [ Pinellas County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Jan. 19|Updated Jan. 19

TAMPA — Ever since Jeremy Michael Brown’s arrest in September, he has fought hard to get out of jail. Federal prosecutors have fought just as hard to keep him locked up.

Facing two separate federal cases — one in Washington D.C. for his alleged participation in the Jan. 6, 2021, siege at the Capitol, and another for some illegal weapons, among them two hand grenades agents said they found in a search of his Tampa home — Brown lost a lengthy legal battle last month for release on bond.

This month came a new fight about money.

Brown, 47, has attracted a significant base of supporters. A 20-year Army veteran who briefly ran for Congress in Tampa in 2020, he is a frequent guest on far-right political podcasts and internet shows.

In recent weeks, a crowd-funding web page bearing his picture, and a message he apparently wrote from the Pinellas County Jail, has tallied more than $57,000 in contributions, ostensibly intended to pay for his defense.

The trouble is, Brown already has a court-appointed lawyer, whose services come courtesy of a federal law intended to help the accused who are financially unable to retain legal counsel.

Prosecutors earlier this month filed an emergency request for a judge to prohibit Brown or his supporters from getting the funds. They asked that Brown be ordered to use the crowdfunding dollars to reimburse his lawyer’s costs.

“I do not have control of the funds,” Brown said in a remote court hearing Wednesday from the Pinellas County Jail. “I do not have control of anything. I am in a maximum security prison without bond.”

His attorney, Bill Sansone, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Sean Flynn it was his understanding that the money is controlled by a nonprofit organization that had been established in Brown’s name, but he didn’t have the documentation to illustrate it.

The donations page, which appeared on a Christian crowd funding website, features a blurry snapshot of Brown’s face. Beside it is an artistic design reminiscent of the logo commonly seen on flags honoring American prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action.

“Jan Six,” it reads. “Petitioners not prisoners.”

The page includes a message purporting to be from Brown. It begins: “To the American people from a prisoner of war in the Globalist War Against America and the National Sovereignty of Independent Nations Around the World ...”

It goes on to introduce Brown, noting his service as a special forces master sergeant. It also alludes to his brief run for Congress in the the 2020 election (Brown withdrew before the primary). It states that in December 2020, FBI agents tried to recruit Brown as a confidential informant, but that he refused and later felt compelled to speak out.

“I knew that going public against a corrupt FBI narrative would put my safety and freedom, as well as the safety of my family and friends in jeopardy but if not me then who??” the message reads. “I have prepared for this day and this is God’s plan for me. Liberty or Death! De Oppresso Libre, Rangers lead the way! MOLON LABE!”

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The page shows a goal of raising $250,000, and a log of more than 800 donations.

Prosecutors referenced recorded phone calls Brown made to his girlfriend from jail in which he instructed her to make edits to the page. They claimed Brown spoke of using the donations to pay for a “six-person public relations/activism task force,” dubbed “Fighting for Liberty and Abolishment of American Gulags (FLAGG).”

In a later call with one of his friends, prosecutors wrote, Brown said his girlfriend should quit her job to fundraise instead, noting that they could live off the funds raised.

In Wednesday’s hearing, Brown denied he had control of the money, but said he could tell his supporters not to spend it.

He accused the government of trying to “cripple” his defense and said he expected his case would last a long time.

Judge Flynn found that the funds are available to Brown and ordered that he pay into a court registry to reimburse his attorney’s expenses. Sansone said he expected his costs in the case may exceed $12,300, the statutory maximum for attorneys appointed under the law. If they reach that point, the judge said they would address whether additional money should be placed in the court’s registry.

Prosecutors have separately asked the judge to take measures to stop Brown from dispensing evidence and information about his cases to other people. They cited recorded jail calls in which Brown mentions the possibility of giving information to far-right media figures. Wednesday’s hearing did not address that issue.

A photograph included in a federal criminal complaint shows a man agents say is Jeremy Brown of Tampa, dressed in combat attire during a rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
A photograph included in a federal criminal complaint shows a man agents say is Jeremy Brown of Tampa, dressed in combat attire during a rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. [ U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ]

Images in a criminal complaint purport to show Brown standing outside the U.S. Capitol clad in combat attire the day a mob stormed the building in an effort to stop certification of the 2020 election. While he is not alleged to have been among those who went into the building, prosecutors say Brown entered restricted grounds and argued with police who told him and others to back away.

When federal agents searched his Tampa home in September, they said they found a short-barreled rifle and a sawed-off shotgun that they say were not registered in a federal firearms database, along with two live hand grenades.

While prosecutors have said that Brown self-identified in media appearances as a member of the Oath Keepers, he is not among the defendants accused in a sprawling conspiracy case against alleged members of the extremist group.

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